Do you want your children to always be honest with you? Do you, or will you, tell them that they can discuss anything with you, that your home is a safe place to share difficult situations? Be careful what you ask for.
At bedtime, when our kids were young, I’d sing a ditty of my own creation, every night for years, “There’s nothing you could say or do, that would make me stop loving you,” This was and is true and it laid a foundation for open communication. It’s pretty easy when they’re in elementary school and, hopefully, even when they’re tweens. Fortunately, I had one kid who would always tell me the truth, occasionally to the chagin of his brother. I capitalized on this to the utmost. I wanted my kids to see trouble could arise and we could work it out as a family.
In their early teens, our sons continued to tell us about friends and events. About this time, though, my older son told me not to ever ask him about girls. He explained that his friends’ moms were always asking if anyone had a girlfriend. I respected his boundary and I didn’t ask him about peers of the female variety. A couple years later he asked, “Why don’t you ever ask about girlfriends? My friends’ moms are always asking.” I reminded him he’d requested I not inquire, so I hadn’t. I wanted my guys to know they could set boundaries.
The true teen years, for us probably 15-20, require more careful navigation through a minefield of spoken and unspoken concerns. Just because communication has been safe doesn’t mean teenagers want to participate fully. Indeed, healthy development through adolescence includes them pulling away and developing their own sense of self. This can result in parents being included only when a mine has detonated and you’ve been informed or your son or daughter brings it to you.
Out of respect to your kids, their issues should be confidential as far as you are concerned, with the exception of reaching out for professional help. So, pretend you’re on a social media site, playing a game, or preparing yourself for the next day’s work, and your teenager comes into the room, leaning against the entryway, swaying back and forth. I might be dense, but it always took me a few minutes to realize they wanted to discuss something. Because a teen doesn’t lurk near you for more than a couple of minutes to engage in small talk. Once the ice was broken, my teenagers were relieved; I could see it in their posture, body language, and in their sharing.
Personally, there was more than one time I reacted calmly on the outside but on the inside I was thinking, “Oh, shit.” Don’t forget to breathe when your offspring share things which shock your consciousness or a circumstance you’d really hoped your children would avoid. As a high school partier myself, I worried about drugs and alcohol, but my kids kept out of it until my older son was a junior and the younger was a sophomore. We knew this when we caught the whole friend group smoking pot in the field behind our house. There were later involvements with drugs, mental health, school counselors, etc., which shall remain confidential.
Suffice to say, there were times I was in my room, screaming or sobbing into my pillow, but showing a resolute, reliable, and predictable mom to my sons. Yes, the parents are, or should be, more prepared to deal with the rammifications of a serious problem. It was okay with me if my kids saw me cry or be angry, but when the child is in a crisis, I wanted them to know backup had arrived in order to lessen anxiety or fear, helping them to regain their footing sooner rather than later. It’s important not to lash out at them with your own anxiety or fear. Heaping more responsibility, blame, or guilt on their shoulders while they’re already in a fragile state is cruel. There were always be time to discuss and lay out consequences.
In spite of thinking, “No, no, no, no!” or “I don’t want to do this,” or “What the fuck am I supposed to do about this?” it’s crucial that your son or daughter receives the message that you still love them and will love them through whatever comes next. This provides stability, solid ground, for them as they work through their first major issues. It’s also okay to take breaks for yourself to breathe, vent to one very good friend or your spouse, and take care of daily life. One foot in front of the other, whatever that takes.
Remember, this, too, shall pass.
Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.