My husband, I and our 4 children attended a dinner event recently. There was a young couple who also attended with their 4 children, all under the age of 6; 3 girls and an infant boy. I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in the gap of their ages to each other as compared to my now almost all adult children. Their current ages range from 24 - 18.
Someone remarked to me that the mother of this brood was not very friendly or talkative. I replied, “Talkative? She’s clearly overwhelmed and quite exhausted!” I felt compassion for her. When my children were around the same ages, I too felt extremely tired and overwhelmed. Who has the energy to chitchat when you have not had a full night’s sleep in 6 years, nor can eat a meal by yourself in peace!? The only ‘me’ time I had was when I slept for those few precious hours. I personally did not sleep through the entire night for over 5 years from the birth of the eldest to the youngest child.
Sleep deprivation aside, it was all so worth it, of course. And now here we are together. I felt so fortunate to be sitting with my most favorite people in the whole world. I love watching them engage in their witty banter with each other and am so grateful that, as cute as they were as young children, now that they are grown, we all can enjoy our time together in a more enriching way.
My eldest son, apparently reading my thoughts, laughingly reminded me of the terror he was when he was a teenager. “Oh, yes. You are so right. You were a terror!” I could laugh now, but I wasn’t laughing then.
For all of you parents out there who are raising children from the ages of 12 and up who are morphing into their teenager phase, please know that you are not going crazy. You are not alone when you feel you have reached your wit’s end and frustratingly cry out:
- What happened to my beautiful, sweet child?
- Who is this stranger that has taken over their body?
- Why is s/he acting like a crazy person?
- What is wrong with me? When did I turn into a bad parent?
- When will it end??
- Do I need therapy? Do they?
- I am at a loss of how to deal with this person?
- How will we survive the teen years???
Take heart. Eventually, they will grow out of it. Let’s talk about what is going on.
From a spiritual perspective, the Zohar tells us that a child is a robot of his Desire to Receive for the Self Alone for their first 12 (for a girl) and 13 (for a boy) years of life.
Children are vessels who just take, take, take. But, they are so cute, and we love them so much, that we just give, give, give. Children are thirsty vessels of their parents’ energy.
But, when a girl turns 12 and a boy turns 13 years of age, something happens. They are no longer just vessels. Their souls start waking up to an internal alarm clock that rings and rings until they respond. It says, “Time to get back to work and start dealing with all your unfinished business from your other lifetimes.” A part of them wakes up and doesn’t just want to be only a vessel of your desires any more.
He or she now wants to be a CREATOR, to be the Cause in his/her life. They have a driving force that becomes activated. This driving force is part of the natural process that drives the child’s desires into becoming a proactive adult.
Unfortunately, since most of us were never taught this, we feel at a loss as to how to deal with this process.
Think of it this way: For years, they have been living off your ‘soul account’. They never had to be accountable for how much energy they were spending. Then the soul’s alarm clock wakes them up. They begin the weaning process off of their parents’ account. Not only that, they have been handed the checkbook of their own account. A whole new infusion of energy enters into their systems. They don’t know what to do with it at first. And, since they were not educated to be prepared for this energetic phenomenon, they go nuts!
Allegorically, if you knew that your child would be responsible for his own bank account and would be endowed with, let’s say, one thousand dollars of income, and ten thousand dollars in debt that just came through, how do you think your child would deal with this new source of stress? Not very well.
That is why, when children are young, it is a good idea to start getting them used to the idea of accountability. It helps them build the muscles they will need when they get older and will have to take on the responsibility of being accountable for everything that happens in their lives. If they don’t practice when they are young, it is going to be that much harder to handle the new infusion of energy when they grow up. I know many adults who are still going through this process.
Here are my recommendations for mutual survival into the teen years and beyond:
Options. Give your child options. Give your child a safe environment to experience the effect of their choices without making them feel like they failed or that there is something wrong with them.
The worse thing a parent can do to a child is to kill his or her self-esteem. This happens in direct and indirect ways.
Check yourself. How often do you do any of the following?
- Make all decisions for your child. Don’t ask him for his opinion on the matter. For example, who picks out his clothes?
- Alleviate the child of any responsibilities.
- Do her homework for her.
- Prevent her from the painful experience of a struggle, which would actually result in a sense of accomplishment.
- Call your child ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This communicates that the child is not intrinsically worthy, but only as good as his or her last accomplishment.
- Stop your child from expressing his feelings. Say things like “Don’t cry.”
- Point out more times that he does something wrong rather than right.
- You are so fearful that your child might experience pain that you try to prevent your child from getting harmed, so not allowing her an opportunity to explore new things or take any risks.
- Verbally putting down a child, and, of course, any violence will kill a child’s self-esteem.
- Lack of respecting your child’s boundaries (like physically touching them when they ask you not to, or forcing them to eat when they tell you they are not hungry).
- Shaming a child into doing what you want them to do.
- Engaging in emotional blackmail. Your child is not responsible for either your happiness or unhappiness. And vice versa. It is a case of ‘you do you and I do me.’
The most powerful, healing and empowering words you can say to your child are “I believe in you.” “I trust you.” “I am sure that you will figure it out.”
Give your child the space to struggle to find his/her own solutions. Every time you rescue him/her, you give the subliminal message that he or she is incompetent. This can have damaging long term repercussions.
On the other hand, we have to be careful not to please the child to his/her detriment.
You would not want to be blackmailed by anyone, let alone your child.
Like I said, and it is worth repeating: Emotional blackmail works both ways. Don’t allow your child to get away the assumption that you are responsible for your child’s happiness. They are not responsible for your happiness and you are not responsible for theirs.
I have seen families where the child is running the show. This is just as frightening for the child as it is for the parents. Children want and need to be parented in a balanced way with healthy consistent boundaries.
As a child matures, he or she needs to be given opportunities to earn their sense of self and integrity. This builds self-esteem. Here are some things you can do if you don’t do them already:
- Depending on the age, give him chores to do, like putting away toys, etc.
- Get themselves ready for bed.
- Do their own homework. Do NOT get in the habit of doing homework for your children.
- Everything comes with an option. For example, you can clean up now and we can go to the park. If you choose not to put away your toys, then that means that we will not go to the park today. What do you choose?
- Your job is to help your child become an independent, resourceful adult who contributes to society. Always keep that in mind, especially when it comes to discipline.
- Give real compliments on your child’s efforts, not on the results. When he enjoys the effort, the results will follow.
- Do NOT label your child, i.e. ‘good boy’ etc. Or, ‘She is the smart one.’
- Set up consistent boundaries with a logical reason why this is so. Discuss them with your child.
- As they grow in maturity and understanding, discuss rules and ask for his input on what the consequences should be when rules are broken.
- Be a role model. Children do as you do, not as you say. (For example, you can’t expect your son to listen to you when you say, “Don’t smoke marijuana.” if you come home every night and have a drink or 2 to take off the edge.)
- Never get into a power struggle. You will lose. This is especially true as your child grows into a taller and larger teenager who may be physically stronger than you.
Respect is something that you model for your child with the other adults in your life and of course, with your child. Respect means you consider their welfare, acknowledge their capacity to make decisions, give them options and empower them to determine their own fate (within the guidelines that you set). Do not lie. Be consistent in your word and you will have their respect and love.
And last (for now) create a safe boundary outside the boundary you set with your teenager in order to give him or her a safe space to ‘rebel’ and exercise their creator nature.
Parenthood is the most important job of a lifetime!