One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about life when it comes to relationships is one plus one does not always equal two.
My logic told me that love + nurturing = positive parenting results.
But having three kids to test this theory upon proved this equation false. Motherhood and relationships are infinitely nuanced, so what appears like simple math on the surface is far more complex in lived experience.
Parenting, especially raising teenagers, means losing control to some degree.
We can only control our side of any equation in a relationship.
And even that isn’t always true when you consider that 95% of our thinking, reactions, and behaviors originate from a subconscious program working on autopilot. Therefore, even our love + nurturing isn’t always what we ‘think’ it is, nor is it always translated and received how we intend by our kids.
What we input into our kids (cause) will not always lead us to the desired output (effect).
This reality is valid for all areas of life. So, if we are attached to specific outcomes in parenting for our peace and contentment (or our worth and enoughness)—especially considering the many moving parts of the teen season, we set ourselves and our kids up for disappointment and frustration when we don’t get what we want. The idea that we control any effects in life is illusory at best.
Self-Actualization During The Challenging Teen Years Can Help You Grow as a Person
The actual math that revealed itself to me over the years is this:
My reliance on a desired outcome for happiness + doing all the things to try and control the desired outcome = anger and fear when life delivers a different result.
Sadly, this led to lots of inner disharmonies and even more family dysfunction during the teen years until I changed the way I looked at things.
And that, friends, is the GREAT news.
We can shift our perspective and throw the math out the window! (Which brings to mind one of my favorite sarcastic quips as a young adult: See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya…)
The journey is really all there is. It’s the meat and potatoes of life, while our desired destination is a dessert we may or may not get to eat.
But if we intentionally choose to focus our attention on what sustains us—our love for our kids, our joy in watching them grow and evolve, our awe and wonder over the miracle of their existence—we realize this satisfies our sweet tooth better than any perceived necessary outcome.
How to focus on the journey instead of the destination
The question is, how do we embrace the journey and forego the destination in the daily ups, downs, and all-arounds of parenting teens?
How can we shift our perspective and throw the math out the window when life sometimes feels scary, confusing, and maddening?
Here are a few perspectives to consider:
Choose radical acceptance of what is in every moment
This doesn’t mean we like what’s happening at the moment. It doesn’t mean we ignore what’s happening in the moment.
Radical acceptance of what is means we consciously decide to stop arguing with reality because we can’t undo what’s already been done. Arguing with what is ties us up in emotional knots and toxic thought loops.
We are not our best selves when caught in this trap.
So, for the sake of our inner peace and well-being—and ultimately for our kids’ well-being, what we can do is accept what is and not let the pull of negative emotions cloud our thinking.
The more we maintain inner clarity and stillness, the more mental and emotional bandwidth we have to expand our awareness around a situation. The expansion opens us to more perspectives and leads to inner clarity. The clarity creates the space needed to focus on the meat and potatoes of parenting our kids, which helps us figure out the next right thing to do from a healthier inner world.
Look for the good in the little things
Sometimes we are so focused on where we are going in parenting that we miss out on where we already are and what we already have. If we are intentional about finding joy moment by moment, all those simple blessings add up.
When we allow ourselves to breathe in and relish the small wins, the beauty of those moments becomes the fragrance we need to refresh us when life with our teens stinks to high heaven.
Make parenting teens a curious adventure
Teens are unpredictable by nature and design. They are as steady as their next emotion. If we’re honest, sometimes we aren’t any steadier because this season throws us for so many loops. But if we can remember the teen years are a journey of finding out WHO WE ARE right alongside our teens as they find out WHO THEY ARE, it makes the experience more fun and exciting as opposed to terrifying and confusing.
Focus on connecting with your teen. Both of us are walking through unchartered territory with minimal guidance. If we can lean into the unknown with a curious spirit about ourselves and each other, dropping the expectations and lists of shoulds for them and us, and find humor in the unfolding, life becomes a beautiful adventure.
Intentionally layer down into the subtle layers of your relationship to expand gratitude
When we are focused on the destination/outcome in parenting—our kid’s reactions, level of compliance, choices, etc., and whether said destination meets our preferences, beliefs, and desires, we can lose sight of what’s important at a deeper level. We have no control over the outcome of ANY of our parenting decisions with our kids at ANY age.
The real grist for the mill in parenting is to layer down beneath the circumstances of the moment and just find gratitude for all that is:
- the heart melt of being able to look into our children’s eyes
- the contentment of knowing they are safe under our roof
- the joy of seeing them put one foot in front of the other and become who they are
- the marvel over their growing independence, the intrigue of their worldviews
- the parent pride in observing them use their unique gifts and talents
- the awe of watching them persevere through complex emotions and steep learning curves
These are the gifts of raising children; what really matters beneath every unpleasant conversation and bristly scenario.
Be thankful for the emotional triggers
I’ve been saying for a long time that motherhood is the most epic personal development tool on the planet—the OG of self-discovery. The teen season can often be a smorgasbord of emotional triggers for us as parents as our kids push all the buttons and pull all the strings.
The key is to be grateful for these triggers.
Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Each time a negative emotion arises within us, it provides an entry point for us to do the work on our emotions, reactions, and thought processes to find the healing and transformation we need to become our best selves.
The journey is always where the meat and potatoes are for us on our path of evolution.
So, as irrational as it may seem, when we feel anxious, angry, frustrated, worried—i.e., not at peace which is our original factory setting, our teen just gave us a gift. The discomfort carries tremendous value for personal growth.
We serve ourselves and our teens well when we ask the following questions:
What will I learn today about myself?
What will I learn today about my teen?
How can we grow TOGETHER?
My hope and prayer for all of us is to have the courage to embrace the journey of parenting and let the destination reveal itself along the way.
Having the resolve to scrap the math permits us to be surprised, spontaneous, and deeply moved as the journey unfolds.
And as Mick Jagger said, “we can’t always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we might find we get what we need.”
This is a contributed post by Shelby Spear (author bio below)