One of the primary differences between parenting now and parenting when we were growing up is our current fixation on the “relationship.”
The measuring tool we use for this is what I refer to as “closeness points.” In some families it manifests itself in just how much free time the parents are willing to sacrifice for their children’s activities. In others, it is about how often your teenager texts or calls you per day. Independence used to be the goal of parenting, but now in many ways we foster dependence.
I would assert, perhaps unpopularly, that more important than the present relationship you have with your teenager is the future relationships your teenager will have with you, their employer, partner, children, peers, and even humanity. Often, building responsibility, independence, and integrity in your teen will require times when they feel frustrated, upset, and even angry with you.
We need to learn how to tolerate those uncomfortable breaches in the relationship in order to give our teens room to strengthen and develop their identity and character. Keep in mind the following three concepts when you find yourself flustered because your teenager is upset with you for any number of unpopular parental decisions:
- They are not your friend, although we can certainly be friendly, and one day we may establish a genuine adult-to-adult friendship. In the meantime, it is our job to be their parent. Ironically, although they may be at the center of our lives, they will actually go on to have partners, spouses and children who will be more important to them than we are. We need to keep the job of parenting paramount in our decision making in order to prepare them for the primary relationships in their future. This self-disciplined approach to parenting will pay off for years to come, but requires you to focus on the kind of person you want your child to become, rather than how your teenager feels about the limits you set.
- It is not personal. Even when they attack our personhood verbally, it still really isn’t about you. It is usually just a natural byproduct of the tension created by the pull of both childhood and adulthood that defines adolescence. A little distance can actually be helpful in both reducing our frustration with them and their frustration with us. Call a friend, go out for a walk, continue making dinner, whatever it takes to just keep living your own life, minimizing the impact their dissatisfaction has on you.
- Our children will not be judged by how much they depended on their parents. In fact, the opposite may be true. Independence, competence and personal responsibility are valued not only in the work place, but also in personal partnerships like marriage and friendship. When they are frustrated with you, it encourages them to problem-solve on their own, which develops and builds these important life skills.
Yes, it is unsettling to have our teenager angry at us. It is probably unsettling to have anyone angry at us. However, that does not mean you made a poor decision, are no longer close, or that you need to do something about it instantly. Teenagers are naturally going to be upset with some of their parents’ decisions, and it is important that we model a high tolerance for emotional reactions. Remember to keep your focus on the best interest of your teenager, not the moment-to-moment relationship you have with them.