April 13, 2006

Let's Talk, Mom


Beth’s Turn

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know that I’ve been hard to deal with lately, and I’m sorry about that. I tried to tell you face-to-face, but I was too embarrassed, so I hope you won’t mind me writing this down in a letter instead. I was trying to think of how I could get along with you better. I realized that there are some times when I really appreciate you, and some times when you really get on my nerves. I know that I’m not perfect either, and I’m sure you could tell me a lot of things that I ought to do. But I thought I’d get this off my chest. Hopefully it will help you get to know what you can do to help us get along better in the future. No matter how I act, I do love you, and I always will.
To begin, don’t be someone you aren’t in order to fit in. Don’t dress differently, or use my slang. I’ll just get embarrassed or annoyed.
Whenever you set a rule, let’s discuss the reason for it, and if necessary change it slightly. If I think it’s pointless I’m likely to rebel against it, which will lead to more avoidable arguments and punishments.
If you disapprove of something I’m doing, tell me once in a nonconfrontational way, then leave it. I’ll have gotten the message the first time.
If you are interested in my life, ask a general question. If you get a short answer--leave it. It generally isn’t anything personal; I’m just not in a talkative mood. Sometimes I’ll tell you a lot, but don’t press the matter. If I do want to talk, please make time for me. I probably really need your support!
Linked to that point, don’t try to ask my friends about my life behind my back; it’s embarrassing and demeaning, and will probably stop me telling you anything in the future.
Ask how I best feel loved and act accordingly. Some people like hugs; some people would rather have time, or small thoughtful acts or gifts. This doesn’t mean spoiling me--just showing that you appreciate me.
I don’t mind doing chores from time to time, but put them in perspective. Make me think ahead to when I move away from home and will have to do all the cooking, washing, cleaning, ironing, and maintenance for myself. Please encourage me to learn so that I can one day be independent!
Be flexible. This works for any aspect of parenting--discipline, curfews, chores, allowances, anything. Being willing to bend rules for me occasionally shows you have your priorities right and will stop me from feeling resentful.
Give me more responsibility and independence as I get closer to leaving home. For example, give me an allowance for clothing instead of handing over money on demand. I’ll never learn to budget otherwise.
Tell me that you love me, especially after an argument. I don’t know why, but it just seems to help!
Don’t take everything I say in an argument personally. Hormones, etc., are running around, and I will most likely be sorry later. I still love you!
Don’t relive your teenage years through me. If you push me to do something you always wished you had done, I’ll either feel overly burdened to achieve, or I’ll be rebellious and make you feel worse.
Understand that the main attraction of the church for me right now is probably friends. So let me go to a church where there are people my age. This isn’t a sign that I have no interest in a relationship with Christ. I simply need peer support especially during my teen years to help keep me in the faith.
1510 page22When you’re proud of me, tell me so. Encourage me whenever possible. No matter what I might say, I do value your opinion and praise.
Don’t shelter me. If you find out I’m planning to do something you are not happy about, don’t forbid me to do it. State your case by all means so I know the reasons I shouldn’t do it, but if I choose, let me make my own mistakes. It’ll help me learn, and I might trust you next time you give advice. But don’t tell me “I told you so.” I’ll be embarrassed enough at being wrong as it is!
Don’t get so caught up in trying to win an argument that you forget the point you’re trying to make, or bring up petty issues or past wrongs. That won’t help your case. And when you do pick a fight, make sure it is really worthwhile; otherwise, you might find that my moral priorities become very mixed up.
On the other hand, if you mess up, admit it. I’m old enough to know that parents aren’t perfect, and I’ll respect you more if you own up and apologize.
Respect me for who I am. Don’t compare me with anyone else--a friend, sibling, or yourself at my age. I don’t need that kind of pressure. I need unconditional acceptance from you.
If you really have to talk about something such as sex, just be blunt and open; otherwise, we’ll both be embarrassed.
If you want to get to know me, do it on my terms--possibly offer to take me shopping and treat me to a new outfit. I know this sounds like bribery . . . it actually is! But that doesn’t matter. It’s an opportunity to talk and make a memory, and that’s the important thing.
Mom’s Turn
Dear Beth,
Thank you so much for your letter. It has really helped us to think of different ways we could be more supportive of you as parents. It has also helped us to remember what it was like when we were teenagers. Though the world is a very different place now, we remember that life as a teenager was very complicated. We remember some of the struggles we experienced as we tried to shed the chrysalis of our childhood and be recognized as emerging adults.
We want to support you in that process and help your teen years to be safe as well as adventurous, rewarding as well as fun. Sometimes it is challenging and confusing for us because we want to protect you as well as release you.
But no matter how we act, we do love you, and we always will. We love you more than we can ever express through any words or actions. And we desire more than anything else for you to know that God loves you even more.
We know you think we are regularly unreasonable, strangely ancient, and often weird! But we thought you might like to have a few insights into the challenges we face as parents of teenagers.
Remember that we are all learning together. You haven’t been a teen before, and we haven’t parented a teen like you before. If we make a mistake, and no doubt we will, please let us know in a respectful way. We’re also on a steep learning curve. It’s just a different curve from yours!
When things are difficult between us, don’t go silent. Things get better when we talk things through, learn how to negotiate, and listen to each other’s perspectives.
Our lives can be very busy at times. It’s hard work juggling careers, the family, postgraduate education, church responsibilities, and life in general. We really appreciate it when you offer to do some extra chores to help us when things around here are especially crazy.
It is wonderful when you notice something that needs doing in the home and you go ahead and do it, even when it is as small as changing the toilet roll. If you can, try to leave each room a little tidier than when you entered. It’s a good habit for life in general, and your future room or house mates will love you for it!
We try to be as flexible as we can when it comes to rules and curfews, but there are also times when there isn’t the space in our lives for all the flexibility you would like. And we are accountable to ourselves and to God for your well-being. Often when we set limits, we do it because we want to keep you safe, happy, and well. We’ve been teenagers too; we know the temptations and the dangers, and we want you to survive and emerge as a happy, healthy adult. So when we have to set limits and deadlines, please respect and honor us, and the boundaries we have to set.
Please let us know where you are, who you are with, and when you plan to come home. We don’t want to be spies; we just want to be informed. Please let us know if you are going to be late coming home, so we don’t have to worry about you. Some of us are stress-insomniacs, and we can’t really sleep until we know you’re safely back home!
If you are not planning to come home for a meal, please let us know. We need to know how much food to cook, and when would be a good time to eat.
1510 page22Please tell us your plans as soon as you can. This helps us to plan our lives too. If you can, write them on our calendar, or e-mail us, so we don’t forget (we’re getting older, remember). And we will also try to let you know our plans ahead of time, so you can plan around us.
We want to help you do all the things you want to do, but we don’t have unlimited time and money, or an endless supply of gas in the car. Please respect our limited resources, and be aware that we often deny our own desires so that you can have yours.
Please take responsibility for your own life, things, and plans. Some days we have a thousand things to think about, and it’s helpful to know that you can think for yourself and take some of the weight off our shoulders. It’s not that we don’t care, but soon you’ll have to manage on your own, and we’re trying to help you toward your goal of successful independence.
When your friends come to visit, please take responsibility for their hospitality by offering drinks and snacks, etc., and especially for clearing up afterward. We are happy for you to have them around, but you need to be able to share the load.
It’s hard to dress in the narrow gap between being too cool (and trying to look like a teenager) and not cool enough (and looking like a museum piece). We don’t want to embarrass you, but we also have to dress for work, for comfort, and for our own taste in clothes. Make helpful suggestions and come shopping with us. We value your perspective.
Invite us into your life and world occasionally. Tell us what you’d like
us to do with you, the places you’d like to see, and the experiences you would like to have. Remind us to get off our treadmill, have fun with you, and create some amazing memories!
Be patient when we use the wrong words. Meanings have changed dramatically in the generation since we were teenagers. When we experiment with using your language, we’re not just trying to be cool. We’re just trying to make sense of the new words, and hoping to make ourselves understood.
We may not be teenagers, but we can still have stressful relationships, too much work, not enough money, and loads of crazy hormones! Be as patient and gentle with us as you would like us to be with you.
We don’t need to know every detail of your life. It’s good for you to have your own privacy and secrets. We want to be here if you need to talk, but it’s OK to find other supportive adults to talk to, such as a pastor, teacher, doctor, counselor, relative, or older friend.
We know there will be times when we don’t all agree with one another. It’s OK to have differences, but please express your opinions respectfully. We don’t mind what you say, but we do mind how you say it!
Tell us that you love us, especially after an argument. We don’t know why, but it just seems to help!
Every now and then, stop for a few minutes and put yourself in our shoes. If you were us, parenting you as a teenager, what would you say and do? We know it seems like an eternity away, but in a couple of decades you could be parenting your own teenagers. . . . You might even want them to read this article!
Please pray for us, as we pray for you. Prayer works many miracles.
Beth Holford is a 19-year-old student at Cambridge University, where she is studying social and political sciences. She also edits her college’s student publications. She dreams about having a career in journalism. She wrote her first piece for Guide magazine when she was 10. She enjoys singing in the chapel choir, and she is famous for hosting Sunday morning waffle brunches in her room!
Karen Holford works with her husband, Bernie, as associate director of Family and Children’s Ministry in southern England. She is a family therapist and has authored several books, including The Family Book, and 100 Creative Prayer Ideas for Kids (and grown-ups too!). She has three teenage children, and when she does have spare time she enjoys developing creative worship experiences, quilting, walking, and interior design.