guest post by Sheena Hill
I’m a diehard Peaceful Parenting (PP) parent and advocate. I teach about respectful parenting and have consistently practiced what I preach for well over a decade. I’ve raised my kids with PP from day one and, as my oldest enters the teen years, I can look back on those choices with a great sense of accomplishment. I made it through countless years of breastfeeding and co-sleeping, managed toddler meltdowns and homework battles with an unwavering commitment to connection over punishment. However, the preteen stage has presented challenges that have threatened to lure me to the dark side!
Even after all I’ve seen as a parent, there is nothing like the defiant tone and body language of puberty-driven preteen! I was surprised by the temptation I felt to dole out punishment or lash out when my daughter was being particularly triggering (and, believe me, I WAS tempted!). All my experience as a parent, training and degrees were rendered useless when my brain slipped into “fight” mode after my 11 year old shouted “I hate you” simply because I asked her to go to bed. It took every ounce of strength and willpower that I had to resist striking her–the urge was so strong. It was terrifying! The truth is, it took more strength and self-control than I actually possessed. I had to call in reserves—I immediately reached out to several parent friends and my support system. I had never felt so challenged or provoked. Yet, my recent experiences did not force me to stray from a PP path. In fact, it inspired me to strengthen my resolve and recommit to PP.
I’ve concluded that not only does PP work, but it is even more crucial for our teens. What preteens and teens need most of all is our connection, despite their efforts to push us away (or at the very least, seek separateness from us). I’m a firm believer that one of our major roles as our children age is to focus on building and maintaining a relationship that is their safe place. What does that mean for parenting (moody, stroppy, hormonal) teens? Being their light house in the chaotic world (and while they go through their own battles with internal chaos). They will venture into deep waters, with or without the tools and skills they need to handle life at sea. And, on the shore, we wait and shine for them—a safe harbor for anytime they need to return. You can’t stop the storms from happening. You can’t even rush to bail out an oncoming deluge. What you can do is hold your light and love steady, to be waiting there for your teen through and after the squall. Because parents of teens and preteens know that there is a storm inside of them and we don’t do them any favors by dismissing or ignoring it.
To be honest, I used to think that PP would save my daughter (and me, too) from teen angst! That it inoculated my sweet girl against all the horrors of the teen years that I’ve read about, seen, or experienced. Quite to my surprise, it didn’t! PP did not prevent my daughter from having hormones, from having identity stress about her body, her friends, her talents, or feeling existential about her future. It did not stop the teen in its tracks. But, it did prepare me better for the bumpy ride! It helped me hone the skills I need to recognize and manage my triggers, to try to step back when I feel stressed, to communicate clearly, to have self-control, to find a safe space among my peers to deal with my emotional issues around her behavior. In shirt, PP helped me parent well. And to be the kind of parent my teen actually needs (not the mean mom that reacts to the moment, because parenting teens is not a rookie sport).
When our teens are feeling disconnected, the last thing they need is for us to push them away and disconnect them further. We can’t join them in adolescence and lash out back at them. We have to be the adult and avoid getting sucked into their chaos. This is REALLY hard. Harder than not getting sucked into a power struggle with a cute toddler. Harder than putting a preschooler to bed. Harder than getting your school ager out the door on time. Because the little ones are still cute. They still snuggle you. They still ask you to read to them, smile at you, appreciate you! These things can’t be taken for granted with teens. They are no longer cute. You see, defiant toddlers may scream and stomp, then they hug you and sweetly look into your eyes and all is forgiven. Because they are still your baby and you trust that they love you, regardless of the recent tantrum. But the teens? They have lost their round-faced cuteness and the doe-eyed quality that used to melt your anger, so it’s harder to trust that they love and appreciate you. And when they push us away for ferociously, it can be hard to remember to be kind to them.
What’s the solution? How can we focus on connection with our preteen or teen while getting support for ourselves?
- Journal/connect with your teen in a neutral way (email, love notes, I love you rituals)
- Create a plan of action (for yourself) when you get triggered. For example, call or text a friend, drink some tea, do 10 jumping jacks, and reset yourself.
- Sign up for a listening partnership (through Hand in Hand Parenting). Being able to have a safe place to vent frustration and feelings and say the things you would never say to your children is invaluable.
- Take out an old photo of you as a teen. Not the one where you look young and fresh and full of life! Choose one where you look a bit awkward and you can’t believe you bleached your hair. Choose a picture that captures a moment in time that was the reality of some of your teen experience. Put it in a frame in your room or on the bathroom mirror or fridge. Look at it. Remember and empathize.
- Look at your teen’s baby pictures or videos. This reminds that your soft, sweet child still exists and that you need strength to get through the current stage. It gives you some perspective so you can remember that parenting is a marathon instead of a sprint.
- Give your teen allies–adults you trust who they can reach out to if they need to discuss things they may not bring to you.
A few months ago, my preteen was pushing ALL of my buttons and it was a constant barrage. I have never felt so triggered in my parenting. Despite my longstanding commitment to PP, I was shocked that my instinct was to punish, threaten, and restrict. I even had the urge to hit or push her. My reaction scared me! But lots of support for myself and extra attempts to connect with her reminded me that punishment is not the answer. If I really want to get along with her and provide her with the support and love that she needs, we need to feel connected.
It can be so tempting to control our kids when we feel out of control in other areas of our lives. But control and punishment only lead to disconnection. And I’m realizing more every day that the goal is to model what I want to see. I have to model connection if I want connection. And pulling away (which can be so easy to do) only reinforces disconnection. So, in those moments when I feel as though I’m staring at a stranger, not the babe I held in my arms, I recall some of the most profound things I have learned about relationships from Dr John Gottman and Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I choose to turn towards my preteen, instead of away from her. Despite the challenge, I remind myself each day that the relationship is always the most important factor and that peaceful parenting is the only way I can put the relationship first.
You may be in thick of it, like me, or you may feel that the teen years are in the distant future. Either way, I’m convinced that the most valuable thing we can do for our teens and preteens is to refine our peaceful parenting skill set, to ensure that we have the tools when we really need them.
Sheena Hill, CBE, CPST, MFS, MAJE, is a homeschooling mom and child advocate with over 10 years of experience as a Certified Parent Education Specialist. As a social worker, she counseled families in the non-profit world for 8 years before going into private practice. As the founder and director of Parenting Works, she educates and empowers parents through group and private workshops and individual parent coaching. She designs and facilitates classes focusing on gentle discipline, healthy communication, and emotional intelligence. Through classes and private sessions, she supports and inspires parents to reach their full parenting potential by enabling them to be more responsive, respectful and consistent in their practices. Her enthusiastic approach to parent education keeps parents coming back. Aside from her ability to compose silly songs (entertaining and annoying her daughter), her super powers are helping families enhance their relationships and mitigate power struggles. You can learn more about her dynamic work on Facebook www.facebook.com/ParentingWorks and at the website http://parentingworks.weebly.com/.