Challenging Teen

Dear Claudia,

I love my children [teens] very much, but I am not patient…I am losing it with them almost every day…Some days I don’t know how I go on…I don’t work…If you have any ideas on how I could get them to stop being so nasty to me, I would appreciate it… Mother of teens

Dear Mom,

Let me start by reassuring you: even the most patient, wonderful parents lose it with their kids and go through rough spots. As far as I know, the idea that a parent can be consistently patient, loving kind and firm is mythical. We have to stop trying to be perfect parents because it makes us crazy. I don’t need to tell you that when we feel crazy we are not good parents. You will “lose it” less, trust me, if you stop beating yourself up about it.

Your next major challenge: teenagers. Why must they be so nasty? After all, you have devoted your life to these children — you don’t deserve this! It is good to know, however, that teen nastiness does not really reflect their love for you. It reflects their need to feel confident about being their own person. Insecurity and biological factors are wicked at this age. Who better than good old mom or dad to vent a little? 

The more a parent can silently take the heat, and withstand what can feel like “abuse,” the better for the teen. This is like a magic pill. Take the heat: see teen do better. They tell you something mean, you tell them what’s for dinner. Later, much, much later, they will learn to be responsible for what they feel, and become sensitive to you. Did I mention much later?

How can you be expected to maintain an even keel through the bitterness, sarcasm, snide remarks and hurtful accusations they may hurl your way? This is the real question. What do you need? What will help you feel more neutral towards them? What kind of protective wall can you build around yourself? What can help insulate you? At my last workshop at the Westwood library, one of the participants reflected that she did not have one really great way of soothing herself under duress. Not one. The rest of the audience was inspired and went on to talk about their own difficulties nurturing themselves. Why is this the very hardest thing to do when it is probably the most important?

I think you’re headed in the right direction focusing on this problem. Be strong. This is as tough as it gets.

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