Parents of teens will often enter adolescence fearing it as a painful and scary period that they will need to grit their teeth through to survive. They have heard the horror stories, they have witnessed some pretty rough stuff with their own eyes, and they are ready to do the “death march” through it until the teen is launched.
Let me share an interesting experience I had with relaxing a little, so that you can appreciate the exhilarating experience of parenting your teen.
Roxanne had decided that she wanted to have an un-medicated birth with our last child. So in preparation we took a hypno-birthing class. The purpose of the class was to teach her how to relax through the contractions rather than fight them. Our instructor taught us deep relaxation techniques including vividly imagining what a successful birthing experience would look like, as well as visualizing past, peaceful, happy memories and places that she could mentally go to when the work became intense. Soothing music was played in the background to assist.
To demonstrate the effectiveness for us fathers, she had us all lounging in big bean bags, with soft music playing and the lights low. She had asked if it was okay for her to come around and touch our hands while we were relaxed. We all said yes. She came to each person, picked up their hand by pinching the skin on the back of the hand, and then let it flop back into our laps. I assumed it was to see how relaxed we were. Frankly, I was expecting the touch to be soothing. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t painful either. Once she had gone down the line and made contact with each person, she had us open our eyes. Then at her suggestion we looked at the top of our hand at the base of our thumbs. Indented into each hand were tiny bite marks. While our eyes were shut, this kind little instructor had grabbed our skin with one of those vicious silver alligator clips with the saw tooth teeth on it, lifted our hand, then opened it to let the hand drop!
Next came the real lesson. She then passed the alligator clips around for us to try it on ourselves. This time, of course, knew what was coming, we had evidence that it should hurt given the marks in our skin from the previous test, and we were not in a relaxed state. How do you think it felt? Well let me tell you, it was like we were all being cradled in fluffy pillows and sung to by an angelic choir…. Ha! It hurt! It hurt bad enough that I heard grown men say “ouch!” There were no tears, but the difference in the pain between the two bites was huge.
Now let’s make the connection to parenting a teen who’s struggling. Any parent who has been through the wringer with their teen has experienced plenty of emotional pain. The pain comes in waves, like uterine contractions, and they become convinced that the relative calm in-between crises won’t last. It’s just a matter of time before the trauma strikes again. If the problems are advanced enough, there is seemingly no time between “contractions” even to take another breath. A parent’s contractions are really a whole concoction of emotions, anger, hurt, sympathy, and fear being some of the most common.
Because these feelings aren’t pleasurable, they naturally try to do things to reduce the pain. Some disconnect, or throw themselves into other pursuits, or give up and try to ignore the problem. But most loving and educated parents eventually tend to do one of two things.
1. Some clamp down and try to force their teen to make better decisions, or
2. Some go to the extreme, into full-blown rescue mode.
Those parents that tend more towards “tuff love” usually take a very behavioral approach. Those who feel that their teen is fragile and needs special assistance tend to come to the rescue. In both cases they are “owning” the problem more than they should. Each parent type is trying to make something happen, rather than relaxing and working with what they have.
What kind of pain management are you employing? Do you have a way to calm yourself in the crisis, employing resources that would keep you from clamping down, checking out, or running from the experience? Here are three things I personally use with my own teenagers and the growing pains going on in our home.
- I keep myself educated – you have to study the best parenting information you can find, and not just once. If you are immersed, great ideas (different from your natural tendencies) will come to mind when needed.
- I talk to other trusted adults – whether it’s my wife or a solid friend (and you know who they are). I need their insights into me as well as my child, getting me to come down off my emotion and into the right mindset before I tackle the problem with both barrels blazing. Warning! It’s important to protect your teen’s reputation outside the home, so be selective in how you air some dirty laundry.
- I remember that “this too shall pass” – and I remind myself that my relationship with this child goes on much longer than these few, short, difficult years. I must always show that I love them, even when hard things are required of them by their parents.
Take a deep breath. Relax. Use the skills you’ve learned–but may have forgotten in the current crisis–and keep a visual of the beautiful end result that you desire. It’s absolutely possible to keep your relationship in tact when you learn to handle the painful times.