Sunday, January 6, 2013
How to have a new teenager by Friday
I'm not a big fan of self-help books. As much as I probably need them, I always find that they tell me what I already know. Not saying I have it all figure out (not by a long shot), but most of the advice seems pretty common sense. It seems like it's more of a "remember this is how you're supposed to do it - DUH" rather than a "here's some enlightening new thoughts that probably never occurred to you."
But this time, I'm desperate. Desperate for guidance. Desperate for answers. Desperate to know that there's still time - that my parenting license has not expired and I'm still qualified to influence my teen and guide him down the right path.
I have a tough teen to parent. I know the phrase "tough teen" seems redundant, but in this case it's the truth. I am worried about him. I am scared for him. My heart aches for him and the choices he makes, and the lack of influence I seem to have anymore. It aches because I don't think he has anyone to turn to whom he admires and respects, and I worry that not having someone like that is making him turn to the wrong people. In my darkest hours, I blame myself - for making him the child of divorce. For making him the son of a single working mom. For being the wrong kind of parent for the type of kid he is. For not having the answers and making the wrong parenting decisions.
But beating myself up doesn't change things. And I want to change things. I'm familiar with Dr. Kevin Leman from a video series during Sunday school at our church years ago. I agreed with some of the things he postulated; others not so much. But when a friend pointed me in the direction of some sort of self-help series, I turned to him.
Have a New Teenager by Friday is an intriguing title. Obviously I believe it as much as I believe that I can lose two dress sizes in the next two weeks. But in the synopsis, he described my teen to a "T", then went on to describe how my parenting style (apparently authoritarian) is not conducive to doing much to be of influence to this mass of hormones I have living under my roof. OK, enough to make it the first purchase on my Nook, my New Year's resolution to "read more". Little did I know that the once pshawed self-help book would be number one on my best seller list.
Leman prefaces the book by challenging you to determine what you want to get out of it. Like a house, he says, it might need just a new coat of paint, or maybe just a renovation of one room. Or, you may need a total rebuild including foundation. Unfortunately, I think that's where we're at. Judging from the first few chapters, I have a lot of work to do and very little time to do it. All of those years of "tough parenting" have backfired to the point where I have become nothing but an adversary who lives in the same place where he sleeps.
I want to be more than that. I want to have a relationship with my child - even if it's limited - while he's a teen. What's more, I want him to know that I understand the struggles and challenges and decisions between right and wrong, even though I was a teenager 30+ years ago.
So far I'm at "Monday". And what I've learned so far is to:
1) Shut up and listen. Quit lecturing what he already knows and just listen to him. The more I lecture, the more he withdraws. By listening, I might just open the door for him to tell me a little more without me butting in with my two cents.
2) Change my responses. Leman gives the example of the kid who tells his parents he's getting a Corvette when he grows up. My response would be the typical: "Well I hope you have a good job to afford that kind of car, which of course means you'll need a college education and with those grades you're bringing home now, Buddy, that doesn't look like it's going to happen if you don't start buckling down." WHAT????? Sounds pretty ridiculous now that I rehash it. What I SHOULD say, Leman advises, is "Awesome. What color? Promise you'll take me for a spin." For God's sake - he KNOWS it's a pipe dream to have an expensive car. He's no DUMMY. Don't make him feel like one.
3) Discipline with less words. Instead of laying on the lecture and yelling back at him when he's disrespectful to me, I should simply go back to what I was doing. BUT, the next time he wants to do something or needs something from me, I tell him, "No, because I didn't like how you spoke to me this morning, and you know better." Kind of the "sneak attack" discipline approach - something I thought was unfair when they were younger, but seems fitting now.
4) Stop trying to be my parents, and stop thinking my kid is me. This is my biggest problem. I was (for the most part) a rule follower. My parents pretty much laid out the lay of the land and if I crossed it, I payed the price. I never would have spoken to either of them the way my son speaks to me. And every time he does speak to me with disrespect, I think, "What did I do wrong that I enable this?" other than the fact that I can't smack him. My son is not me - he doesn't think like me or act like me, no matter what mold I try to push him into. Best thing I can do is accept him for who he is and work around it.
5) Pick my battles. I thought I was doing this, until my friend overheard me on the phone telling my son not to drink soda before dinner, which of course made him erupt. "Amy," she said. "You have bigger battles to fight. Quit obsessing over the little stuff." And she's right. As much as I want to micromanage and control him to eat right, wash his hair, dress nicer, stand up straight, etc. etc., what I really need to concentrate on is my overall relationship with him so I can better help HIM fight HIS battles, like grades, peer pressures, and all the horrible aspects that come with being a teenager with access to technology, friends with money and a society with increasingly lax morals and values. THAT'S my battle.
WHEW. That's a lot for a Monday. But so far, I've implemented a few things and have drawn blood with as many times as I've bit my tongue yet today. And it's not even tomorrow yet.
I don't think I'm going to have a new teenager by Friday. But I'm already feeling better than I was a few days and weeks ago, when all I wanted to do was crawl into bed until the phone rang for me to come and pick him up. Then when he got home, I just wanted to crawl back in bed again. Now I feel like I have a tool... a guide... a HELP when I have been screaming for one for so long. Granted, this may not be "it", but it's the only thing I have right now, and I am willing to do anything to save my son and my relationship with him.
I'll keep you posted on the book. I'm looking forward to Friday.