One seemingly unsolvable parental conundrum is that although we know our teenager’s successes and failures are their own to celebrate and struggle through, we still end up feeling elated by the former and devastated by the latter. This riddle of humanity is as complex as multi-variable calculus. Parenting is not only fulfilling and gratifying, but is also a painful carbuncle where instincts, judgments, expectations (personal, cultural, and societal), hormones, histories, stressors, and just about every other psychological phrase or term collect and fester. It creates a thick slurry of emotions from joy to disappointment, pride to embarrassment, and becomes an unwieldy and undulating sludge when it comes to letting go and providing space for your teen to grow and develop.
That said, it is imperative we make every effort to handle our own feelings, if only because unchecked they become exhausting for us and suffocating for our teenager. Here are some steps to managing the mess of unpredictable energy that makes us hang on to our child-centered emotional barometer:
1. Accept that this is directly attributed to our desire to create strong bonds and close relationships with our precious progeny. Accept it, embrace it, examine it-because only after grasping the pull of these strong feelings can you begin to create some boundaries and control over these visceral reactions.
2. Own it entirely. Resist sharing this energy with your child of any age. You can be totally thrilled for your teenager’s achievements without being the overbearing parent yelling, “victory” at an athletic contest, or the chronic social media braggart. You can feel extremely disappointed in your teenager’s actions without alternating between crying and screaming bouts on the job, the bus, or even worse, their school.
3. When your child is struggling, try tempering your heartache with memories of all that you may have learned from your own challenges, or pick up a book like Brene Brown’s Rising Strong which uses adversity as inspiration. Most likely what Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson have in common with anyone you deem “successful” is some sort of adversity, series of obstacles, or challenges overcome, or simply learned from, along the way.
4. Change your pronouns. “We” didn’t get into college anymore than “we” got a D+ in English. Equally important to eliminate is, “how could you do this to me?” Teenagers are rarely, if ever, thinking about their parents as they are making a bad decision. They are thinking, appropriately so, about themselves, their world, their interests, and their friends. Yes, the impact on other’s is a key component of contrition and maturing; but, this is best discovered on one’s own
5. Breathe. Whether you follow New Age gurus, swear by the practice of stoicism, skepticism, or formal religion, intentional breathing buys you time, lowers your heart rate, forces you to relax, and possibly lets some perspective creep in. Breathing naturally builds a boundary because it forces you to focus on yourself, allowing your teenager to bask in the glow of their own achievements, feel the full weight of their actions, and struggle through their own personal set of challenges.
6. Get a life. Really. Your teenagers will thank you for it and maybe even stop asking, demanding, you get one. Our primary role at this point in their journey is to model and inspire. Additionally, living your own full life makes it harder to obsess on someone else’s.
Just one more tidbit of a takeaway: I can almost guarantee that your teenager doesn’t like your emotions being conflated with their life. Yes, there are rare occasions when they appreciate the sympathetic feelings, but for the most part, they are looking to live their own life and want to see you live yours. You are, to be blunt, annoying (the heck out of) them. Become well-acquainted with those feelings that are for, from, or because of your teenager since although you can’t eliminate them, you can learn, at the very least, to keep them in check giving both you and your teen the space to, well, breathe.
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