There are many things that can impact on the day to day drama and challenges that may not even be the fault of your teen, or at least not 100%. There is a very real chance that things going on in your life that can impact on how you view, interpret and deal with situations. The good news is that being able to change or address these self issues can often be much easier than trying to change or squeeze your teen through a normal (albeit frustrating) stage they may be going through. A very wise person told me once, the best way to survive the four year old, is to let them be 4 for 12 months. Same thing kinda applies to teens. It is important to have a decent amount of self awareness during the raising teens stage. To implement some self evaluation on a regular basis to ensure that you are your best self for this challenging time can only help. And who would say no to things not being slightly easier?
1. What is going on in my life right now that could be making my ability to cope with this situation harder than it should be?
What is going on in your life right now? Hey, I get it! Life does not slow down when the kids get older (I remember being delusional enough to think this would be the case!?) and for many of us life can take some pretty sharp turns when we are in our forties. (I am making a generalisation as to how old many of us are when our kids get to teen stage). Many of us have career changes, relationship changes, body changes and so on during this stage. For many, our ‘stage’ happens at the same time as the ‘teen stage’ changes so we both find ourselves where our bodies, brains and behaviours are sometimes beyond our control.
You can not expect that you will be able to cope at ‘perfect parent’ level (bhahaha ….) if you are going through anything serious in life: relationship break down/new job/health issues etc. What is going on in your life might not be as huge as a relationship breakdown, but that does not mean that your situation might not be affecting your reaction to standard crappy teen behaviour. Maybe that promotion you got at work has resulted in work being a little more emotionally demanding on you and you are going home more tired than you use to; so when you get home and the kitchen is a mess - again - then your reaction might be elevated to loosing your shit more convincingly. (I mean, how hard is it to put the bloody bowl straight into the dishwasher rather than leaving it on the bench!!)
Perhaps you are starting to experience the emotional/hormonal changes that can turn you from 'loving mumma-bear' to 'now I know why some animals eat their young!' The beginnings of menopause for some of us can really mess with our emotions: feeling emotional and teary at anything, overwhelming overload anger at simple things (or even nothing), just basically sick and tired - all very similar things teens go through. (and we expect them to keep their emotions in check. If it was that easy, we adults with so much more life experience would be able to do that simple enough…but do/can we?)
2. Is the behaviour triggering something in me?
This is something that I personally experienced in a very impactful way. When I started parenting my teens, and was making decisions on my parenting methods, I had a whole heap of ‘stuff’ surface about the way in which I was raised. Things that had previously had no conscious bearing on me suddenly became quite significant. I found myself going through a stage of grieving for things I had missed out on as a teen, and some realisations of things that were ‘no big deal’ back then but actually were a huge deal! Things were different back then, but clearly the impact of some things required processing.
For some parents, they find themselves processing guilt for their own behaviour towards their parents when they were teens. For others, the behaviour or actions of their teenager can spark painful or regretful memories that can cause panic. The important thing to be mindful of here is that if you find you are super sensitive to something that has happened, if there is ‘stuff’ behind it, you might need to tap into some professional help to work through it. No need to carry that shit or pass it on.
3. Where is my anger coming from: fear? Power struggle?
It is incredibly helpful to identify where your anger stems from. Are you angry because you are sick and tired of saying the same dam thing over and over again and they STILL can’t put the fucking bowl in the dishwasher? (Guilty as charged your Honour). You have probably heard the saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome” - maybe you need to take a step back and look at how you are asking/demanding/expecting the behaviour to happen (bowl inside dishwasher) and maybe it needs to be addressed differently? Not saying ditch the bowl responsibility, but perhaps go about the necessity of the bowl duty with a new approach.
Often when we feel anger towards our teens is because they have done something that has endangered their lives (from stupid actions to stupid comments) and the leap to anger is often from the place of fear, and the place of fear stems from a place of love. Hey that is not a bad thing, but try take the time to follow the pathway of anger before you let it rip so you know what your true place is. It might change how you address things.
Is your anger sparked because your child is challenging your authority? Yep, sure it happens and to be honest, you should not be surprised that this can/does/will happen. If the power struggle between you and your teen has set in as normal, then it will require a very different strategy if you wish to stop the fighting. By not fighting does not mean letting them win. It takes two to have a fight, and even if you feel incredibly angry, there is no universal law that requires you to engage. If it was a work mate or another adult behaving that way towards you, how would you react? Perhaps you would probably feel the same level of anger, but your response would be more measured.
Power struggles are hard because you feel 100% justified because you are the adult, the grown-up, the parent. Your teen feel justified because …teens just do! Again it is a stage they go through: for some lucky parents it might be a blip stage, for others it could be a long-term challenge. Either way it is a stage. When authority is challenged, it is usually more strategic to respond quietly, with conviction or even humour. This is easier to do when you are not emotionally invested in 'winning'.
4. Would I think differently about this tomorrow?
Never underestimate the power of sleeping on it. The next morning you might not be so emotional - possibly still be angry but clear headed about why you are angry. Or perhaps you might wake up and wonder what it was that really upset you yesterday. In many cases we act in the heat of the moment to even the smallest things, but the next day that same thing just feels insignificant. Also, by saying to your teen “we will talk about this tomorrow” gives them time to ’sweat it out’. On occasions I have said to one of my teens “I am way too angry to deal with this situation right now. Leave me alone.” Strangely enough the dirty bowl was in the dishwasher when I came out from my room.
5. Would this situation be dealt with better if another adult was involved?
This is a tricky one - having the involvement of another adult. I am aware that the opinion of another can cause conflict and contradiction, but when I say involvement I am referring to you being able to discuss what is going on with your teen with someone (another adult) you trust. *This does not always need to be the other parent*
By being able to discuss issues that have caused conflict with a trusted friend, might allow you the chance to unpack the situation, to role play some ideas, or for that person to offer a perspective that you may have missed (or ignored).
Perhaps the issue itself would be better dealt by someone other than you? Perhaps a united front of more than one grown-up could have the impact you are seeking? Keep in mind how confronting that could be perceived by your teen however. Intervention type conversations have to be done with high levels of emotional intelligence on the part of the grown-ups.
It is not easy...but it doesn't have to be so hard
Look, teens know how and when to push our buttons. They are experts at it! But if you are finding it utterly exhausting, all the fighting and conflict, then perhaps you might need to take some time to do some self evaluation to see if you are also contributing to the stress levels. Removing your vulnerabilities and trigger points will empower you. You will be greatly surprised at what you can cope with when you are in a good place within yourself. It does not mean you will let your teen get away with murder, or that you will become a push-over. It just means that you will be more aware and resilient to the things that used to add to the troubles. How good would that be?