Friday, November 13, 2009

Relationship with Your Teen

For me, it's all about the relationships. Remember that poem that floated around when the kids were little? About ignoring the messy handprints on the wall because someday, they'd all be grown and gone? We maybe need to write a poem that has more to do with teens. Because we need to realize that our kids will not be adolescents forever. But the relationships that we form with them now, will be carried long into adulthood. A ripple effect will occur - how they treat other people, their own children, people that will work with them. And on a more selfish note, how much they want to interact with us as aging parents will be a direct result of the relationship we formed with them as children growing.

So, we agree, it's important. Right?

But often, we hear parents say, "I'm not your friend! I'm your mother!" What does that really mean? Is it impossible to be both? Do we really want both?

For the friend side, we want:
  • Trust
  • To know what's happening in their life
  • To have them feel like they can share their problems
  • To have them enjoy being around us
From the mom side, we want:
  • To have them know our suggestions are best
  • To have them follow our suggestions
  • To have compliance
  • To have respect
I'm sure there are more "wishes" on each front. It's just a matter of looking at them. Maybe it's an issue about labels. Maybe there is some other being - the best of both the friend and the mom world.

So how do we gain their trust? We listen. We try not to judge. We try to help them see situations from a variety of perspectives, so they can choose what's best for them. By not bulldozing our way onto them, they learn that they can trust us to hear them - to really listen to what they want to get across. We have to let them make mistakes without any look of "told ya so." We have to simply be there to help them when they need to regroup and try again. These are ways of building trust.

Friends know what's happening in their lives. And by knowing, we can offer advice and guidance before mistakes are made. Or we can offer help once the mistakes happen, as they undoubtedly will. And by knowing what's going on, we will feel less parental anxiety. So often, we assume the worst. They may be doing things we wish they wouldn't, but if we build up walls, there's no way they will let us know what's going on.

Friends share problems. I think this is where, for me, the "friendship" label doesn't fit. I don't want a two-way street with them sharing their problems and me sharing mine. I want them to be able to share ANY problem they have. But I don't want to burden them with all of my own. That's what MY friends are for. And there will be things that they only want to share with their peers. But if they have your trust, they will come to you when their peers' advice simply isn't good enough. They will be open with you about what they want to do or have already done. How we react to it will be the deciding factor on whether they continue.

Friends enjoy being around each other. Are you fun? Do you find things that you AND your child like to do together? This will strengthen your relationship with them. Whether it's watching certain T.V. shows together, or singing in the car on the way to Sonic for a late night snack, these are the building blocks for a solid relationship.  [HaHa! Just noticing the two options that sprung to mind for me were very couch-potato-ish! Maybe you and your teen like to ride bikes, or run, or walk the dogs, or play paintball, or....something more active. It just has to fit you. And it looks like now you know what fits us! ]

Now let's look at the Mom Side. What parts of being able to the play the Mom card help or hinder relationship building?

Mother knows best, right? Sometimes. But not always. And sometimes learning it yourself is necessary. Have you ever moved to a new city? People can tell you where things are, print out maps for you, but the best way to learn is to actually get lost. You have to find your way out. You have to find the familiar and go from there. So, it's nice to be the one who is always right, but is it realistic? And is it healthy? What happens if they have you on some pedestal where you can do no wrong. It's really hard to come to that perfect mom and report in that you are less than perfect. And our goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to come to us.

Follow our Advice. There is no doubt in my mind that many of us have a lot of VERY good suggestions for our teens. Simply by virtue of having been on this planet longer than them, means that we've had more interactions - good and bad - struggled with decisions, made choices that worked and choices that didn't. If we have a good relationship with our teen, they are much more likely to hear what we have to say - to actually learn from our mistakes and our triumphs. But not if we come at them with a "do as I say" attitude. They know that they will soon be adults themselves. They want to test their own wings. Let them do it with your love instead of your criticism. They have their own inner critic working against them. They may actually be able to do something that we didn't think they could do - or that we couldn't accomplish when we were their age. Nevertheless, they deserve the right to try.

Having a Compliant Teen. This is about obedience, right? Having them do what you tell them to do without any guff? There are situations when you, as the mom, need them to do things they don't feel like doing. It's best to work that out before the heat of the situation. Who is going to be in charge of cleaning up after the dogs? Not a fun job. But someone has to do it. Probably should be the person that wants the dog to stay. Is it fair to have mom clear all the stuff off the table, cook the dinner, and then do all the dishes? Maybe sometimes. But dividing what needs to be done with everyone in the house, taking into consideration what is going on in their lives might make compliance more likely. Compliance implies always yielding to the other person's wishes. No one likes that. That's why getting everyone on board with what needs to be done - and maybe even reevaluating what really needs to be done - will help.


Lastly, Respect. In this context, we're talking about respect for the Mom because she is the mom. But that's not how life really works. People respect people because they deserve it. They might fake a little respect for smoother sailing, but that's more like fear or manipulation, neither of which we really want to encourage! The best way to have your teens respect is to show them respect. Respect when you talk to them. Respect when they ask for things. Respecting them as you would any friend. There we go again with the blurring lines between Friend/Mom. Sometimes it takes articulating what you are doing for them. Not in a whiny, why-don't-you-appreciate-me way. But simply a here's-how-I-see-it way. This can't be done when everyone's emotions are on the brink. Some families have regular family meetings. Some have pow-wows when it's clear someone is feeling taken advantage of. Respect is a two-way street. People who feel respected are much more likely to respect others.

All of these are building blocks for relationships. And, maybe Friend and Mom are not mutually exclusive terms. I think there might be a reason there is no one handbook for how to parent. You have to take into consideration the needs of both the parent and the teen. What do they have to offer each other? What would each of them want from the other? This is why people choose to have relationships. Good relationships make your life better - not harder. That's the goal for everyone involved.

No comments: