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  • Lori K Walters

You want to control your teenager because you can't sit with your own discomfort.

Updated: Mar 1

Ocean waves

I know this article might hit hard. Let’s start with the title: You want to control your teenager because you can't sit with your own discomfort. What do I mean by SIT with discomfort?

Well, feelings carry different energies and arrive in different ways. Sometimes they trickle in, like a hint of anxiousness or a glimmer of optimism. And sometimes they come in big waves. Anger rattles your ribcage or joy floods your heart or fear obstructs your vision.

To sit with feelings is to allow them to arise, to peak and subside. Instead of diminishing them and telling yourself you shouldn’t be feeling this way, you let them flow. You resist the urge to shove them back down and you acknowledge what you’re experiencing. You say, ‘Oh, I feel disappointment right now.’ You are wise to your typical avoiding and numbing techniques, like getting busy, working, eating, drinking, running, scrolling, etc. and you choose to stay with the emotions that are moving through you.

Emotions are energy and, you already know this, when you name them and feel them, they really don’t last that long. So the personal development ‘muscle’ I’m talking about here is actually experiencing your discomfort. Riding the wave. Holding yourself as a container with both a front and back door so the energy can flow through.


And what are the uncomfortable feelings we need to sit with as parents of kids in their teens and 20's? Here are the top three I hear from parents:

  1. Watching them feel deeply.

  2. Letting them make their own mistakes.

  3. Not knowing how it’s going to turn out.

Watching them feel deeply.

The truth is that teenagers and young adults go through some big emotional events. It’s inevitable. Hormones flip them this way and that. Little hurts feel huge and difficulties seems like catastrophes. Their frustrations erupt like volcanoes and their sadness takes them into dark, lonely places. And when this happens, you want to do something, anything, to make them happy again. It’s natural, after all those years of cuddling and comforting your kids, trying to protect them from negativity and ensure a joyful childhood. Part of you feels an urge to take control of the situation. It's a powerful force.

Cognitively, you also know that, to be emotionally healthy, your kids must experience all of their emotions. Grief as well as joy. Rejection as well as belonging. Fear as well as confidence. You want them to be able to feel and process all of these feelings as they move toward adulthood. And so, part of you wants to let them go through their pain.

But that feels uncomfortable and unkind. You see their torment and confusion etched on their faces. You witness their rages or hear their sobs through the bedroom door. You sense their need for comfort and guidance and feel such a compulsion to step in.

Take a moment here and consider the prospect of letting them feel their big emotions. What are the feelings that come up for you right now? Is there helplessness, guilt, fear, etc.? Name them if you can.

If you’re someone who isn’t very comfortable feeling your own emotions, watching someone else feeling theirs is often awkward and unpleasant. Maybe you feel like running out of there or switching back to the happy channel. And for some parents, watching their kids suffer even causes sympathetic distress when they actually feel what their kid is feeling. How is it for you?

When you consider letting them feel deeply and little voices in your head are objecting, what reasons are they giving? What is that part of you imagining would happen to you if you did? And what ability would you need to develop in yourself to sit with your uncomfortable feelings?

Letting them make their own mistakes.

Deep in your heart, you know that your kid must learn what they need to learn. And at the same time, it’s hard to watch them make a choice that, from your experience, seems likely to turn out poorly, maybe painfully and maybe with some difficult consequences.

When you step back and let them find their own way, you feel irresponsible, like a captain who’s gone below deck. What kind of parent would let their kid go through that heartbreak, adversity, humiliation, etc.? Will people think I’m negligent or uncaring? Even though you know they must walk their own path and learn their own lessons, you don’t think you could forgive yourself if it went badly. Of course, you want to avoid all that. Of course, you want to take control.

You worry about what might happen. You can you see them wanting to be cool and hanging out with the kids who skip classes and smoke pot in the parking lot. And your mind plays that scenario all the way out to not graduating, not being able to get a good job and having a miserable life. Or you watch them sabotaging their job and foresee an adult who has trouble sticking to their commitments.

Of course, it's just imagination, your mind filling in best guesses of how things are going to go. But with the worst case scenarios looming, you want to get control of the situation. You want to keep them from seeing those friends or talk to their boss. You feel like you have to ‘help’ and you’d be a 'bad' parent if you didn’t. And these urges aren't just cognitive; they pulse fiercely in your heart and belly.

So I'm wondering what would support you to sit with feeling irresponsible, uncaring or unsupportive. What might ground you to just be with it for 10 minutes as it comes up, rocks your boat and then subsides? What might you trust?

And then there is room for more. Where in you heart might you hold the possibility that they really aren’t making a mistake at all, but learning something important that will serve them for the rest of their lives? What would be your new way of standing by?

Not knowing how it’s going to turn out.

We're all old enough to see that so many things in our lives were completely unpredictable - where we would live, what career we would pursue, who we would partner with and what children would come into our lives.

And still, it’s hard to watch your child’s life unfolding without knowing how it’s going to turn out.

When the kids are little, you feel a responsibility to create opportunities for them, find good playmates, put them in a good school and drive them to a hundred swim practices. And in all of that, you feel some sense of control. (Of course, it’s an illusion of control, but that’s another article for another day.)

And then one day, that sense of control evaporates. And it’s damned uncomfortable. It has you pacing, lying awake, snooping, stage-managing, doubting, etc. It has your ego, your smaller self, designing ways to try to regain a bit of that feeling of control.

I invite you to observe when you are feeling the desire to know. Does the not knowing grate like fingernails on the chalkboard, quiver your guts, throb in your head or leaden your heart? Does it evoke your flight, fight or freeze?

What are you imagining would happen if you did know how it turns out?

What part of you believes you are the one designing your child's life?

What would it take for you to be more content in the mystery of life?

What are you cultivating in yourself to live with the contradictions of parenting (sit back/ step in, give them space/ be close by, being needed/ rejected)?

In what ways can you be open to both knowing and not knowing?


Learning to sit with our discomfort - our stinky, itchy, scary feelings – is ongoing self-development for all of us. Each time we do it, our world expands as we develop more perspective and more trust in ourselves. And when we wait and trust, doors open that we couldn’t have possibly imagined. It creates space for more possibility in ourselves and our relationships with our kids.

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Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash



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