A Parents’ Guide to hear and be heard
By Vanessa Baker
You want to connect to your teenager. You try and you try. You try to teach them, guide them, correct them. You think they will eventually (but soon, hopefully soon) say, “Gee, Mom and Dad, Thanks for getting into my business 24/7. I finally understand where you’re coming from, and I want to do better starting today.”
You try to be funny. They say you’re annoying.
You try to be a role model. They say you’re a try-hard.
You try to be an example of hard work. They ask for more.
You try to create family memories. They glaze over on their phones.
So, yeah. Getting through to our teenagers is hard. It may even feel impossible to you right now. You may be resolved to just wait until they are older and try again then. Maybe when they have a kid just like them, they will say those precious words that deep down (or on the very surface) you are desperate to hear:
“Thank you. I get it now. You did good. You really made a difference in my life. I wouldn’t be the thriving person I am now without you.”
I am a mom of five teenagers and a 3-year-old. I have three sons, two daughters and one non-binary kid. My teens are 13, 15, 16, 17 and 19. They span from 8th grade to college freshman, to never graduating high school. They range from 2.5 to 4.5 grade point averages. They differ in every way possible.
When my oldest was leaving for college, he and I had dinner together and spent three hours talking about life and the family, the future, my work, his interests, and the other kids. He said the coolest thing: “The only thing me and the other kids have in common, really, is that we all know exactly who we are.”
He had no idea the gift he had just given me.
Here is how I connected the dots in my heart and mind: Knowing who one is a function of connection to one’s self. How can you know someone to whom you are not connected? I could not have taught FIVE young people that skill unless I had it to model, so my being connected to myself, knowing myself deeply and loving myself was the victory that my astute son had declared and validated to me.
It is connection that allows us to really get through to our teens.
Now, I believe that connecting to our kids and having a real, clean relationship based on respect and empathy is very hard to create when we are caught up in things like fear, blame, judgment, shame, comparison, and dissatisfaction. Well, what isn’t hard when we are caught up in that stuff, right?
I want to show you three common ways that your kids are trying to connect with you, communicate something important to you, but that you may be under-valuing or under-capitalizing. After each statement that a tween/teen might say, I will give you a possible response that is based on hope, personal responsibility, compassion, and empathy.
Ready? You do not have to memorize these word-for-word, but I am giving you a framework that you can use and “make your own” like singers do on American Idol! You can also text these to your kid.
YOU ARE SO ANNOYING!
‘Annoying’ is really an annoying word, don’t you think?
This statement often means that you are making something about yourself instead of really getting what your kid is saying or feeling. Many of the parents who I coach, both in group settings and one-on-one, subconsciously react to something their kid does or says based on something that is truly not relevant in the moment. It could be related to, “What would MY mother think about how I am handling this behavior?” Suddenly there are three people in the moment instead of two: your child, you, and your own parent.
When we are not secure in who we are, we often end up making other people’s issues about us. It’s called codependency and it is really common in parent/teen relationships. Sounds like: I need you to be this way so I can feel that way. The opposite state of a relationship is interdependence in which both parties are involved, but not tangled up. It is much less messy.So, can you see how snapping to judgment based on your own fear of being judged, can make you seem so out of touch and “annoying”? If you are honest with yourself, you just might see it.
Next time your kid calls you the A-word, try this:
“Hey, I know you say that to me sometimes, maybe even kind of a lot, and I don’t mean to be annoying. I don’t actually want to be at all, but I think being a good mom/dad/caregiver is hard sometimes and I know I don’t get it right a lot of the time. Do you think it’s annoying when I make something you say to me about something else completely? Can you tell that I get worried about being judged; and that I let that be more important than you sometimes? I am sorry for that. I want to do better. I am working on this. So, when you are about to say that I’m annoying, can you just be a little more specific so I can work on changing?”
YOU DO NOT GET ME, AT ALL!
It is likely that you feel the same way on this one sometimes! You don’t get them; they don’t get you- not at all, but you can’t break your lease or leave a note to break up. You’re stuck together forever. Great.
When our kids say this, it is highly likely because we are just simply not listening. We are trying to solve, fix, understand, know more, identify the root cause so we can exterminate it. Not one of those is what listening is. Our kids need to be heard. And often times, we need to do some resiliency work so that we can get past their tone and emotions, and really hear what they are trying to get across to us.
Listen objectively. Listen quietly. Listen calmly. Listen patiently. Listen regularly. Just listen and listen and listen. In fact, it’s a proven fact…ok, a theory of mine, that when parents listen to kids, kids start listening to parents.
Next time you do not feel heard and/or your kid says you don’t get them, try this:
“I am realizing that I am pretty bad at listening. Have you noticed that? It gets me into hard times at work, in some other relationships too and it’s something I want to work on a lot. I don’t think I realized before, how much you just need me to hear you and to be a safe space for you to talk. I get why you do not talk to me as much lately and I also get why our conversations are also really frustrating to you. I expect you to listen to me, do what I say, etc. and I am not even doing the basic listening that you really want. I can do it. I am going to stop trying to fix and solve your problems. I am going to stop being critical and judgmental. I know that is the last thing you need. I hate it too. Would you like it if when you wanted to talk, I asked you, “Do you want me to just listen or are you ready to work on solutions?” Then I can just shut up and listen to you and give you my attention and let you go for it. I will work on this, ok? Please tell me when I start getting in my head instead of being present with you.”
STOP TRYING TO CONTROL ME!!
There is a reason teens do not want to be controlled. It’s because they are being told to grow up, learn lessons, make good decisions, and thrive at all things, but then we as parents are tempted to protect (our word for control) them. I am not a fan of over-protection when it comes to raising kids, not at all.
I love my kids and I am also very sure that they can handle their business in about any situation that life throws their way because I have given them the faith, confidence, and latitude to explore, experience and live life in a way that allows them to figure things out, create their own identity and to really understand themselves.
They do not need me to tell them, remind them, nag them, track them, call and text them incessantly. They know I will be there if they need me, and I believe in their ability to make good decisions. They do all the regular old-fashioned and new-school stuff that we all did, and I let them deal with the consequences with no get out of jail free card. Sidenote: I’m not the jailer. The way they feel about themselves is what they answer to, not me.
If your kid is feeling controlled and you have not done the work around looking deeply and vulnerably at the possibility that your fear of failing as a parent or your fear of your kid’s life-lessons reflecting “poorly” on you, then it is time. It’s overdue.
We do not get to have our focus on the external factors of who thinks what about you because of what our kid said and did while also having our focus on what our kid actually needs from us. We have to pick one.
When your teen says they feel controlled or micromanaged, as if only existing to perform, measure up, follow rules, earn rewards and avoid punishments, etc., try this.
“I have been trying to control you. You’re right. I get so scared that you are going to fail or get hurt, that I make it all about trying to limit your life, so you stay safe. I must tell you though, the best things that I have learned and the things I like about myself, have all come through making mistakes and learning. I want to give you more space and trust to live and learn. I’m not going to be perfect, but I’m going to try, ok?”
Nothing else to say, but “get to work!” DO THE WORK. What you are doing may not be working and it is time to be real and admit it. That is the type of thing that teenagers respect the most anyway!
Vanessa Baker is The Dysfunctional Family Whisperer, a teen and parent relationship coach, a mother of 6 and author of “From MEAN to REAL CLEAN: How to Create a Fully Functional Relationship with Your Teenager” on Amazon. Go to www.vbakermindset.com for more info and to GetThroughToYourTeen.com to register for her free 5-day workshop that starts on Nov 1.
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