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.