Parenting Teens – Hello Fear, Shame And Guilt

A few years ago, one of my teenage sons looked at me with contempt and blasted the following remark in my face:

“You just want me to do well, so you can brag about me to your friends. Well, I am not a piece of property you can shine up and show off!”

Ouch…. And I did not have a comeback ready.

Later I reflected on what he had said – and in all honesty, there was a part of me that would enjoy to join the clubs of moms and dads who take turns talking about the amazing achievements of the fruit of their loins. I hear it all the time: the chatter about what grade point average, what unachievable SAT scores and what amazing college scholarships their kids get.

Bragging rights. I guess parents have it.

And yet, my son’s comment went to the core of the make-up of my self-image as a parent. A hidden part of my parenting style that I needed to pull out in the sun and look at. Because on some level he was right – and I did not like to admit it.

Our children are such amazing teachers. Especially when it comes to checking out all the little parts of us that we take for granted. When our kids become teenagers, they look us over with a magnifying glass, we get weighed and measured, prodded and pushed.

My buttons definitely got pushed by the above remark!

And so, yes – there was a part of me that wanted to stand in the groups of parents and bask in the glow of being in the “good parent’s club”. The kind of parent, who thrives in the absolute knowledge that his or her kids are well-adjusted, well-prepared, well-tutored, well-dressed, well-trained, well-behaved and see them off into well-planned career paths.

I think there is a silent expectation in many of us as parents that our children need to grow up and show to the world, what a wonderful parenting job we have done. We live to see them stand on podiums and pick up awards and honors. We put our own needs aside, so we can help them get ahead. Some go as far as to live vicariously through them.

And when our children fall short of our expectations, it is easy to beat up on ourselves as parents. Even some of the parents who have the well-prepped and high-achieving kids dwell on their own imperfections even as they portray a glossy and superior parenting image to the world. Their children might all of a sudden turn anorexic or flip out on risky sexual behaviors, drugs or alcohol. Or they might have stress and high-anxiety. Ulcers that eat their stomach linings at night. What could have been done differently to avoid this?

No matter what route you take as a parent there are plenty of times where the voices of “should-have-could-have” turn up. And feelings of shame and guilt follow.

The truth of the matter is that most of us do everything in our power to be great parents. Whether we let our kids grow their hair long and stand out, or we insist they cut it and conform. Whether we want them to find their own path or we feel we must choose for them.

It is not rocket science. If only it were that simple!

As a life coach, I have learned to look at simply what is. Not to make things into what they are not. Often we parents catch ourselves in the “what are people going to think” trap. Or “she will never get anywhere with those grades/that hair color/that boyfriend…”  We imagine all sorts of the worst possible scenarios – and before we know it, we act upon our fears and not simply what is.

Our brains are wired for fearful responses. In our distant past, we constantly had to be on guard against wild animals, food scarcities, enemy tribes, etc. And it is natural that when it comes to guarding our young, we snap right back into this kind of primordial mental wiring: To protect our kids against danger. It is in our deepest instinctual blueprint for the survival of our kind.

Yet when it comes to being an effective parent to modern-day teenagers, a fearful reaction to their actions and choices might not always be appropriate. Fear of what we imagine might happen can be directly counterproductive.

As we step back from the situation and assess what is going on right now, we might want to delay a speedy comeback. Inserting a rash comment into a contentious moment with a teenager is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I do not think that, short of pulling our kids out of immediate danger, we ever miss something by avoiding a rash reaction over a more measured and later response.

“Ok, I am going to have to think about what you just said and get back to you”

This buys some time and allows us a moment to not lose our composure. It also affords our son or daughter a chance to reflect on what they just said.

Secondly you can take a look at your own involvement. What is pushing your buttons? What is it that this situation is saying about you as a parent? About your own past? About your own fears?  Often we just react, because we are triggered. Our own sense of failure as a parent on any level has been activated.

Thirdly, we can take a look at what might be going on for our son/daughter that might make them feel the way they do. Again with a focus on an unbiased “what is”. Not what it could turn into or what we think they should be feeling!

With this new more complete picture we can now choose to respond.

When I dug a bit deeper after my son fired off his remark to me, I realized that, yes – a part of me would love to brag about my kids’ achievements and therefore indirectly my own implied success as a parent. Yet the deeper issue was that I deeply and desperately wanted my son to connect to his own sense of ambition and directionality. I felt that he had so much inside of him that I valued. Things in him that, I felt, he didn’t show enough to others. I wanted him to find his wings and soar. Not to glorify me or my parenting style – but simply for him to experience lift-off on his own, and fly into the world with an authentic and self-directed  and capable motion. I was impatient for him.

It was my interpretation – and it was well-meant. It was just not usable to him at the time.

Yet, speaking from this level of awareness made a difference for me. And maybe in the long run it might have for him as well. Who knows…

When we communicate with our teenagers from a level of authenticity and honest reflection, with a willingness to also own up to our own issues, we have a chance to connect more deeply. We offer a model that gives them a chance to not feel at fault or misunderstood. They still might think we are full of doo-doo… A teenager’s main job after all is to separate from their parents. Yet, a foundation of authentic communication goes a long way for them to be able to feel emotionally supported as they find their way. And the benefit for us as parents is that we spend less time with those constant companions of modern-day parenting: Fear, Shame and Guilt.

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“I Never Get What I Want”

 – “You are always late !”

– “I am always the last to know!”

– “You never listen to me!”

Do you recognize this way of communicating? You probably know a few “Always and Never” people. You might even occasionally use this kind of black and white language yourself. We all feel the need for strong and powerful statements at times. And this is certainly high octane language.  However, it is often an exaggeration not based in reality. It hurts our credibility if used often. In addition, when we use this kind of communicating in relationships it quickly turns confrontational.

It feels definitive, doesn’t it? Like the conversation is closed. When we encounter these types of statements we sometimes take the bait and get sucked right in. It can turn to quite a mudslinging fest before we know it.

– “You never pay attention to me”

– “Yes I do – I always pay you compliments and say I love you”

– “But you never mean it – you are insincere when you say it, I can just tell.”

– “How can you know what I mean – I always say what I mean, you know that”

– “Not that time you told your mother she looked great with the new haircut – that was as phoney as it gets – that is just how you are.”

And so it continues. This type of conversation is typically not going anywhere but directly into an emotional screaming match, into cold indifference and hurt feelings.

Always and never statements are rarely factual. They are however often an expression about how somebody feels.

In other words when somebody makes and “Always or Never” statement it is often an expression of an intense feeling of powerlessness, fear or shame on some level. Or it can simply be an expression of a limiting belief that is holding someone back from seeing clearly.

Often it is also an attempt to hook the other person in the relationship into a state of either Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).This can be how intimacy is interpreted by some: “I am afraid, confused and hurt, so if you love me you will need to be afraid, confused and hurt too.”

And yes, when you are on the receiving end, it is rather hard to see clearly – you are quite literally in the fog!

  • 1. Fear: There is a level of intimidation involved: “Never do this again or else….”
  • 2. Obligation: There is an attempt to hook the other person into feeling that they really should be doing, feeling, thinking without communicating it directly….. “I have done the dishes three days in a row now – I always end up having to do everything…”
  • 3. Guilt: Ah, the big G-word: There is a direct implied accusation involved intimating that the other person is at fault.  “You always make me feel sad when you go away”.

Step one to not get hooked onto this type of manipulative communication is simply to recognize it is present. Some of my clients have developed an “Always and Never Alarm”. Whenever they hear these types of statements delivered – the alarm goes off in their heads; Awareness is step one!

Then it is helpful to listen beyond the message. Might there be a sense of powerlessness that is being communicated? What might the person be feeling? Discern what is an attempt to “hook” you into the FOG.  Ask questions before you respond. This can be a powerful way of gaining insights in what is really happening on an emotional level. This can open up the dialogue.

And sometimes, the person making the always and never statements is not interested in divulging the underlying emotional baggage. Or they are not able to. Depending on the severity of FOG that this kind of behavior adds to your life, it is draining to be in the FOG. It weighs you down.

I often refer to my mentor coach, Keith Miller, in situations where I encounter all or nothing, always and never statements:

“What others say and do define them 100% What you say and do define you 100%.”

Here is to keeping your own credibility, integrity and dignity no matter where you go, and who you go there with.

Are YOU in a Jackpot Relationship?

Yes, of course it is nice to win the jackpot. Yet, a Jackpot Relationship might be both draining and abusive!

People in such a relationship might hope that the relationship will magically change for the better even as the same patterns are repeated over and over. It is very much like the gambler who keeps putting money in the slot machine. Every time he or she is ready to quit – there is a small pay out that is just enough that the gambler keeps investing time, energy and cash.

We all have various degrees of rose-colored glasses attached to our faces when we fall in love. We see the person as we would like him or her to be. We see what we interpret as the potential (or as a former disillusioned client of mine called it: “the P-word”) in our new partner, and we see them as we think they are – or as we hope they could be. In addition we project our own expectations on them.

We then continue in the next phase of the relationship. We realize that our beloved is seeing things in us that are not really who we are. However, we play along. We know that by continuing the masquerade, we continue the feel-good hormones that flood our bloodstream when our new love looks at us admiringly.

Later, we take off the rose-colored glasses and stop playing along. The “Honeymoon is over” phase of the relationship. Here the naked truth is revealed. You no longer play along, flaws become mutually obvious.

 

Some relationships have what it takes to navigate the waters and transform into lasting and mutually beneficial unions. The partners learn to accept each other for who they are, give each other space to grow and mature. When they help each other it is not through self-sacrifice – but instead with a genuine and sincere desire to allow the other person the space to grow, develop and mature as they in turn take responsibility for their own growth, development and maturity. Supported not smothered. With mutual respect and love.

This is not a jackpot relationship. It is however a great recipe for a successful and lasting relationship.

So what is a Jackpot Relationship?

It is the kind where the masquerade from the initial rose-colored glasses phase keep going intermittently. Psychologists call it “Intermittent Reinforcement”. It is a type of relationship where one person has hurts, disappointments, loss or abandonment issues that have not been properly addressed and incorporated. As a result this person constantly plays out the hurts from the past in the changing cast of characters in his or her current life. Even though the original cast, where the real problems happened, are long gone. It is an instant replay of old hurts that recycles again and again.

As this kind of relationship develops the person, who finds him or herself being included in this kind of psycho drama, gets to the point where he or she realizes that they have had enough. They have invested their time, energy and love into this person and received anger bursts, cold shoulders, indifference and possibly worse back with increasing frequency. They want out. They are constantly paying the emotional bills of those who are seen by their partner as having caused their disappointments and hurts.

Now the person with Intermittent Reinforcement behavior has a sixth sense that their partner is about to pull back. And they then do a complete switch. They beg forgiveness, they cry, they plead, they serve food, sex, money, gifts or other commodities of the relationship. They promise they will change. Just like the slot machine pays out a small reward, when the gambler is about to quit. They bring back the hope that the rose-colored glasses can stay on forever!

And there might be a few good days following. The feel-good chemicals of the relationship are back in high doses. Both believe that from now on everything will be fine.

And then gradually or suddenly the old behaviors of the unresolved issues rear their ugly heads again – and the psychodrama starts its cycle anew.

Just like the gambler keeps hoping for a jackpot, so do the people caught in the cycles of Intermittent Reinforcement. The pay out of happy relationship feel-good hormones is just enough that they, like the gambler, keep pulling the lever again and again investing money, time, energy and love in the hope that one day the relationship jackpot will happen; there will be no more old psycho dramas to recycle, the issues will finally have resolved themselves. The promises of change and the words of admissions will finally work – and all will be well. And  without inner work, and awareness of the issues, this is just as likely as the big million dollar jackpot at the 5 cent machines in Las Vegas!

If you recognize this kind of behavioral pattern in your relationship, seeking help with a therapist or coach can help to end the seeming endless cycle. There are many ways of changing the behavior and depending on the type of issues at the root of the recurring dramas, ways of gaining awareness and taking control.

Winning the jackpot is a nice idea. However, the real winning relationship comes when we stop the charades and stop hoping it will “just happen”. For us to be in successful and lasting relationships we need to be able to step into our power and allow our partner to do the same. And there might be a few casts of previous characters to deal with before we can successfully do so. The main thing is to know that it is possible – and there is help to be had!

What is Life Coaching?

Often we have no clue what we really want!
We just sense that our wheels are spinning, and we also are aware that we are not really “getting anywhere.” We seem to use a good deal of effort, yet we get pennies on the dollar with regards to return on our “energy investment.”We might feel exhausted and a large part of our energy appears to be wasted. We do not get the results we want. We find ourselves easily frustrated, angered or saddened. We might feel out of control, depressed or anxious!
Life is not a spectator sport, yet we might feel that we are sitting in the bleachers watching other people play the game, while we are wasting all our time and energy simply cheering or jeering. “Life is hard,” we say and shrug our shoulders!

                                  Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way!

Coaching can help you to connect those spinning wheels to the track!
And what happens? Well, you start moving in the direction of your choosing! You are no longer merely watching the game being played, you are playing it! You discover that just like an athlete you can train your success muscles and experience them grow and become increasingly adept at handling every activity you choose to participate in! You realize that winning or losing is not what truly matters – all that matters is that you play! And that you learn to focus your energy to work for exactly what you want, rather than wasting it on what you really do not want. Now you also discover that you can be infinitely more efficient and loving towards other people in your life.
It is not just you that benefits! It is everybody around you!
Larger than Life Coaching takes people from merely “ok” to optimal! We help our clients to connect to their passion in new ways. Clients discover their innate power. Not power over others, but power to be who they truly are! This is where those spinning wheels get traction! And it gets exciting to see what happens! As a train or a stage coach moves from station to station, you build on success after success.
You discover that not only do you have all it takes for you to live the life you want, everything you have ever experienced has given you exactly the tools you need to achieve it!

Visit my Website to read more and feel free to e-mail me with any questions you have.