My three children are not children any more – they are teenagers! Yes, the word that strikes fear in every parent. I have to say though, all in all, the teenage years have been ok and I know I’ve said this before that I actually have enjoyed the relationships I’ve been able to have with my children – mostly!
Today is one of those not so mostly days. Something with my son has reared its ugly head and brought out all kinds of reactions in me. It’s worth reflecting on what they are and why they have appeared. On the surface of it the things my son’s getting involved in I did myself when I was his age, which my parents never knew about either. So why does it bother me so much?
The one word that keeps coming up in my reflections is control. I have no control over him now as he’s nearly 16, and actually I’ve not had much control for a few years. It’s something I think us parents struggle with the most, and teachers too actually – the need to control children, and for them to do what we think they should do, or what we tell them to do.
But why should they?
Why should they obey us? Are we any wiser – yes, you would hope so. Have we learnt through experience – yes, you would hope so. Do we know better how they should live their lives – hmm not so sure about this one. Of course, we want the best for them and we don’t want them to make mistakes that they will regret, but if they don’t make their own mistakes how will they learn? Also, maybe the life we’ve lived is not the one they were born to live anyway.
As I sit here thinking this through I am very aware of the ramifications of some of the huge decisions teenagers make, the risks they take with themselves and others around them. It’s not easy to sit back and let them do that. Part of being a teenager is about separation from parents and becoming your own person. Of course, there’s an added dimension with adopted or looked after children who have a whole other level to contend with. When our children say “You’re not my real parents, I’m going to live somewhere else”, it really can hurt and have a huge impact.
I remember leaving home once – I was about 13 I think, I packed a bag walked to the top of our road and then stopped, wondering where I could go, then turned around and came back. No-one even knew I had gone! I do remember the intensity of teenage emotions – the life or death of it all and I can see that in mine now too.
I see the need to control in every relationship we have though – not just with children but as adults too. Why do we feel the need to give our ‘valued’ opinion on what other people do? As if ours is more important than theirs. I’m not talking about seeking out sound advice from respected people or being honest and vulnerable enough to tell each other the truth. But I mean those moments when you just want to put other people in their place or someone tries to tell you how you should raise your children.
Control is an illusion and certainly as parents it is. We may never know what our teenagers are doing away from our eyes (just as my parents didn’t with me), we can only hope they hold onto something solid that keeps them anchored in some way.
So, what can we control?
We’re told often that we can’t control other peoples’ reactions, but we can control our own. Sometimes I’m not sure about this. It feels like I can’t control my reactions. I know from some of my other adopter friends who are struggling with very difficult circumstances that they are so worn out and depleted that it is extremely hard to react in a positive way.
What we can do though is help ourselves to be able to control our reactions by looking after ourselves better.
I know that in moments of stress my default is to sleep less, eat rubbish, withdraw from friends, do no exercise and drink more alcohol. It doesn’t help.
With that in mind here’s my prescription for myself (and others) who need to be able to have the capacity to react better and to feel more in control of our own feelings:-
- Get perspective. Yes, my situation may feel bleak but there is always more to it. I have a good relationship with my son, even if he’s not talking to me today and for however long that might last. This too shall pass.
- Find rest. What are the healthy things I can do today to feed my body and soul? – For me that’s healthy food, exercise, wide open spaces, people I like to be with and activities I like to do.
- Look outwards. Sometimes we do need to hunker down and hibernate but often I find when we reach out to others in need it helps us too. I’m not saying we ignore our own need for rest and support, but find the balance in a way that fuels us as well as helps others.
I’m sure my situation will still be difficult later today, but I now feel I can handle it with a little bit more patience and hopefully help my son to deal with it too. For those of you in similar situations I’m sending peaceful vibes your way.