My friend Ben sat in the passenger seat in my car and suddenly there was a pause in the conversation. He took a deep breath and I could tell something was bothering him. Our friendship, over the years, had developed into an unusual one. Ben and I had very few secrets between us. We care about and trust each other enough that we both know there is never any judgment between us. Ben is my only friend like this and I have often wished that I had ten more just like him.
His mood became somber, his voice was low. He told me that his teenage daughter had recently sent him a series of harsh text messages and I could tell that it was really affecting him. I also knew that for most of his daughters life, their relationship was really good. Ben had been divorced for about seven years and he saw his two daughters on the weekends. His daughter who was fourteen, it seemed, had turned on him.
I could tell that this really bothered him but honestly, I wasn’t surprised. Over the years I have worked with teens numbering in the thousands and I have become acutely aware of their patterns. Almost every teenager, I have learned, goes through a certain phase during their teen years. I call this the, “my parents are horrible monsters” phase. Trust me, I see this all the time. Loving parents feeling totally bewildered because their darling child suddenly seems to hate them. There’s a point in a teenagers life when they realize that their parent is imperfect and has made mistakes and suddenly their teen seems to be acutely aware of those mistakes and what they should have done instead.
As I work with parents, I often find myself driving a point home to them. That particular point is that teens are not rational adults. Let’s face it, not even adults are necessarily rational. Teens are big kids and in many ways, they think like children. They make look like an adult, act like an adult and talk like an adult but seriously, they are children. Granted, some kids parents really are horrible monsters but those parents don’t usually read articles like this on the internet. Their new found disgust for their parental units is often completely unfounded. They get it in their heads somehow that life is supposed to be fair and they get pissed when they realize how unfair life really is. Oh yeah, and guess what, they will probably blame you for that uncomfortable fact.
I watched my nephew go through this phase. He’s a great guy, smart, polite, kind, talented, funny, all those good things. He decided one day that his parents were horrible monsters, especially his dad. Which didn’t make sense because his dad is one of the best people and one of the best parents that I have ever known. But that’s the point, it doesn’t make any sense.
I went through this phase myself. I got it into my mind when I was a teenager that my mom was a horrible monster. It didn’t make any sense. My mom has always been the person that has loved me unconditionally and helped me become the person that I am today. Seeing her as a monster just didn’t make sense.
My message to you today, if you’re in this position, keep in mind that your teen isn’t a rational or logical human being. My friend Ben who I mentioned before once told me that it was stupid to get mad at dogs because they chase cars, you see, that’s just what dogs DO. It’s their nature. Teens are the same ways, there are certain things that they just DO, it’s in their nature. If they are angry at you, understand that it’s part of growing up and try not to take it personally. Keep raising them the best way you know how and sooner or later they will come back and around and thank you for loving them.
Don’t worry about making mistakes as a parent
I have a cousin whose two year old son is autistic but that’s an irrelevant detail. When she found out she was pregnant, she went public on facebook. She openly asked for parenting advice since this was her first child. As a therapist, I am tuned into the fact that parents expect themselves to be perfect parents and not make any mistakes. I gave her one piece of advice. In essence I told her to give herself permission to make mistakes. I told her that she was going to make mistakes as a parent and that there was no way to avoid that. I felt like she needed to accept that she’s not perfect as human being and that wouldn’t magically change because she had a baby.
If you are a parent who worries about making mistakes, let me put this bluntly. Stop worrying about making mistakes because you’re going to. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Don’t worry about screwing up your kid because I promise, no matter how hard you try not to do this, it’s going to happen. But relax, you’re not alone. If we were to take an educated guess, weighing the various factors, what percentage of parents make mistakes when raising their children? Take a second and think about it. What percentage of parents make mistakes? You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to figure this equation out, the answer is 100%. All parents make mistakes and some make really big ones.
This is one of those irrational beliefs that human beings carry around. We have a lot of them don’t we? All the “should’s” and “supposed to be’s.” I see this almost every day, people expect a lot from themselves and some of those things are totally impossible. So let’s just get it out there, let’s shine a light directly on these bogus beliefs because I promise you, you’re going to have a much easier time accepting some of these things than living up to an unrealistic standard. So here it is straight. You’re going to make mistakes as a parent. People are going to see those mistakes. Some people will judge you for them but they are imperfect parents too.
But the most important fact here is this about making mistakes. It’s OK! My advice is similar to what I told my cousin. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and very importantly remember that even though you make mistakes, those mistakes don’t define you and they don’t cancel out all the things that you do right. Remember, our mistakes don’t define you. You’re allowed to make mistake, it doesn’t make you a bad parent.