As adolescents and teens find their way to a sense of self…let’s just say it’s not always pretty. As they differentiate from you and become their own people, it’s likely you are having a parallel experience. There may be a sense of loss mixed with some frustration and rejection. Perhaps it’s been a while since you checked in with yourself long enough to know. If so, it’s time for self care. You remember right? Doing things that help you first!
If you find the teen years tough and you’re suffering because your child is growing up, I’ve got some soulful self care for you that will ultimately benefit your whole team.
Do you! (Actually do self care)
The transition into adolescence is tough on everyone. Very few parents (moms especially) get through this parenting thing without feeling depleted or isolated. If this is you, reach out to your people. Connect, guilt-free, as soon as possible. I’m serious: get dressed up, do something fun, and don’t discuss your kids. If you need an excuse, think of it this way: You need to be strong to be a sturdy presence in your children’s lives. Our friends help remind us of who we are and what we love, and that helps us walk in the world a little straighter.
Whatever way you process–conversations, journaling, talking to yourself on your way to work, list making–make a list of behaviors that bother or disappoint you about your teen. Then decide about as many as possible you can decide to not take personally. Commit.
If you are someone who used to have interests, reconnect with your passions. Seek to become whole again and direct your focus to things you love, other than your kids.
For those willing to try this out, I think you will be surprised by how much happier everyone is when you are happy and engaged. Seriously, when was the last time you gave to yourself?!
Part of self care is steadying your relationship to your teen
After you take a little self care, you are more in position to become a wall to swim to for your teen. This metaphor comes from Lisa Damour, a psychologist who studies teens. Having a wall to swim to is what distinguishes swimming in a pool from swimming in the ocean: it gives parameters to the experience. It’s what teens want–the freedom to roam far and wide, but to also know that there is an edge of safety that keeps them from having to rely on only their judgement. In other words, teens want to swim in a vast sea of possibility, but they want to know that when they get tired or unsure, they can see the shore.
This is a powerful metaphor. It means your role is a stable, fixed presence unmoved by what happens around you. Even when your child presents you with what feels like reckless self-involvement, even if your child never asks about your day, even if your teen is someone you don’t really like at the moment. You are there.
And here’s why: Your teen will need you again, sooner than later. Whether it’s because his grades are slipping, or because he does not know how to play a social situation. Teens still rely on the soundness of judgement that is not their own. When he does, because you have been practicing your wall-like qualities (Yes, by repeating the mantra, “I am a wall,” and posting it on your bathroom mirror), he will come swimming back to you. That’s the goal: to create a home base that he can return to.
Update your boundaries:
Part of self care is establishing the difference between doormat (picking up after your high schooler) and wall (accepting that he will not open up to you for a heart to heart even if he once wanted to marry you). Getting clear on the former will help see the room for the latter.
Walls are steady and constant and they also delineate a boundary. Being a wall your child can swim to does not allowing him to get away with being a jerk. Walls are firm! So if he is forming bad habits that create more work for you, let him know. Pick a behavior or two that is your bottom line (there is a great process for communication expectations here) and hold him accountable to them. Remember, the compassion and sturdiness of being the wall are not the same characteristics of a doormat!
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