I received this e-mail in response to my recent post, The Parent I Want to Be:
“What about when you know you’re not the parent you want to be, but you just can’t seem to do anything about it? I have a teenage daughter and despite all my good intentions, I just keep getting sucked into doing the same old things that never work. Any thoughts?”
No one can frustrate us as much as we frustrate ourselves. What I mean is, there’s nothing so frustrating as acknowledging your deficits and still being unable to change them.
But it is something of a universal human problem: We’re blessed and cursed with self-awareness.
On the up side, this parent recognizes that it’s not just her daughter’s fault. Sometimes I see parents in my practice who consistently blame their kids. “She pushes my buttons,” they say, to explain away their own conduct. Or “if she’d only…then I would…”
My personal belief is that parents always bear greater responsibility than their children for the relationship. Because developmentally, teenagers are a self-absorbed lot. They’re meant to be. They’re caught up in figuring out their identities: who they want to be, how they fit (or don’t fit) into the larger world. That’s very consuming.
Yes, their self-absorption can be irritating. But YOU’RE the parent. So it’s your job to change and adapt, in order to lead the way for your child. If you’re blaming them for your own behavior, that will only set you back further.
So I applaud the writer of that e-mail. Because even though she feels like she’s failing to change, she’s also doing something very important. And that is, she’s asking for help.
What I’d recommend is taking careful stock of the family dynamics. As in: “When I do this, my daughter does that, and then I do more of this, and then…” Charting the cycle is a vital first step.
Sitting down with your daughter and talking to her about this is a good next step. Do this at a calm moment, not in the heat of battle. Engaging your daughter, soliciting her opinion about what’s going on, and trying to generate solutions–creating a partnership–is often quite effective.
For one thing, it shows respect for your child. It shows that you’re not blaming her, but recognizing that you have a role in the problem, too. The problem is a shared one; it’s about the dynamic. So the best solution will be the one you undertake together.
I often find in my practice that parents underestimate their children’s ability to engage in mature, collaborative problem-solving. If you treat your children as if they’re capable of it, they may very well rise to meet that expectation.
If this doesn’t work, I’d suggest counseling–either individually for the parent, or family therapy.
What’s not helpful is to beat yourself up. Don’t get discouraged. Relationships (and individuals) are constantly evolving, and within that, there’s always hope
Mother and daughter image available from Shutterstock.