In relationships, the only person you really have control over is you. To paraphrase Scripture: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with your teenager (Rom. 12:18). You establish the peace, and you do that through stabilizing the relationship from your end regardless of what your teen does. You must become the port in the storm for this sometimes turbulent relationship. You take charge over yourself first by understanding and accepting the ways you’ve contributed to any difficulty in your relationship. You take charge by apologizing and making an honest effort to do better. You model by removing your own plank first and then bringing up specks. Teens don’t expect you to be perfect, but they’d appreciate a little honesty, especially where your faults are concerned.
The firm foundation your teenager needs is you as a parent to be clear about who you are and what your role as a parent is, even when that role is confusing and frustrating. There is a real danger here, if parents decide to abdicate their role as parents during the adolescent years for something else that feels more comfortable. Many of these situations, taken to extreme, are outlined in my book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse. Teenagers who are cheated out of that childhood role and thrust into another by a parent suffer a form of abuse.
The parent-child relationship can become warped during adolescence, especially creating a role reversal where the parent begins to look to and expect the teenager to fill the parent’s needs. It is not healthy for you to begin to look to your growing teenager as someone to fill your adult needs. These can be adult needs for companionship or camaraderie, even advice and protection. Adolescence is meant to be a process for teenagers to grow and mature into their own person, filling their own needs, not yours.
I have seen mothers, afraid of their own aging, being to morph into older, distorted images of their teenage daughters, even wearing similar clothing and adopting similar hairstyles.
I have seen fathers, fearful of their own aging, treat their sons as peers and demand their sons reciprocate, requiring time and attention to the detriment of same-age friends.
I have seen mothers, fearful of the coming empty nest, bind their teenagers to them through increasing demands and intentional displays of incapacity.
I have seen fathers, troubled and discontent with their own lives, transfer that negativity onto their teenagers, dragging them down just at the point of launch in order to experience companionship in failure.
I have seen parents burden their teenagers with the weight of their own fading dreams of accomplishment.
Granted, these examples are extreme and produce an unhealthy attachment and enmeshment, a sort of relational strangulation. However, I say this as a reminder to all parents. Adolescence is a time of discovery and possibility for teenagers. It can also lcome at a time of disappointment and a sense of loss for parents, because of the juxtaposition of age. Aging parents can become fearful of advancing time and look to their teenagers to help slow the march. Solitary parents can become fearful of being left alone and look to their teenagers to fill the gap. Angry, embittered parents can look to teenagers as an outlet for venting and release. Maybe these examples aren’t you, but please be aware and willing to look inside yourself to see if any of them claim even the smallest place in your heart.
Teens are growing into their potential at a time many adults may feel their own potential waning. This can cause jealousy and envy and contribute to the tension and friction between teens and parents. These sorts of issues have the capacity to damage and sever your connection with your teenager, without you even really understanding why. As you enter into this pivotal time of transition, I encourage you to make sure you hang onto your identity as a parent so you allow your teenager to retain his or her identity as a child for a few more years.
The above is excerpted from Chapter 4 of my new book, The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To participate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts, or on the Facebook or Twitter pages linked to below.