I have high expectations for myself and for my kids. But in the last year, I’ve realized that for my 14-year-old son, I need to lower those expectations. He’s a teenager, and for all of the wonderful things that exist in his life, he claims that it “sucks” and it’s all my fault. I am to blame for all things which upset him. He wakes up cranky and goes to bed cranky. He yells and has an angry streak in him that I just can’t figure out.
For such a long time, I refused to say the words out loud: “I don’t like him.” Instead I’d say, “I wonder what happened?” or “My kid is so strong-willed,” which gave me an out, gave me the ability to skirt around what I truly wanted to say. But inside, I knew how I really felt, and the truth was that with his behavior — though I still love him — I found him less and less likeable.
If you find yourself in the same boat, here are a few things you can try.
Realize that it’s the behavior, not the kid.
The truth is, it’s not that we don’t like our kids as people, right? It’s that we don’t like how they’re acting. Say that to them while acknowledging your own feelings. It’s okay to let them know how you feel, especially when they are the ones making you feel shitty.
Figure out why your feelings about your kid exist.
Is it because he disobeyed you many times? Is it because your daughter curses in front of you? Is it because they generally act like a little shit? What is the specific behavior that agitates you the most?
Stop making excuses for their behavior and confront it head on. Sure, it’s gonna feel uncomfortable and emotional and sticky, but it’s the work that needs to be done. We need to be the mirror for our kids. We can only cope with their behavior if we are honest with ourselves, and them.
Take a minute to really see your kid for who they are, no matter their age. Sometimes in the whirlwind of it all, we are just so angry that we can’t see straight. Stop. Take a minute, remove yourself emotionally from the situation and use your rationale and your intellect to navigate the situation or the behavior. This step is easier said than done, and I fail constantly here. But when I do remember to push the pause button, my entire household is better because of it.
Give yourself grace.
The act of parenting is like reading the assembly directions to an Ikea dresser: nothing about it makes sense. We can listen to other parents — hell, even our own parents — for advice, but at the end of the day, they don’t live with our kid. So, give yourself grace when you feel like you’ve failed your kid because you’re having these negative feelings toward them.
In order to make your way to the other side of it all, you need to be in touch with a few things about yourself. Are you projecting your feelings about your own life onto your child? What triggers you the most and how can you dial down your emotional response when that happens? You need to know who you are before you can help your child – and, in turn, yourself.
As parents, we need to show up for our kids which really means SO many things. It means getting to know our kid; we don’t need to understand their obsession with glitter slime (or even allow it anywhere other than the dining room table) or understand why our teen chooses to lose brain cells when they watch videos of other people playing video games on YouTube, but we need to meet them where they are, even if it’s sitting on the couch watching their show. Like them or not, we need to find a way to connect with our kids; we are their role models.
When my son was a baby, all snug in his crib, wearing his blue cotton sleeper, I’d dream about his future. I’d made up an image of who he would be when he was old enough to talk, then go to school. Now that he’s a teenager, I mourn the image I lost of my little boy. There are days I look at him and ask myself where I went wrong. But he’s still that same little boy, and even though he doesn’t always act like I’d anticipated he would, that’s not his fault; I can’t expect him to measure up to a fantasy I conjured up when he was an infant.
I may not always like my son, but my love for him still runs deep, and so does my hope for his future. The teen years are rough for almost every parent, and I have to keep reminding myself, especially on the hard days, that “this too shall pass”.