Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Raising Teens

My daughter is twelve. It feels like only a short while ago that she loved for us to read to her at night and lie next to her until she fell asleep. I would carefully and ever so slowly move to get out of the bed so I wouldn’t wake her up. She loved to be carried and held and hugged. I knew in my head that the path towards falling asleep on her own and reading books independently was a good one. After all, our goal as parents is to raise self-reliant children. However, I didn’t know how much my heart would miss those connections. I didn’t know it would feel like a loss…like there was less love in my life. Having a teen or tween means learning to love and be loved in a different way.

My tween daughter now distributes her hugs sparingly. She doesn’t want us reading Percy Jackson books to her. She wants to read to us. She wants to talk to her friends and maybe give a high five on occasion to her parents. Our arguments seem to have a quicker trigger and escalate more rapidly. With the feelings of loss, the changes in our relationship and the desire to manage this stage of our family life with greater understanding, Haim Ginott – therapist and author – had the answers I was looking for.

Over forty years ago Haim Ginott published Between Parent and Teenager, and his ideas on conversations between parents and teenagers are still helpful today. Simply reading the dialogue put me in touch with what it felt like to be a teenager again. Heck, I remember feeling like that and saying those teenager things. I didn’t love my parents any less. I was simply on the roller coaster ride of discovering and becoming ME. The key points made by Ginott are so simple yet so meaningful:

· Parent with compassion
· Make it about handling the situation, not about the person
· Accept that in the natural course of events, we parents will feel uncomfortable, annoyed, irritated, angry and furious
· We are entitled to those feelings without guilt, regret or shame
· Express parental anger by stating how you feel clearly and without insult to a teenager’s personality or character
· State boundaries, limits and rules clearly, such as saying, “There is no place for acts of revenge or retaliation in our home. It is against my cherished values” after one teen pushes another off the bed in retaliation for a perceived insult
· Acknowledge your teen’s feelings without criticism or denial

Ginott says, “As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers their need is not to need us. This conflict is real; we experience it daily as we help those we love become independent of us. This can be our finest hour. To let go when we want to hold on requires utmost generosity and love. Only parents are capable of such painful greatness.”

This has become my daily practice along with cherishing the occasional, freely given hugs that completely fill my heart.

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