I know what you are thinking. What possible situation could cause a professional to advise a parent to “Pray hard that your children ignore you”?
A few months back I was at a lecture from Project Inspire and this is what the keynote speaker said. Hard to believe? Well, not really. Like so many things, it’s all about the perspective, context and the transmitter of the message.
The special bond between parent and child is one of a kind. Whether the relationship is good or cold, at its core it’s a special relationship. However, sometimes that special bond is hidden in conflict, anger and loads of history.
I have been seeing a couple for marital counselling where both parties come from horrific backgrounds. They are now in their late twenties and just had a baby about a month ago – and are terrified that how they play out their histories will badly influence their ability to parent their son well. It’s good that they understand that their history definitely will play a role in their parenting styles and abilities. The couple has been together for almost two years, however they met after she escaped from a terribly abusive relationship. Her adolescence was one of moving from place to place, rebelliousness, drugs and alcohol and very poor attachments to meaningful adults. Her abusive upbringing led her to poor, and dangerous, decisions and lifestyles.
His upbringing was not much better. He had been in the care of the children’s aid society for many of his youthful years, involved in drugs and alcohol abuse and in and out of many relationships. This couple is seriously in love with each other, yet, they are scared, anxious and on edge. Their previous life experiences dictate their thoughts, which in turn dictate their anxieties and worries about the future.
As many of my readers know, one of my favorite signs in my office reads, “Don’t worry that your children aren’t listening to you, worry that they are watching you.” What are our children seeing, hearing and learning from us? A quote I recently came across says, “Children learn to smile from their parents.” On the other hand, another quote says, “Some parents could do more for their children by not doing so much for them.”
This last quote brings us back to our topic. Each of us could probably come up with our own definition or analysis of what this means. In fact, a worthwhile exercise could be to discuss this amongst your friends and see how many interpretations you get. If you have teenagers around, ask them. This will be the true test of how kids understand this.
As I have said before, the most common cause of arguments is differences of opinion. For the most part, we all agree that everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion – as long as it’s like mine. You see, I’m right and if you don’t agree with me, obviously there is something wrong with your thought pattern. Test this theory yourself. Listen to others and when opinions are shared, watch how people get defensive and begin debating. However, an opinion is only that – your personal belief, outlook or judgment. We treat other’s opinions as a statement of fact.
Relationships with our children are often caught up in the challenge of accepting opinions. You see, deep down inside most of us want our children to be like us. In fact, I often say that good parents want their children to be even better then they are – wealthier, smarter, happier, etc. However, as much as we want this for our children, we too often get caught up in the cycle of competition with our own children. “Do as I say, not as I do” is all too often the paradox we build up around our children. The inconsistencies and contradictions we speak and show our kids are powerful indicators of our relationship with them.
We all want positive relationships with our children, but the only teachers we have our own parents or those of our close friends’. Those who have serious deficiencies in their histories and early relationships will either replicate those patterns or will have serious anxiety about their future and the future of their children. As with the couple we discussed above, the anxiety can be overwhelming. In fact, sometimes their fears are the precursors for their new reality. They are so obsessed with what might go wrong, they become overly anxious and in fact, their fears often lead them down that disastrous path. When fears get into our minds, sometimes it’s difficult to see anything else. In fact the more emotional we are about anything, the less our logical, intellectual mind is working.
So, why should we pray hard that our children ignore us? Obviously this is not always the case, but sometimes when we adults get caught up in a moment of extreme emotions, we lose sense of what we are saying, to whom we are saying it and the consequences of our actions. In fact, sometimes our children realize this better than we do. They see that we are “losing it” as they would say. They realize our emotions are dictating our actions and that it’s best to ignore us for the moment. The bigger problem comes when they don’t realize what’s happening inside us and start believing what we say and what we do.
One example: A parent called me about her daughter who has been coming for therapy for close to five months. She called to tell me that her daughter was refusing to come down the stairs, even though she had been asking for a while. The mother stated that she had already been upset about something that had happened at her work during the day and was really short fused. Then she had then been calling her daughter with little response. When the daughter did respond, she was rude, loud and very angry. Finally, the mother went upstairs and found her daughter lying on the bed. At that moment, the mother became infuriated and began screaming at the daughter for her lack of consideration and cooperation. The daughter burst into tears and yelled back. In fact, the mother could not even remember what the daughter was screaming about. In anger, she told her daughter to get herself up and out of the house. Yes, in rage, she kicked her daughter out of the house. The mother ran to her room and burst into tears, becoming very physically and emotionally drained and embarrassed about her own “temper tantrum.” Meanwhile, the daughter realized that her mother had “lost it,” as she later put it, and after crying about what happened, stayed in her room for about half hour. When the mother realized her daughter was still in the house, she went into the daughter’s room with tears in her eyes. They both began crying and apologizing to each other. What the mother had not realized was that her daughter had been on the phone earlier with her best friend who had just told her that she had been diagnosed with a serious illness. The daughter was “in shock” and didn’t know how, or want, to discuss this with anyone. Meanwhile her mother was calling her to come downstairs. Emotions flailed and things were said and done that normally would not have been. This mother, like many parents, could say they are thankful the child ignored them (their angry outburst).
Now that we have discussed our kids ignoring us, here are some tips to motivate them to listen to us:
1. Everyone needs or deserves a boost. You got it when you entered college or university and if you never got it, then blaze a new trail and give your kid the boost they need in life. If necessary, pay them; negotiate with them to motivate them to start something new, something that will pay off big time for them in the future.
2. Nothing can demonstrate more to your teen that you are a fair person and that you are interested in seeing things from their point of view than to meet them half-way on an issue. Teach your teen to negotiate. It’s a skill they will thank you for the rest of your life.
3. The law of movement states that to every action there is a reaction. Nothing can motivate your teens more than to see you in action. If you want them to do something, then you do it first. If you want them to achieve greatness, then achieve it first.
4. Mentor or act a guide. This usually translates into influence. If you can mentor your teen or get a leader or positive role model to do so, you are well on your way to motivating him or her.
5. Networking can be a powerful tool in motivating support for families with delinquent teens as well as support for the teens themselves. Seek out help, positive influences and others who can get through to your teen and motivate them. Find the positive ones before he/she gets influenced by the negative role models.
6. The environment within which one is accustomed to can have either a positive or negative effect on the level of motivation that one feels. If one’s environment does not offer a peaceful, relaxing and comfortable atmosphere within which one can breathe, then the person seeking to be motivated should strive to create their own little space where they can retreat to for inspiration. This might be their room, a private spot in the house or even a park for a one hour getaway. The onus is therefore often on the parent or guardian to facilitate that environment of a peaceful and motivating atmosphere. Environment is not always being just a physical place, but also a state of mind. Channeling the mind to be at rest can be a great motivator as dreams that are often accomplished are first envisioned. Helping your teen to envision their own little heaven can be achieved through introducing them to books that take them to a world beyond their own that is beautiful and achievable.
7. Forecasting – envisioning, because then there is a possibility one can have it. It is believed that the positive or negative thoughts that you convey to a child can become a reality.
8. Re-education is exactly what it suggests– reeducating our teens with the desired information we would like them to have. Some might think that this is impossible as their personalities are already formed and they are already highly influenced by what they have inculcated through the various education media. This is not an impossible task, however, as teens are highly impressionable. They can be re-educated with positive values and attitudes.
In choosing to re-educate, parents can network or they can change the atmosphere around their living environment.
As Pope John Paul II said, “To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.”
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