I have noticed that during family sessions with teens parents are doing something awful. I call it “Flipping the Script” but I didn’t make that up, I’m sure. You see them acting calm for a bit. Then their teenager inevitably starts jousting, poking and pushing and they just snap. “You want space,” one Mother starting screaming at her 17 yo son, “I’ll give you space!” And she proceeded to throw her date book at the child and say, “Here, you make all the appointments, I’m over it.”
This has been repeated several times just this week.
Another parent said, “I’ve done everything for you; now I’m done!” It seems to happen when the parents are downright burnt out. They can lash out just as fast as the teenager ramps up. This creates a collision course that never ends well, usually with a loud crash. The last one was, “I love you but…” clean your room/go away/do it yourself, etc. One even said, “I hope you go to college and never come back!” This will always backfire because conditional love is not what you need from your Mother. Each time the parent (Fathers too) combines giving affection and quickly withdrawing it, the abandonment drama gets reenacted and the child crumples physically. It literally deflates them to have the love taken away. It creates mistrust: if someone so important can be there for me one minute and the next, snap, how can I rely on anyone? And reliance is just what they need. Yes, it’s paradoxical that they are pushing away the very thing they need. But if you don’t buckle up for this you miss something crucial — allowing them to do the separating.
I’m not sure why parents don’t see this.
They need you, but you are blinded with rage at this point. I get that. Sometimes I am so exhausted from parenting I could literally collapse, only to have my kid say that I didn’t do it right/show up on time/answer meaningfully. That is the moment when you literally suck in your breathe and just say I’m sorry. I am not perfect. Instead of what you really want to say, “Are you kidding me? All this I do and it’s not good enough for you? I’m going to drop dead!” That is the moment when you breathe and pause. Because they don’t mean it. They are just trying to get it straight. That’s all. And by definition they cannot regulate themselves. But in theory, you, a grown adult, can. And I will hold you to it. I will lean on the parents in these sessions and give the child a pass. That creates joining for the kid who is already stressed and alienated and a kick in the butt for the parents who need to get it together.
Having watched these dynamics play out over and over, by the end of the session, I use EFT techniques to have the parent explain the WHY of her resentment. EFT techniques meaning, look at each other and establish a connection. I am doing all these things for you because I love you. Well there it is: she does love her daughter. Both start crying after finally feeling “seen and heard” beyond their defensive postures. They hug.
- As Sue Johnson says, “As an attachment oriented therapist, I believe the essential element in therapy is that the therapist knows how to move into the emotional channel and stay there WITH the client, discovering, ordering and distilling that client’s experience. One finding from the NIMH study was also that it is this collaborative engagement in emotion regulation that predicts change in clients rather than a coaching approach to working with emotion. Change comes from new emotional experience rather than new explanations.”
How can we get past the resentment of parenting. There are four easy steps.
- Recognise on the the deepest level possible that you are all doing the best you can, that Moms do most of the “heavy lifting” and get little thanks until their kids are grown.
- Hear what your child is TRULY saying. Is she saying she wants to be left alone, or is she really saying she wants love and attention and support. Separation anxiety when your child goes to college is real. (It’s so intense I got a kitten to replace my second kid…).
- It’s all temporary. This is developmentally appropriate stuff. Relax. Your job is not to fall down but to move forward with more ease. They will take care of themselves at some point. It’s just not at this very moment.
- DO NOT use parenting by GUILT as a tactic. Kids can smell that manipulation from a mile away. It always backfires. Why would they want to act out of guilt when they can avoid it? Shower them with so much support they cannot help but help. Allow the guilt to arise from them, not you!
I guess it’s because it’s the end of another school year. With all these transitions comes sadness and joy, fear and excitement, loss and gain, work and play, graduations, proms and barbeques. I’m tired, aren’t you?
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar