When we become parents we feel pretty confident we’ll figure it out; under the delusion we’ll just naturally know how to handle whatever situation might come up with our child. Maybe we do some reading of books to prepare (or for today’s parents, online research), maybe we’ve had younger siblings we helped raise or we did a lot of babysitting, likely there is some knowledge and experience going into the job. Then our kid shows up, and very quickly we realize we don’t know much of anything. And the minute we figure out how to solve a problem, they shift gears and throw us something totally new; or something we did that once worked, no longer works. Other people’s kids we can figure out…ours, not so much.
Hint: there’s a reason for that!
Most parent’s “Plan B” when a challenge arises usually involves bouncing the dilemma off of family, friends, pediatricians, maybe even a counselor in search of the “right” answer to whatever has cropped up physically or emotionally in the child. After all, we are looking to solve the issue (the faster the better). At times we do receive well-meaning, usable advice that can make a difference.
But, with an open mind, the right guidance, and some practice, our children can actually give us a lot of insight and teach us just as much, if not more, than we teach them during the course of their adolescence. This is because the behaviors they exhibit that we find troubling represent unfinished business we have yet to discover, process, and integrate into our life’s journey.
Let me give you an example…
Last Wednesday afternoon I had a conversation with a mom who appeared extremely agitated with her son’s lack of motivation about a big school project that was due on Friday. They’d been arguing about the effort he was putting in, and his procrastination, all week long.
So I asked her to tell me exactly what she was feeling. “Frustration!” The word flew from her lips. I responded, “I understand. What else, beyond the frustration, how are you feeling?” She thought for a minute. “I know he’s capable of more than he’s going to put into the project, he’ll half-ass it and it annoys me that he isn’t working up to his potential.”
(Can anyone relate to this?)
I let her know I’d heard her by saying, “So your son’s lack of motivation and his procrastination about this project makes you feel frustrated and annoyed.”
“Yes!” she said.
“What else is going on?” At first she looked at me like I was a little crazy; then after a short silence she told me she just realized she was actually feeling a lot of anxiety because when he doesn’t do well on his work, it makes her look like a bad parent.
It’s not really about the kid, it’s about the parent!
Mom’s underlying anxiety about her son’s lack of effort in getting his project done well and on time is really mom’s anxiety about her performance as a parent!
This is just one, small example of how, so often, we unconsciously project our unease onto our kids. Now, we can step back, think, and learn from what’s REALLY going on beneath the surface between ourselves and our adolescents…because they show us our own “junk” and give us the opportunity to work it through!
So, after I reflected what she’d just told me, I asked her how it felt to hear that the grade her son might receive on the project would somehow define her parenting ability…how did that sound when she said it out loud?
She thought it sounded pretty silly.
I asked her if it served her at all to believe that statement.
She said, “Not at all.”
Then I said, “Attached to the statement that your son’s grade reflects your parenting ability, there is a limiting belief you are holding about yourself.” (Again she came at me with a “what, are you crazy” facial expression).
I went on,”Let’s see if we can define the limiting belief you have that is creating the friction in this relationship.”
After a few minutes of back and forth, with my asking some pointed questions, she came to the realization that her uncooperative son (which, in this particular situation, presented as his lack of motivation and procrastination on the school project) caused her to feel disrespected and unheard. And, as we talked further, she recalled often struggling with feeling unheard and disrespected as a teenager in the relationship she had with her own mother.
I know it can sound odd, or maybe even a little scary to think our that kids can trigger things inside of us that go beyond the surface or bring up our past “stuff,” but they can do this like no other human being (except maybe a spouse), just by virtue of who they are. There is no ill intent on their part; they are growing through this stage of development and it can often kick into gear your unconscious memories of the same time period from your own childhood.
Not to mention that just as there is peer pressure to do well, there is also parent peer pressure to raise “successful” kids, and this weighs on a lot of parent’s minds today.
Just like so many other areas of life, there is more going on than what’s on the surface of the relationships within our families. If you’d like to learn more about how to read and learn from the challenges you are facing with your teen, check out my hourly, package, and program specifics here.