What does it really mean to accept your teen or grown up kid?
I was reading an article the other day that said, “You have to learn to accept your teenager: their behaviors, their personalities, their emotions, all of it.”
Well, first of all, the “have to” ignited my resistance. Who says we have to? Why should we? Is that really the best way? According to whom? What’s that going to produce?
After the initial resistance, beneath that doubt, came my curiosity about what acceptance really looks like and how we do it.
What does it really mean to accept our kid? Does it mean accepting all their moods, beliefs, behaviors, opinions and attitudes? Are we supposed to abide, allow, acknowledge or stomach all of it? Really?
That feels like such a tall order. It’s one thing to hang in there when they’re rude, impulsive, moody, inflexible, ingrateful, prickly or uncommunicative. It’s quite another to stand by when they express alarming opinions. Are we talking about accepting their unwise decisions and dubious choice of friends? What about when they get into harmful activities?
Um, I don’t think so. As so many of my clients put it, “I have big responsibilities as a parent. I can’t just step aside and leave it like that.”
That sent me straight to the dictionary:
consent to receive something; say yes to; regard favorably or with approval; welcome.
believe or come to recognize an opinion or explanation as valid or correct; take a responsibility upon oneself; acknowledge; tolerate something unpleasant.
The way I interpret this is that accepting our kids means welcoming them as they are, as we did when they arrived. And I think this requires us to stay current and acknowledge who they are this week, their new opinions and ways of conducting themselves. We are called upon to be giving space for their growth. Not with helplessness, resignation or acquiescence. But saying yes in our hearts, even to the parts that we don’t agree with and the parts we don’t like at times.
And yet, part of me wonders if the author of the article was suggesting we accept all of their moods, beliefs, actions and opinions? Surely part of the job of a parent is to NOT accept certain attitudes and behaviors.
What about pointing out their rash decisions and presenting other possibilities? What about guiding them to adjust their behaviour to enhance their future? What about pulling them out of dangerous waters when our mama or papa bear instincts are pulsing powerfully through our veins?
Digging deeper, I found another definition of acceptance: “being non-judgmental and assenting to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition without attempting to change it or protest it.”
Here, you are asked to trust.
· To believe that your child’s life is unfolding exactly as it is meant to. When we connect to the beautiful miracle of life, there can be no other conclusion. Surely this child is a unique combination of love and light that has a special purpose in this world. Surely your role as their parent is to nourish them to be able to discover and fulfill this purpose.
· To acknowledge that you really don’t know what’s best for them or where their journey is taking them. This is a hard one, after all these years of teaching them how to fold their T-shirts, add fractions and assert their boundaries with their playmates. We took up the reins of their development, reins that we must now let go of. We have to watch them make decisions and learn from the consequences. In the big picture, we don’t know if they should buy that phone, break up with that boyfriend or change their college major.
· To have faith in who they are and how they are developing. Even when they’re making choices they’re probably going to regret, choosing what looks like the tougher path, we are called again and again to have confidence and stand by them. To show that we believe in their ability to figure it out and make a satisfying life for themselves. To let them take responsibility for their lives, just as we take that responsibility for our own lives.
Let’s pause here and take a moment beside a tranquil pond… Lower your gaze, take some gentle breaths and connect with your heart. Feel a warm breeze of reassurance of the perfection of life.
Now back to the day-to-day of accepting our tween, teen or 20-something kid. How do we accept their surly or despondent attitudes, the fluctuations in their mental wellness, their questionable behaviors and illogical decisions?
I’ve found it helpful to look at it this way. Instead of focusing on what we’re accepting or not accepting in our child, we can pay attention to what it’s like within ourselves to offer them acceptance.
What does acceptance feel like within you? You probably notice a sense of release, ease, clarity, openness and warmth when you feel acceptance toward another. You can still stay connected to yourself. You can still feel your boundaries and navigate discussions in a way that everyone’s needs are heard. Yes, that feels like acceptance.
What doesn’t feel like acceptance is when you think you "should” accept someone. That produces tension, the heaviness of the ‘have to’, perhaps a narrowing or making an effort. There may be a part of you thinking you just need to be more big-hearted, more patient, more giving. But these assumptions can push you into something that doesn’t feel authentic and doesn’t meet the needs of anyone involved. And, as we all know, unmet needs can rush to the surface in all sorts of ways.
So, here’s a simple practice to explore what acceptance feels like to you:
Begin in a comfortable position, standing or sitting. Bring your attention to your natural breath as it enters and exits your nostrils. When you’re ready, lower your gaze and allow your body to surrender to gravity.
Place your hands on your upper chest and feel your heart beat. This one. And this one. Be present with yourself, here and now in this moment.
Open your heart a little more with each breath. Call to the divine/ oneness/ spirit and feel it coming toward you. Welcome the support surrounding and filling you.
When you’re ready, put your hands out in front of you, palms open upward, shoulders, arms and fingers relaxed.
Visualize something that you want to feel more acceptance toward. You may want to begin with something uncharged like today’s weather. Or you may be ready to welcome something more challenging. Trust your instincts.
Focus on your palms and your ability to receive this thing. Allow it to come toward you. Say hello with your open hands. Allow it to settle gently on your palms.
Hold it. Look at it. Take in its shape and colour. Feel its weight and texture. Let it rest in your hands as you sense, consider and familiarize.
Notice if you resist, doubt, mistrust or want it to be different. It’s ok. Name your resistance out loud and let your breath carry it into the atmosphere.
Return to what is resting there in your palms. And when you’re ready, raise your hands and place them on your heart. Receive that into your heart, be it today’s weather or your teenager’s choice. Let it enter your heart.
If it bumps and lurches, breathe, dear one. Let your breath create space. Let it find a place to settle for now. A place that’s gentle and warm and calm. A place to rest. A place to just be.
Receive and accept.
Let it be.
All is well.
Authentic acceptance arises from your own internal process of making peace with what is happening and who is in front of you. Right here and right now. It is not agreement, resignation, passivity, or submission.
It is staying connected with your heart, your wisdom and receiving.
It is loving our kids.
With you on the journey,