10 tips to stay out of the power struggle and save your relationship
Originally published on Medium
If your teenager is more interested in his phone than talking to you, then this article is for you. It’s not going to promise you that Jesus will save you both. (Though a higher power is certainly advised to keep you from killing him.)
It’s not going to teach you how to win an argument. (Because fighting with teens is like negotiating with terrorists. It never works.)
But it will give you ten tips that have saved my butt when it comes to dealing with teenagers both at home and at school that have helped me to keep my cool, earn some respect and, when all respect is lost, to at least walk away and not make it worse.
Covid and Hormones and Boundaries, Oh My!
Let’s face it, these are some rough times. If hormones weren’t enough to deal with, Covid swooped in and locked many of us up with people we started not to recognize thanks to the stress of isolation. (The online school work, the lack of a social life, the unending complaints about food and boredom! And that’s just my bad attitude let alone my teens!)
I realized, when crap hit the fan, that I was either going to have to get better at communication or put a huge strain on my relationship with my kids. The second felt pretty sad, so here’s what I did. And while I have a long way to go, I’m getting stronger every day. You can, too. (Psst: Telling them to “Stop pissing your life away sleeping in” isn’t a great strategy. Ahem.)
10 Tips to Keep Boundaries and Relationships Strong with Your Teens When You Would Rather Just Kill Them
- Use “I” Statements: In simple terms, I’ve found when I stay away from “you” and keep it on “I” there is much less defense. Ex: “You spoke to me in a way that was super rude” immediately puts their walls up. “I felt very disrespected” keeps it on me and avoids them deflecting back, “You’re manipulating me!”
- Pick Your Battles: Does it really matter if your kid doesn’t think Barry Manilow is a real artist and that your food prep skills are, to quote their favorite new game, are “Suss?” Save the argument for when he or she wants to get in a car with a friend wearing a “Hell is Other People” tattooed on their forehead. It’s simply not worth the fight.
- Keep It Light: I know… I know… how stressful things can get being home all the time with restless kids. But instead of adding fuel to the fire by walking around like a somber Eeyore, make it a point to play some music. Text them a joke. Buy them a fun snack. Play a video game with them, even if your Minecraft Hut ends up looking more like a pink meth house.
Teenagers won’t always remember Covid as the best time of their life, but by keeping things cheerful as much as possible they can still have happy memories of being with you. Being intentional with your mood change everything.
Sidenote: I can’t tell if that person is actually a teenager, an older man, or a transman. Now that I have one child transitioning, nothing appears as it seems anymore. And perhaps this is for the best. Let people jut play their ukes and be their best unicorn selves. It’s too complicated to control it. Moving on.
4. Timing is Everything: Once a tiger is flippin’ mad, the dumbest thing to do is go poke it with a stick. You’re not “losing” if you choose to wait before you speak. Better to have patience and bring something up when your kid is more receptive to hearing than in the middle of a big blow out. Speaking of…
5. Don’t Yell: I have had my days of yelling at my kids. And later, they’ve told me it really hurt. And you know what? Who can blame them? My dissatisfaction with other areas of my life, displaced on them, didn’t feel good.
Note: I am making living amends to not yell at them again. This doesn’t mean I can’t set boundaries with love, but I don’t rage to make my point. Rage is not power anyway. Only firm rules with love works. (And cash if you have it.)
6. Don’t Threaten: It took me a long time to learn this one, but “Late is Great.” Instead of telling my kids what will happen if they don’t do x, y and z, and amp up the consequences, I simply tell them what the expectations are, and what the logical consequences will be if it’s not done. If I get kick back, I don’t try to blame, shame or case build. I don’t defend my point. I simply say, with no sarcasm at all, “Thank you for sharing.”
7. Have a Meeting of 2: By this, I mean that when you’re upset about something, you don’t need to interrupt a perfectly good outing to the beach to bring up something from the past. Make a time to talk to your teenager when both of you are calm. Keep it to “I” statements and then, here’s the hardest part of all: Listen.
8. Listen: It can be difficult to listen to a teenager’s logic when they seem, well, crazy. But that’s exactly what you need to do. In the past I’ve fought them. I’ve tried to save my ego.
My ego is not my amigo, especially when it comes to teenagers. I need to get my validation elsewhere or I’ll forever be butt hurt.
These days, unless they are directly being rude to me, I also ask two very important questions: “Do you want my opinion or do you just want me to listen?” If they only want to vent about something, nothing I say is going to change their mind anyway. And isn’t life their best teacher anyway? The more I try and convince them, the more I become the target.
9. Stop Trying to Fix Everything: One of the hardest things I’m learning is that I can’t fix how my teenagers feel about anything — especially what they think about me. This goes back to #8. It’s not my kids’ job to like me or fill me up. They aren’t my friends. It’s my job to keep them safe. And, if they don’t feel safe, and they tell me that, it’s my job to decide if they are manipulating me (it’s been known to happen — I’m a softie) or if it’s something I need to change, such as how I talk to them. It can be confusing for a co-dependent in transition like myself. That leaves me with only one thing to do sometimes…
10. God: I couldn’t do this teenage thing without God. Taking time to bring in my higher power reminds me who is really in charge. It helps me to separate myself from their attitudes about me. It helps me to think clearly. It helps me to walk away when I’m getting angry.
At the end of the day, a belief in God reminds me to let go of the fear I have that either my kids hate me or I’m messing up too much. When I remember that they, too, have their own God, I can relax. I don’t have that much power. What a relief!
I’m Not a Perfect Parent
My true friends know that things have been rough lately. I have struggled between standing my ground in love and wanting to lay down the hammer like a pissed off porcupine with a tube of “Don’t screw with me juice” up its behind. But, thanks to some wonderful 12 step groups, I’ve also seen my part in creating a few dynamics that are playing out in my household. (Not always having clear enough guidelines, not trusting myself enough, wanting them to like me. Accck! I hate writing that last part, but it’s true.)
For a while there, not even realizing it, I parented from a place of lack. Subconsciously I didn’t see my true value. It’s something that I’m actively changing now, and it’ll take a bit of time for it to settle in. That’s okay. It’s Covid. I’ve got all the time in the world!
I can’t come in like a mafia boss now and gain respect in a day. It’s going to take more than a hot second to establish the new routine… to show up as a mom who says what she means, but isn’t mean.
To show up as someone who doesn’t feel hurt when something is said to me — not because that child is particularly awful (though it might feel that way) but perhaps because they, too, are hurting.
It’s going to take a little bit of willingness on their part to see me in a new light — as a mother who cares deeply for their feelings, but is no longer willing to be a doormat and put my fairy dust on their problems at the expense of my own soul.
Motherhood is brutal and exhausting. It requires the power of a Steam Engine with the heart of a hummingbird.
My goal is to raise happy and confident adults, but that means I get to be one first. And only when I’m filling my own cup every day can I manage to follow the advice I just gave to you.
I know how hard I work at this parenting gig. Whether my teenagers understand that, at this point in their lives, is none of my business. I just need to do the footwork and leave the rest to God.
And when all else fails, I can drink another cup of decaf. (Yeah, that whole “I Gave Up Coffee and Didn’t Die” post? That’s bullshit. I caved after 3 weeks. I already don’t drink alcohol. I’m not giving up my java, too.)
I’m a published TV, blog, magazine and book writer who also coaches moms and grandmoms to write books rooted in wisdom, spirituality and humor.
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