Recently David and I had the opportunity to attend the Ask Sharifa show as guests on a panel. The topic of conversation switched to parenting teenage children, especially during the pandemic.
As parents of two teenagers, David and I know the parenting challenges that can arise at the different stages of our children’s lives. As we have all heard, kids aren’t born with a manual, and even if we did have one, no one-size strategy can fit all the needs of young people. Today, on the surface it may appear as though the needs of our children are not the same as they were when we were young. We didn’t have social media to contend with, or have the pressure to be constantly “on” social chats so you can score points and not lose your rank. Some young people are dealing with increased social isolation from COVID19, increased focus on electronics, and/or may find home is not a safe (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) place to reside in but have no other options due to closures. However, at the core, all children have the same needs: to be loved and to love, to be seen, to be heard, to feel safe and provided for, to have agency in their lives, to experience things, to live their dreams, and to flourish and grow. Nevertheless, as parents it may feel at times as though we have no idea how to support our kids or that the needs of our children supersede or conflict with our own needs or desires. However, there are ways to ensure a more harmonious relationship with our children.
As parents who teach the practice of compassion, David and I know how important it is to hold space for ourselves when parenting young people. Many times, we have been triggered by the behavior of our children, because there was an internally unmet need within ourselves that needed tending. For example, I used to struggle to get my kids to do their chores. I used to get so upset when they didn’t listen to me and tidy up. I used to create such resistance and would argue, fight and punish them via taking away privileges when they didn’t listen. What I did not realize was that I was creating an experience of cleaning, which was well…unpleasant. No wonder my kids didn’t want to clean. Our cleaning was often met with a negative experience because I always worried that they were not going to do their chores (because of a past memory). Within me was a need to be assisted with the chores and a need for the house to be neat and tidy in my own schedule. To them, they did not see the importance of such need.
Therefore, I decided one day to shift how I saw and experienced my expectations of cleaning with them. Each of them has a chore to do each week so I decided to do the following:
1-Make clear my expectation that they are supposed to do their chore each week before they have to do anything they would like to do (such as go out with a friend). I explained why the chore was important and why it was important to do it consistently. In my case, I saw my kids doing their chores as a way to build their skills of self-care. I feel chores help them learn strategies on how to take care of themselves and their belongings. I feel keeping ourselves and our spaces tidy and clean is a way of honoring our surroundings and ourselves. When I started to take this approach, I noticed my kids took an interest out of their own initiative to do more from a place of curiosity. They started to learn to cook for themselves, and to tidy up their own rooms. I also wanted the kids to understand that doing at least one chore is their contribution to keeping our shared space, clean, tidy and organized for everyone.
2-I released my resistance. I released the need to be right and to force my will on them. While my kids do their chores mostly every weekend, sometimes they don’t, and that is ok. When I am particularly stressed, like before a big event, I will ask for help. If they cannot help me, I release my resistance and do it myself. I have made the decision that how I feel is more important than getting them to do what I want or think they should do, so if arguing over the chores is doing to result in my being upset, I chose to do the chore myself and find joy in it.
3-I let go of the expectation of who I think they “should” be. This has helped me greatly in having a better relationship with my children. As kids, our parents may have placed expectations on us on how we should behave and we in turn, may be doing the same to our children. Our children, however, have the right to make their own mistakes and navigate their own lives. They are often managing feelings, emotions (and hormones!) which they themselves may not understand and so communicating with them about what they feel, what they are thinking with curiosity and openness, helps in creating a bond whereby your children can feel like they can speak to you about anything. There are also times when I re-imagine my children, meaning that if I find myself thinking “so and so ALWAYS does this and that”, I tell myself that I am seeing them from a particular lens, so shifting the lens to “sometimes they do this and that”, helps me be more open to their feedback and be open to see a different behavior from them.
4-Most importantly, I am kind and compassionate towards myself when I mistakes. I make parenting mistakes ALL THE TIME. Sometimes I feel bad, sometimes I just laugh at myself, trust that my kids will be alright, apologize if I need to and try again. You can hear more about my experiences with my kids in my podcast interview with Susan Pollack about compassion in parenting here.
Sometimes it feels as though what we say doesn’t make a dent but then there are those times when we hear our kids tell themselves or others the advice we often give them. We as parents often underestimate the power of the seeds we are planting, so hang in there. You are doing a great job…and if you don’t feel you are, you can accept and love yourself for doing the best you can, AND choose to change.