My eldest child is late to enter the “teens” officially. What I mean by that is that the typical behaviors we associate with teenagers: rebelliousness, trying on different selves, bonding more with friends than with family, believing themselves to be so much smarter and more knowledgeable than their elders – my eldest has been late to arrive here. But she is here now. Oh boy, is she here now. As a result, while my eldest is now officially “in her 20s”, in reality, I have three teenagers. And with COVID, it is a 24/7 kind of a deal. There’s no escaping this. I can’t go away for a weekend, or send one of them to spend the night at a friend’s house. Eldest should be away for her junior year at college, but she’s been home now for almost a year and will no doubt continue through the summer at this point. And while each of the kids can escape to their own room, there is no place for me to escape to. I share my room, and my husband claims it during the day for his work space. I’m in the common space then, and so when the teenagers are out in that space expressing their “teenage-dom”, it is me who gets the full blast of it.
Don’t get me wrong: for the most part I really enjoy my family. I not only love each of them, but I truly LIKE each of them as well. I have found myself grateful most of the time for the weird gift of this time when I get to be around them more, get to really be together with kids who will be gone all too soon. And truly, for the most part my kids are very nice, interesting people. They are caring and growing and learning and often still respect what I have to say, still value me as their parent. But while this is mostly true, there are moments when the teenage attitude is utterly too much to deal with. When I wake up to sarcasm, sass, and criticism, being told that they don’t want me to talk to them at all, even when they are in the same room as me, when they flinch if I put my hand on their shoulder and shrug me off, when they clearly are trying to push my buttons and set me off – all of it when I can’t step away easily, when there just isn’t a place for me to escape to, sometimes it can simply be hard to take. This behavior was hard to take when it began, but over this year long period it has become increasingly so.
I read an article recently that basically said that parents need to let teenagers act out in these horrible ways at home because they are “trying these things on” and if you allow them to behave this way at home, to act out their stress using you as their punching bag, that they will avoid behaving this way in public where it could truly damage relationships. It went on to say that parents should, therefore, just put up with it, be graceful in the face of abuse because teens need to know that home is a safe place where they can act out their stress, and just be freely themselves without any risk or loss.
I call BULL on that article. Absolute bull. By accepting that kind of behavior, you teach a child that it is acceptable to be cruel and unkind to their loved ones. We give them the false belief that there are no consequences to lashing out in inappropriate ways towards those who love them. We teach them that elder-abuse (even verbal abuse) is somehow okay. Nope. It is NOT okay now, or later, or ever.
That doesn’t mean that I will respond to their bad behavior with rejection or revenge. We have to model appropriate responses to unkindness. We have to model who we want them to choose to be. But I also am not going to just sit by and allow the unkindness. I will point it out. “I really felt hurt when you made that comment.” I will protect myself. “It isn’t okay to say things in ways that intentionally hurt other people. There are alternatives to expressing oneself with sarcasm and judgement, which are hurtful.” I will give them alternative ways to respond, “I would have had an easier time hearing that if you’d phrased it differently. Perhaps in this way…” I will help them to be self-reflective, “I’m wondering why you felt you needed to say that and why you chose to say it in that way. Can you explain it better to me?” And at times, I will just take myself for a walk because I need the break from it all.
Most of all, I will just breathe…
I don’t get it right all the time. My responses are not always those I want. And when they aren’t, that also gives me a chance to model apologizing and naming what I should have done differently in response as well. It also allows me to model gentleness with myself and self-forgiveness, as well as forgiveness for their behaviors. Some days that’s easier. Some days that’s harder.
This “living with teens” is giving me a lot of opportunity to grow.
One day at a time, folk. One day at a time…