Dad Has Given Up on His Teens
Q: I have lost respect for my kids; adolescence seems to have robbed us of all our connections. I finally have given up on setting limits or expectations for them anymore. One is in high school, the other middle school. I can’t even remember the good times we had when they were younger. Old photographs are too painful to even look at, and none of us seem the same any more. I know it troubles my wife and the kids avoid me now, is there hope?
A: Kahil Gibran says “Your children are not your children . . .”
What we do not know as parents is what kind of life our children long for or will create. We don’t have the control we might think we have. We get to watch them struggle on their own path. Watching that struggle is the hardest part of parenting. We are at times totally unable to provide the protection that we once could. The world beckons them to grow before they are ready. They have access to potentially deadly drugs and cars that can take their lives away without the experience and common sense to know how to handle them. Parenting can be a painful job!
There is hope, however, in the fact that you asked the question. It sounds as if, despite the obvious past hurts and disappointments that must have occurred, you want the relationship to be different. Start with the current barriers, and write down current and past events that have brought about the problem. It is also helpful to think about the adult role models that you had growing up.
Spend some time chronicling your own expectations and your current situation. Consider the following:
* Who were your parent and adult role models? Did you like the way you were treated?
* How would you describe your parenting style?
* What are your expectations for your children?
* What events bothered you the most with your children?
* Do you still feel the intense feelings about those events.
* If you do, write more to help you discover what values and beliefs were violated in your eyes by those actions.
*Shift your focus from what others did to what you did.
*What do you wish you would have done differently?
*What are you especially proud of having done?
If you find yourself feeling down and depressed a lot of the time, remember, asking for help may be a critical part of getting enough energy to turn the situation around. The longer you feel depressed, the tougher it is to change.
If medications are recommended, don’t see that as a personal failure. There are times when our chemistry changes and we need help to enjoy, or just to manage, life.
Have you and your wife been able to work together as parents? Has your marriage perhaps gotten even stronger as you’ve had to work together to provide for a family under stressful circumstances? If it has been tested, do you focus more often on how you agree than on where you disagree? Have you avoided the often disastrous process of blaming one another? That process could leave you both isolated and less able to work together to turn things around. Both of you will need to work together on improving the situation.
If your situation includes responding to your children’s misbehavior such as cursing, not following curfew, not doing school work, or other problems, what efforts did you make to address those? A clear understanding of child and adolescent development will help you as you and your wife decide on the best approach for dealing with your children. If you know you are dealing with predictable developmental behavior, then it will be easier for you to be objective rather than feeling that interactions with your children are personal confrontations.
Were there times when you were able to observe what your children did and respond in ways that were helpful for you? What did you do? Can you do it again?
It is easy, when overwhelmed by parenting problems, to try a variety of parenting techniques. Did you finally come up with a set of parenting principles that work for you even when you disengage? There are classes that can help you try on new parenting styles. This is another time when it is best for you and your wife to be a team coming up with a new technique. Active Parenting, Parenting Now and Parenting Teens with Love and Logic are good resources for parenting strategies that can help you with problems that can come up in the future as well as make sense of things that have already gone by. There are no guarantees of a 180 degree change, but there is hope that it can get better.
Even if you have let go of expectations now, you had them at one time. Were they realistic? If you reread your writings, look to see if you are forgiving or judging in these pages. Do you feel either way about yourself or your children? What does their behavior say about who they are?
My hope for you would include allowing yourself to get to know who your children are right now while entertaining the possibility that they may still change. If you notice that the wishes and dreams you had for them, or the rules your parents had for you are getting in the way, take a deep breath and release it and the expectation together.
You may not accept their behavior right now, but you can still love them as they are, faults and all!
If none of this works for you, consult a professional, and go as a family. Whether it changes things or not, you will know you have personally tried your best. Then, as a last measure, talk to your children as you might talk to a neighbor. Allow yourself a respectful connection with them while maintaining a polite distance, and good luck!
Books as resources:
Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Apa Lifetools
Parenting Teens With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition) (Hardcover) by Foster Cline