The Practice of “Still Lake” in Parenting Your Teen

How would you complete the sentence, “Parenthood is……”?

It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Becoming a parent immediately changes you. From that moment forward, you put your child’s needs ahead of your own. Parenting is one of the few things that can make you strive to be the best person you can be. Sometimes, it is smooth sailing. Other times, it is the perfect storm. You may find yourself challenged by the very things that make you who you are as a person.  Your personality, past experiences, expectations, and hopes can get in the way of you having the kind of interaction you want to have with your teen. Sometimes we say or do things we don’t mean. Other times, we are simply stuck. When we feel lost, we turn to friends, other parents, books, health professions, or anyone else we trust to provide us with honest and helpful advice.  We do all of this in an effort to raise happy and healthy children.

In a conversation over dinner the other night, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have people with whom I can share this journey. Our conversation made me think of a symbol from my Tae Kwon Do practice. This symbol is called “Still Lake“, which means “strong on the inside, calm and gentle on the outside”.   It represents a person’s ability to live with grace and confidence. It is a reminder that one does not have to be “tough” to be “strong” and it is symbolic of being aware of oneself and the impact that you have on those around you. It is about having poise in your interactions with others.  This symbol represents being comfortable enough in who you are to be truly present with someone else.  Still Lake can exist in all relationships, with one of the biggest being your relationship with your teen. You can practice still lake in your parenting by focusing on: (1) having an empty mind, (2) removing the meaning, and (3) cleaning things up.

Having an Empty Mind: When you have an empty mind, you remove any filter that you have about how a particular interaction is going to go. Often times, we come to conversations with an expectation of what someone is going to say or do. This pre-existing filter can impact how you respond to your teen. For example, think about a typical interaction with a teen who struggles to do homework. If you are used to your teen resisting homework, you may come to your next interaction expecting him/her to fidget or lack focus. This expectation will guide both how you talk to and respond to your teen.  You react to what you expect, not what is really going on at the time. We can only be fully present with our teen when we remove the filters of what we expect will happen based on past experience.

Removing the Meaning:  The moment something happens, we assign meaning.  It is human nature and happens almost instantaneously. For example, someone says, “I can’t believe you said that,” and you make it mean, “She must think I am stupid for saying that.”  You might tell your daughter, “Those shorts are too short,” and she makes it mean, “My mom thinks I’m being sleazy.”  Your son may get bumped in the shoulder by a friend during passing period at school, and he makes it mean that person is mad at him.  The truth is, we can drive ourselves crazy trying to guess what someone or something means, and usually we are wrong. Like having an empty mind, being aware of this is important because it can dictate how you are around a person in the future. For example, a teen would probably be different to a parent’s comment about short shorts if she believed her mom respected her. Similarly, a teen would likely be different to a teen that accidentally bumped him then one he thinks is mad at him. Whenever you see your teen assigning meaning to something, help him/her to: (1) recognize the assumed meaning up front, (2) generate other possible options, and (3) focus on what is actually true about the situation, instead of perpetuating what they “think” is true.

Cleaning It Up: You know there is something to clean up when you feel like something was left unsaid, misunderstood, or taken the wrong way. Whatever is left undone between two people exists in the space between them. Let’s say that you hollered at your daughter about her short shorts while her friend was over. Outside of being embarrassed, she may be left feeling like you don’t think she has any self-respect. That feeling will go into the bucket of “what mom or dad thinks of me”. It may even become something that she takes on as part of how she defines herself. Cleaning it up involves a few steps:

  • Affirm your relationships.

“You are so important to me and I really want you to have what you deserve in life. One of those things is to be respected by others.”

  • Recognize your part of the conversation.

“I don’t think anything bad of you. In fact, I think your shorts are cute. Right or wrong, I worry that people will not respect you as much if you wear them.” 

  • Acknowledge the impact you had on her.

“I am sorry that I embarrassed you in front of your friend.  I realize I may have even made you feel bad about yourself for wanting to wear them. I don’t think your shorts say anything about you as a person.”

  • Ask if there is anything you can do.

“Do you want me to say something to your friend? Can I take you shopping for some shorts that we both like?”

Still Lake represents the balance between strength and vulnerability.  You have to be “strong” to have an open mind and remove all the meaning so that you can understand what is actually true about a situation.  And, you have to be vulnerable to say you are sorry and admit your contribution. Still Lake is a practice in self-awareness. It is not about being perfect; it is about being real. You will find that teens appreciate it when you are real with them. It makes them feel as though they too can be strong, vulnerable and real with you.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

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Are You the Best Parent You Can Be?

Parenting teenagers is like a delicate dance that requires a great deal of strength, fineness, passion, and humility. We often ask ourselves, “Am I being the best parent I can be?” Early in my career, a professor from a parenting course said, “Every parent is trying to be the best parent they can be.” I never forgot that! What did he mean? I found myself thinking things like, “Is every parent really the best parent he or she can be?” and “What about parents who abuse or neglect their children?” But, the professor went on to explain himself. He said, “A person’s parenting comes from two sources: how they were parented, and what they learned about parenting after they left their home.”  After they leave the home, parents learn from things like attending parenting classes, reading books, participating in parenting support groups, and having coffee with other parents who share the common goal of raising children. Each of these is largely led by our own desire to seek out new information and gain support from others who share in our experiences.

But, parenting is not that clear cut.  The relationship you have with your teen is also influenced by what your teen brings to the relationship. Teens introduce their own unique personalities and developing perspectives. Over time, they grow to become the person they are through the people with whom they spend their time, the neighborhood in which they live, the schooling available in their community, and the social and political climate of their times.  Ultimately, the parent-child relationship becomes its own entity, one that encapsulates all the knowledge, experience, and perspectives that both the parent and the teen bring to the relationship.

As teenagers develop their own independence and differentiate from their parents, they are faced with the fact that they still carry with them the voice of their parents. Herein lies the conflict.  Teens hear this voice, and may even agree with the voice. Still, they want to express their own unique self. For this reason, teens will sometimes do things that completely contradict their parents, or even themselves. Experts say that by the time they reach adulthood, most teens accept the voice of their parents as  part of their own. They are better able to recognize and appreciate parts of them that came from their parents, while also acknowledging and integrating their own knowledge. beliefs, and experiences.  This path can be long and mucky for everyone involved as each person tries to recognize and appreciate all three entities: the parent, the child, and the parent-child relationship.

Parenting is no easy task. It is a life long journey, and one that pushes our thinking and pulls at our heart strings.  Below are some ways to enhance the parent-child relationship:

  • Do some soul searching. Where do your parenting practices come from? What parenting styles are you most drawn to?
  • Read up on parenting practices, especially if you want to parent in ways that are different than your upbringing.
  • Find other parents that you can talk to, show support, and gain support from during this important time. This can give you new ideas, while also normalizing your experiences.
  • Share appropriate readings with your teen. This can put them at ease if they see you reading lots of parenting books.
  • Let your teen organize some activities to do together. This allows you to share in your teen’s expressions of self.
  • Set the boundaries, rules and expectations, but allow for individual expression within those boundaries. Sometimes the more we completely discourage something, the more teens want to do the very thing we are discouraging.
  • Embrace the ways in which your teen is different than you.
  • Understand that the parent-child relationship is ever-changing as both you and your teen learn and grow.

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Raising Teenagers: Interview with Steven Spierer

Teenagers are a breed of their own, and raising teenagers is not an easy task.  Recently, I was invited to speak with Steven Spierer on Talk Radio One about raising teenagers and building healthy parent-child relationships.  Having raised teenagers himself, Mr. Spierer frequently incorporates information about parenting into his show. Check out his website at http://www.talkradioone.com/  He has some great stuff!

Happy Parenting!

Shelly D. Mahon on the Steven Spierer Show