“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. The disrespect was clear.
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 emotions and over-the-top attitude. I often felt like I couldn’t do anything right, in their eyes or mine.
But I couldn’t help but feel like my teenagers just didn’t like me very much, and it was hard for me not to take my teen’s attitude personally.
Teens know how to hit you where it hurts
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 would 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.
Tweens and teens know exactly how to wield words as weapons. They understand how to cause the most damage with even the simplest things they say. And because we are their parents, we become the most common targets in their ongoing battle of them against the world.
Wow, their words can be vicious, but we need to realize it really isn’t personal.
The teen years mean they are also caught in this place where adulthood is coming at them faster and faster so they really want more independence, but at the same time, they still crave approval from everyone in their life – from parents to peers.
While it was a million years ago, we were teens too. Try to think back to what it was like back then for you. You must have said some things, or maybe lots of things, to your parents that you regret. But as long as you came from a fairly healthy home, you and your parents survived and most likely have a good relationship now.
For the most part, our tweens and teens’ disrespect and bad attitude is a simple defense mechanism. They’re insecure, afraid, and lack impulse control, and often, this is when our kids lash out the most. They often are just starting to develop empathy and do not have the emotional maturity to understand the impact of what they say and do has on other family members.
They are testing us during these teenage years, looking for reassurance that we will love and support them, no matter what.
It eventually dawned on me during this challenging time that my kids were where they were supposed to be during adolescent development. What needed to change was me.
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.
How to stop taking your teen’s attitude personally
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 kid’s rude and obnoxious (but typically teen) behaviors and emotional outbursts had nothing to do with me and everything to do with them became a salve for my soul and my sanity.
My first step 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 how teens operate to some extent. They are going through extreme emotional changes, and we’re often where they try things out.
Many moms struggle with taking what their kids say and do way too personally. Think about how often we swallow our kids’ behaviors, words, and reactions 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.
Our teens’ choices don’t reflect the quality of our parenting
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, resort to name-calling, or engage in risk-taking activities, we often perceive the negative behavior as a reflection of our ability to teach them right from wrong.
This unleashes all kinds of harsh feelings like shame, anger, despair, and embarrassment—all of which become a cascade of big fat Fs 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 young people 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 warped world perception.
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.
We need to keep perspective when they can’t
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.
We need to be a safe space for our teens
Lastly, our teens spend much 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 your word, Don’t make assumptions, and Do your best.
While those three help me become a better human, it’s the first agreement that helped me become a more peaceful mom. By applying it, 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 parents of teens.
Learning to stop taking your teen’s attitude personally is hard but worth it
This season gives our souls a chance to stretch and our hearts 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 then end up better humans as a result.
If you’re looking for another resource, one of our favorite parenting books is Parenting Teens with Love & Logic.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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