Road Signs For Success – September 17, 2008

By Paula Lau

As I stood staring at the slammed bedroom door of my teenage son (I’m withholding his name to protect the identity of the guilty) I once again thought to myself, this isn’t what I signed up for. Where did that cute little guy who liked to play with dinosaurs and watch Walt Disney movies go? The fact that he drives and shaves now is a little beyond me on the best of days. We had just concluded another of those frustrating “battle of the wills” contests. And even though in the end, I technically won when the tension and frustration run that high it doesn’t feel like much of a victory.

There is a constant dance that goes on between family members — particularly parents and teenagers. Sometimes it’s a waltz, other times it’s a break dance. Knowing which one it’s going to be on any particular day is a real challenge. My husband and I have found that it’s important to have our dance shoes on every day.

A wizened co-worker and single mom of two young men, who are now grown and have families of their own, directed me to a wonderful book, Between Parent and Teenager. Inside this book are accurate and painful reminders of the stage of life that I am in with my sons. In the preface, author Dr. Haim G. Ginott writes, “A day comes in any parent’s life when there is a sudden realization: ‘My child is a child no longer.’ There is also conflict. As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers their need is not to need us. This conflict is real; we experience it daily as we help those we love become independent of us.”

It is amazing to watch the struggle unfold within your own home. Girls, school, cars, what’s cool, what’s not — these questions are all-consuming when you are in your teenage years. When I think back to what I was like at that age I tend to exhibit a lot more grace towards my own offspring.

My husband and I try to keep a number of things in mind when we’re dealing with our seceding, wayward children. First of all, it’s most important to try and retain the relationship with your child. There needs to be some sort of connection physically (and I don’t mean beating them to death) if not a meeting of the minds. Try to find some way to keep connected. In some cases if your child doesn’t want to be hugged any more, offer to give them a back rub or scratch their back. I learned that little trick from my mother in law. I observed that as she ministered to the physical aches and pains of a growing child, they were more likely to tell her of their heartache and concerns.

When conflict arises with your child ask yourself this question, “Is this the hill I want to die on?” When it comes to a completely clean room, a particular haircut, a particular letter grade, a style of clothing, the music they listen to — are these the kind of things you want to make or break your relationship? Teenagerism, an affliction suffered by all between the ages of 12 to 20, demands that the carrier explore many different options in their search for their true identity. As a parent it’s important to separate your own conflicts, issues and expectations from your child’s. In other words, someone has to be the adult. One of your best resources can be those who have “been there, done that.” Ask older parents how they survived. You might even want to ask your own parents how they survived you!

“This can be our finest hour,” writes Dr. Ginott. “To let go when we want to hold on requires utmost generosity and love. Only parents are capable of such painful greatness.”

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