“Geeeeez, MOM. What is YOUR problem?”
This was my teen’s response when I thought that I very kindly asked her if she would please stop playing the guitar for just 15 minutes while I finished some paperwork that needed my full attention.
In an attempt to keep the situation from escalating further, I apologized if I was being unreasonable, but assured her that she could resume playing as soon as I was done.
“Welllllllllllllllll, okaaaay then, Mom,” she sarcastically shot back.
I don’t remember whether the screeching sound of her eyeballs rolling inside her head was louder than the roll of my own.
What is it with teenagers? I actually had three of them in my household at the same time, and I was in constant flux trying to keep up with their erratic emotional swings and over the top attitude. I often felt like I couldn’t do anything right, in their eyes or mine. Sigh……..
It’s hard being a mom in today’s world. We feel like we’re constantly under a microscope and like we rarely are doing anything right. All that scrutiny can make us pretty insecure. Then add in the snark and back talk of teens, and trying not to take it all personally was a challenge.
Like many moms, I decided early on that I was going to do everything I could to be the best mom. A mom who was patient, kind, understanding, open-minded, and emotionally available. And for or the most part, I was all of these things, except when my teens were reminding me I wasn’t.
It wasn’t until I read the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz that I began to realize the extent of the psychological harm I was doing to myself by taking all the things my teens said to me so personally. And not only was it harming me, but it was having a negative ripple effect on my whole family.
One of the four agreements in the book says we must master not taking things personally to have a more joy-filled and peaceful life. I knew I had to get a grip on my tendency to let my teens’ bad attitudes hurt my heart (and my mama self-esteem). Once I did, it caused a major shift in how I parented going forward. Recognizing my kids rude and obnoxious (buy typically teen) behaviors had nothing to do with me and everything to do with them became an IV drip for my soul and my sanity.
The first step for me was realizing that I was not alone in these feelings. It can be easy to look around or scroll social media and think we’re the only one with teens who can be mean and ugly. It’s easy to think their behavior is a reflection on us, instead of realizing this is just how teens operate to some extent.
Lots of moms struggle with taking the things their kids say and do way too personally. Think about how often we swallow the behaviors, words, and reactions of our kids as personal pills of reward or rejection. Every time we pull this particular bottle from the medicine cabinet of motherhood looking for affirmation, we risk compromising our self-esteem and self-worth.
If you’re anything like me, here’s the pattern: when they make good choices, treat us well, follow the rules, or even do well in school we take the positive experiences as personal confirmation that we are doing things right. An A+ on our mom report card.
But, when our kids act out or disrespect us, we often perceive the negative behavior as a reflection on our ability to teach them right from wrong. This unleashes all kinds of harsh feelings like shame, anger, despair, embarrassment—all of which become a cascade of big fat F’s on that same mom report card.
The problem with climbing on this emotional see saw is that it becomes exhausting work riding the constant up and down of our adolescents’ moods. And it impacts our ability to parent effectively. This is a tough stage in life, and our teens are acting out in an attempt to exert their own independence. It’s what they should be doing (within reason), and it makes sense they don’t always appreciate it when we pump the brakes as they want to speed up into adulthood. There is just going to be a natural push and pull between us and them right now.
But if we constantly take their anger, frustration, and attitude personally and allow that to become an indicator of whether we’re doing a good job or not, then we’re going to become ineffective parents. We’ll be ruled by their whims and their warped perception of the world.
Yes, warped. Their underdeveloped brains give them a fairly narrow and short-term view of things. Plus, let’s talk about all those out of control hormones. So right now, our teen’s behaviors are much more a reflection of who they are: insecure babes trying to find their place in this big, uncertain world.
This is what we need to remind ourselves when we find their words slicing into our psyche, creating doubt and fear and insecurity. Instead, when we choose to just let them roll off us like waves, the ripple effect can be far-reaching.
When we don’t react to all their drama and let them turn our insides upside down, we become a more steady force. We don’t feed their negativity. And without fuel, their fires of indignation and outrage often fizzle out. We also serve as an example that just because those around us are acting out, doesn’t mean we have to be influenced by them.
Lastly, our teens spend a large part of their days in chaotic, pressure-filled situations. When we let them bring that home to us, then the one safe place they need to be able to count on for understanding, acceptance, and calm is lost. It is up to us to preserve that for them.
THIS was the secret with The Four Agreements, and it was why it became such a game-changer for my family. I wish I could say I’ve mastered it, but I’ll continue to practice. With three teens, I get plenty of opportunities.
There are also three other agreements; Be impeccable with
Don’t make assumptions, and Do your best. We’ll cover those another time. But by applying one or sometimes all four, I’ve been able to dig myself out of many of the parenting holes I find myself down. I highly recommend this book for all people, but especially mommas of teens.
This season gives our soul a chance to stretch and our heart the opportunity to deepen with love as we nurture our teens from innocence to independence.
If we’re lucky, we transform right along with them and all of us end up better humans as a result.
This was a contributed post from Shelby Spear. Shelby is a sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, pro-LOVE Jesus adoring mom of 3 Millennials writing stuff & doing life w/ hubs of 25 yrs. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don’t need to say, “I’m fine.”) You can read her open heart about the revelations, screw-ups, gaffes, and joys of motherhood on her blog shelbyspear.com, around the web, and in print at Guideposts.