|A beloved client of mine once sat down in the green chair, and feeling inspired by the success he and I had been having ventured to ask me if I could help him with his teenage daughter, then proceeded to list the numerous strategies he had employed to regulate her behaviour, all of which met with increasingly “unfavourable” results (FINE-AH!!! IF YOU WANT ME TO HAVE, LIKE, ZERO LIFE AND BASCIALLY FAIL EVERYTHING HAVE IT YOUR WAY BUT YA BETTER BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR-AH, JIM! *SLAMS DOOR AT IMPRESSIVE HOUSE SHAKING DECIBAL *BLASTS LOUD MUSIC *CALLS FRIENDS AND LOUDLY COMPLAINS ABOUT UNFAIR TREATMENT). He removed privileges. Took away her phone. Took the door off her bedroom. Increased the chore list. He was astonished, that she did NOT want to, nor seem to value even, the jaunty little meal making program he and his wife had set up for the family, and he described, with great grief and some palpable disdain, the plain, half cold, overcooked noodles she slapped down on the table the previous night, and expected to pass for her contribution to family meal sharing time.|
I mean I could see his vision, floating in a floaty, puffy cloud of wholesome goodness—kids getting creative with meal planning, dicing and slicing and spicing with love and bonding marinating in their hearts, learning a meaningful life skill while the soundtrack to Mary Poppins played in the background. The genius of meal time together, without the enervating daily grind of doing it all yourself. As ideas go, this one was heroic. And then someone let Gordon Effing Ramsay into the kitchen.
I could SIMULTANEOUSLY see it from her eyes. Walking in from school, feeling the promise of a tall glass of orange juice and the quiet solace of the bedroom where she could collapse in a heap of exhaustion and shrug off the thousand pounds of homework, the bee-atches at school, the prettier girls at school, the boy who would not give her the time of day but twisted her heart to distraction, the grades she had to get to get the privileges to have a social life, and the aching in her back from carrying 20 pounds of books all day. Peanuts compared to what the adults in her life churn out on the daily with one hand behind their backs and their nose up the butts of a dozen authority figures at any given time, but for her, a heavy weight. Just one, teeny-tiny half an hour, is all she needed, before someone expected one more thing of her, but then also with the solid chance that sleep might overcome her. Sleep, or the cottony nothingness of images flashing mindlessly across a screen, tying pianos to her legs.
And TADA, we have the premise for the plot of Freaky Friday. Teen endures shitstorm of adolescence, fails to impress adults, adults over give to teen without credit or contribution but also lack basic intro level compassion.
So I asked him.
“Have you asked her if something is wrong?
And he looked at me.
He looked at me as if I had just solved the first Rubik’s Cube, possibly even sliced the first loaf of bread, or reached into my little ol’ pocket and whipped out the ultimate twenty first century life hack.
For some of us it may seem like a no-brainer. To look beneath the surface when someone we care about is acting out. To inquire as to their well-being, or offer help. But some of us don’t have access to the basic correlation between behaviour and emotional health, because in spite of how loving and well-intentioned we are, no one ever taught us.
AND, to add insult to that injury, The World has lot to say about how we should parent, and a lot of that “lot” is all about behaviour management. How to get your kids to look good on you, and what in hell and damnation it means about you if you don’t. Should we hit them; stick ‘em in a corner; time out them; take away their shit; manipulate their currency; tough love ‘em; restrain their technology; structure them; make them have manners; make them do chores; play them composers in utero; get them into competitive schools early; unify our parenting? Are they too entitled; grateful enough; accomplished enough; do they do BAD things; are they assholes; and do they take for granted JUST HOW FAR you walked to school in minus 400 wearing the scraps of your ancestors and the tears of your enemies and carrying your little brother on your back, all the while not even being able to record your favourite Disney show because us Flintstones didn’t have the luxury of VCR’s?
We need an APP just to keep track of the million and one competing strategies we are supposed to employ to raise our kids right, and all of that chaos leaves little room for the actual kids in the equation.
The shocking news is, that kids, like adults, are emotional beings. And we are being taught a reactive approach to parenting that misses this basic point.
Of course there are days when we just want to survive without forgetting anyone on the side of the road, days when we consider dropping everyone off in the “country” for a spot, and days when our benchmark for success is that no one actually killed each other, in public.
BUT what we really want as parents, whether we’ve realized it or not, is to help our children to have decently happy and fulfilling lives. GASP! To be well. To thrive. And what that means for them is not formulaic. And it’s not achieved by the “gold stars for parenting” program. It’s really a matter of how we can nurture and support our children into their happiest, healthiest selves, with the resources at hand. AND, we want it to feel as much good and as little bad as possible along the way.
When we remember that it is FOR them, it can stop being about our performance, or our failings. And then a lot of the questions start to answer themselves, or become answerable.
How to emotionally nurture your child, 101?
Well it goes like this.
When your child is in emotional pain or distress, validate them. Their pain does not say something about you, and while you can fall short of Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker, Coach of the Year, Dr. Phil, and a thousand other standards and measures, YOU CAN’T SCREW UP LOVE. Responding with validation, love and nurturing to their distress, will resolve their distress. It may not make them stop crying on cue, or do as they are told when shit hits the fan, but it teaches them that it is safe to feel things, and to understand their feelings, and that their feelings don’t make them less loveable.
Ask them how they are doing. You know when you leave a quiet toddler alone in the bathroom and then for 3 weeks you pay for that fifteen minutes of bliss by scrubbing an entire container of baking soda out of the grout? Well too much emotional quiet is also a sign of danger. It can make a world of difference to say “Are you okay?” or “How do you feel about that thing?” or “How is school?” or “Hey are there bullies at your school?”
Share with them emotionally. I feel upset. I feel sad. Share age appropriately. If your three year old is chiming in on your dating foibles or your recent fight with her dad, you’ve gone too far. But sharing teaches us that it is okay to feel hurt, and how to navigate that hurt.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to do something FOR your self, so that you don’t drop from hunger, loneliness, exhaustion, or stress-eat yourself into the next millennium. I have often said something along the lines of “It’s okay to be upset, and mad. I have just been handling emotions all day, so I’m gonna take 15, then we can have a vent session, or you can hit me up for emotional support and I will get out the pom poms and rally”.
Consider what they are needing emotionally. THIS will always land you in a better spot than the “how to out-ninja your teenager” or “how to win at poker with a hustler” manual. Because it turns out that folks need things. Even small, mean humans whose hurt commands more hurt, and is pointed straight at you. And when you can help them relieve hurt? When you can pull the thorn out of the lion’s paw? Here’s the tear jerker place where my client got the first hug since age 2 from his daughter, because she was so relieved that someone had brought a glass of water to into her proverbial emotional desert.
Turns out that you can answer an emotional need without having to be a superhero or wizard. All the asking, listening, sharing BIZ is the lion’s share of it, and when we add to that any small gesture toward helping our child with support, toward correcting painful ideas they have about themselves (I suck. I am less than. I am a failure.) toward problem solving, we GIVE them the main thing they need from us. When we are on team “How do we get you the best life and fulfill the things that matter to you in a way is healthy”, well, so many of the problems re-prioritize and even answer themselves.
The other really COOLIO part about this angle, is that when something is FOR you, there is nothing to fight against. And having relationships that aren’t governed by rebellion and its suppression, is FUN-NER. There is room for other things to take up the relationship space.
We don’t want FEAR management as a parenting model. So I invite ya’ll to try replacing the parental grievance manifesto below that was provided to you by the fear mongering committee:
Because that kind of authority has clout. I want you to clean your room, so you feel good about yourself, so the family works better, so mornings are easier on you and us, and I will support you where you struggle to show up and be your best self in the most loving way possible; that has clout. Even if you borrow from the Gordon Ramsay handbook of self expression to convey your request.
Now, please excuse me while I drop everyone off in the backwoods with their Pokemon finders and a granola bar for the next few days. Mama needs a hot bath.
— Love Erin
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