For parents of older teens, the thought of releasing our kids into the world can be frightening, particularly if they have shown very few signs that they will be able to handle “real life” once they leave our care. If this is the case, you are probably scared and hurt from the conflicts with your child.
When feeling this way, parents often respond one of two ways: either they throw their hands up in exasperation and leave the child to her own devices, or they anxiously go “all in” with lectures and consequences intended to motivate their child. I have found that both ends of the spectrum are unhelpful and create large relational craters.
Simply stated, it’s tough to parent effectively if managing our hurt or fear is our main goal.
Whether exasperated or anxious (or somewhere in between), parents often make their kids’ behavior the main issue, when in actuality, they haven’t dealt with their own baggage. Ask yourself: What’s going on inside of me? What am I projecting onto my child?
To the exasperated, “hands-off” parent…
If you’re like me, you may be thinking “I’d have some confidence in you teen, if you gave me ONE stinking thing to be confident about. Forget it, do what you want! I’m done!” Those words, believe it or not, are more about you than about your child. You have high expectations, which is good, but they may well be unrealistic at the moment, and so a setup for frustration and failure.
Giving up is not the answer. Your child needs you, she really does. But she needs you to do it differently. She needs to experience you as engaged, but calm. She needs to hear you laugh at yourself, not her. She needs the affirmations from 10 years ago when she was sweeter, cuter and funnier.
Can you say to her, “My daughter, I have done much to harm our relationship. I never set out to hurt you so much, but I can tell that I have. I have worried, and cried. I have set unrealistic expectations and fearfully interrogated you, not because I don’t love you, but because I do. But that’s not the message you got from me, I know. I have attempted to control things that aren’t mine to control. I’ve treated you like you were 6 for the last 12 years. I have focused so much on “fixing” you, that I lost focus on who you are. Will you forgive me? I need to re-evaluate my role in your life. I am tempted to run away, because that’s the easiest way to stop controlling you. Perhaps I’m the one that is out of control? That’s a new thought I’ll need to ponder. I love you, and I want you to know that.”
To the anxious “cramming” parent…
For the parent that is trying to frantically cram the last 10 years of teaching into your child in a crash course: Stop it! You can’t regain what’s lost in a few strong lectures. But you do have an opportunity to encourage and express confidence in your child. He knows he needs to work more and play less. He knows he doesn’t know how to manage his money. He knows he’s a slob. He knows he’s chosen poor friends. He knows he’s disrespectful. He knows. He knows. He knows, because he has listened to you. You have told him.
Can you say, “I believe in your ability to make your choices and accept the consequences that life has to teach. I have been harsh and critical and unfair. I have let fear grip me. I have given you a message that you are a disappointment to me, often in an attempt to control you and get the behaviors I wanted to see. I can see that you have disconnected from me and I don’t really blame you. I wouldn’t want to be treated that way. I need you to know that I love you and am proud of who you are right now.”
This may be a tough teaching for parents to hear, but believe me, I get it. I write as a recovering, well-intentioned controller. I know the my-way-or-the-highway mentality. Would you be willing to receive God’s grace for you? It is difficult to give to our kids that which we struggle to receive.
Hear the words of God to you:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
My prayer is that you can receive these words from scripture deep into your heart. That you would accept these verses for yourself from the God who loves you. That you would “breathe in His grace” for you and your family situation right now so you can breathe it out to your child.
A final word…
Apply It Now:
Fear, despair and criticism are poison, but confidence, hope and compassion are huge gifts to our kids. These days, right now, will be either a pivotal turning point towards each other or a deep chasm between you. So don’t give up hope. Pray for your child. Encourage your child. Their route may not be the one you would have picked (okay, it’s not the one you would have picked), but they will learn and grow as you support and encourage them.
- In what ways have you either given up on your child or are still attempting to cram into him the things you fear he doesn’t get?
- How could you affirm her for where she is growing and becoming more responsible? For what she is vs. what she is not?
P.S. As teens get older, the “stakes” get higher for parents. This tip touches the beginning points of what you can do. But if you would like more in-depth help and coaching around this topic, please contact us about coaching.