You just don't get me!
Your teen is walking away from you and yelling, “You just don’t get me!”
You remember saying the same thing when you were young and thinking you’d do a better job when you were a parent. You would be cool. You would be open-minded. You would…
But now it’s your own kid. You see the bigger picture and you want to be a good parent. You also want to let them find their own way and be their true selves. And, in your heart of hearts, you would have to agree that you don’t really understand them.
What can you do?
First, I invite you to take a deep breath, zoom out of the details of the situation and take a bird’s eye view. Remember that fully understanding another person is impossible. We cannot experience their entire day. We cannot see the sky through their eyes. We cannot know all of what’s in their heart.
Take another gentle breath. This is the truth we are working with as humans, as parents.
The second thing to see from up here is that everyone – toddlers, teens, adults - wants to be seen and heard. All of us. It’s one of our basic needs on the human journey. So it is.
And all of us, at some point or another, have felt unseen and unheard. We showed our cards and risked saying what was in our hearts. We shared our art and we were criticized, misunderstood or dismissed.
Then our natural survival instincts kicked in. Maybe it says to be like a turtle retreating into its shell or a chameleon making itself less noticeable. We keep part of who we are secret in order to protect ourselves from being alienated. We get comfortable in this way of being, not letting ourselves be completely seen and heard. We believe it’s the way to belong. We tell ourselves we’re happy and yet there’s that one craving that lingers on and on: the craving to be seen and heard in all of who we are.
And one of the side effects of this is that it decreases our ability to really see and hear others. Our instinct to hide also causes a barrier to connecting with others. What a paradox.
So what does it mean to really see and hear our tween, teen and 20-something kids?
What I’ve come to know from working with many parents is that there are some things we forget about in our busy family lives:
1. Being an objective observer.
Cultivate your ability to listen without interrupting or reacting. Even though it’s your kid. Even though what they’re saying may be hard for you to hear. Even though you’ve got a solution. Notice when judgements or fears are rising in you. Are you jumping to conclusions? What seems to be at risk for you if you just keep listening? Where are you falling into one of your well-worn patterns?
Quieten them for now. Just be an observer and take in the information.
2. Being present.
There’s no need in this moment to enumerate past transgressions, make decisions or jump ahead to next steps. Resist thinking you know what they’re going to say and challenge yourself to hear each word as it’s spoken.
Stay there with your child, breathing, looking at each other, here and now, connected by the words and feelings flowing between you.
There are millions of perspectives in the world. It’s a bit like watching a volleyball game. You’re on the bleachers, row 10, about two thirds of the way down the gym. That’s where you see the game from. Someone sitting courtside near the ref is going to have quite a different account of the game.
You have learned, with your friends and colleagues, to consider an issue from their perspective. You ask clarifying questions, leave room for elaboration and reflect back your understanding. You take some time to try that way of looking at it.
And it’s no different for your child. They are experiencing the world with their eyes and heart. So give yourself the time you need time to see it from there.
4. Being curious.
Your child is growing and changing every day. Who are they today? What’s important to them in this topic? How are their values and interests different from last month? There is no such thing as having them all figured out, no final version. Be open to learning more about them.
5. Holding space for who they are and who they will become.
Lean in toward the mystery of how Life expresses itself through them. Welcome the Light that is shining from within them and all the wisdom and magic they are bringing into the world, in their own unique way.
When you see and hear that, you are truly seeing and hearing your child.
And, while you’re at it, please please please, do the same for yourself. You are a loving parent. You are a beautiful light, bringing one-of-a-kind wisdom and magic into the world. Thankyou for that.
With you on the journey,