Submitted by Cathy Gilbert
(Cathy is an Educational Assistant, a very magnificent Parent of a very large and very diverse family, and an Inclusive Leader who serves on the ILC Board of Directors. Therefore she is HIGHLY qualified to submit this blog post about inter-generational bridge-building. And she is a fabulous writer – read on!).
So it’s like this. You are parenting a teenager. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones. Your teen is compliant, loving (towards you and others), attends school and is successful, has at least one extra-curricular activity and is not smoking (anything), drinking (and yes I mean alcohol) or doing any other drugs that they shouldn’t be. (And that includes drinking cough medicine when they don’t actually have a cough which is apparently a thing).
So let’s just say that’s not the kid you are living with. Your teen seems to prefer the company of their friends and would rather hang out at a fast food restaurant sitting with these same friends while they all use their cell phones and snap-chat about anything (including taking photos of half their head, or maybe their leg). This in spite of the fact that you have offered to buy pizza and provide pop so they can hang out at your house. You offer to leave them alone, not even stick your head in the room they are in but still, they prefer to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Sometimes you have a conversation with this teen person, sometimes they exchange a grunt when they go by and you try to determine what it meant. Occasionally you get full sentences, and amazingly sometimes a sustained conversation.
I know there are teens who are entered in the national science contest, who communicate with politicians about the environment or human rights issues. Teens who spend their Sunday afternoon visiting the elderly, or shut ins or baking cookies for the homeless.
But for those of you who are parenting the ones who don’t, there is hope. I say this with the personal experience of being at the end of a long (in years and in number of children) parenting tunnel. I have only one child left who is not yet an adult (and one is a couple months away from it but she’s ready). And I can say that most of what you are worried about now will not be an issue in 10 years. (Something else might be but you probably can’t control that).
And I have new and enhanced experience because I now work in a high school. Who knew that’s where I would end up? Maybe it’s karma. After years of saying I hate teens… Actually I love teens. In fact they are super fabulous people. And I so enjoy that the teens I work with are not mine. The teenaged brain is simply different. And you just have to accept it.
The other thing that is truly important as a parent is not to take their sh** personally. You are not a bad parent if they choose to do dumb stuff. And they still love you even when they look like they don’t. They might say rotten things (or even yell them), reject your brilliant ideas for their life (or even for that afternoon), your invitation to lunch or dinner out with them even when you offer to take them to their favourite place. They might look at you with “the look” that says you are a complete, embarrassing imbecile that they somehow are connected to.
If you drop them at school they might leap out of the vehicle hoping no one saw you with them. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.
However, that’s bull. Because we do take it personally. In the adoption world, social workers tell parents not to take the kids stuff personally because it’s probably directed at some previous person in their life. When you give birth to the kid you don’t even have that excuse. Either way, of course we take it personally. Especially mothers. Because we take everything personally, and we take responsibility for the whole world, so of course we do for our kid.
So we do feel hurt. Of course. But dig deep. Because you just have to be the bigger person (although your kid may now tower over you). You have to picture this giant teen as a much smaller person. Like a toddler asserting their independence in sometimes highly illogical ways. Keep that image in your head when they act in ways that make you question your sanity or theirs. Stay calm in the face of adversity. Keep loving that kid even when it’s hard. Take hold of any of the good moments (past or present) that make you laugh, or that made you happy. Just like hanging on to any relationship we have to take the good with the bad. And the teen years for most parents and kids is more about filling the kid’s bucket than your own. They get enough negativity from the world around them, they don’t need any extra from those of us who love them more than life itself. Because they need us to love them even though they act like they don’t. In fact, that’s probably why they treat us the way they do. Because they can. We are the people they trust; that they know they can be themselves with and still be loved.
And read this book “Yes Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind” by Michael Bradley. I wish I had read it with my first teen, some 25 years ago.
Good luck friends who have teens or will have someday….it’s inevitable. Resistance is futile.