Face it, the people we live with (and love and cherish more than life itself) can push our buttons like nobody’s business. (That expression never made much sense to me but I’ve always liked the sound of it.) This button-pushing fest can be especially competitive between parents and teens. They give us “that” look,“that” attitude, etc. etc. and we just lose it. And you don’t need me to tell you that we parents do and say things that irritate the crap out of our teens.
But who’s the adult here, right? It’s bad enough to blow up (or melt down) with our own flesh and blood, but when I think about what my “moments” taught my kids about self-control, conscious choice-making, and treating others with respect, well, I want to turn myself in to the bad parent police. OK, so no parent is perfect. And we all have gone off the deep end from time to time. We need to forgive ourselves in the same way that we forgive our kids when they act… crazy.
A new school year is about to burst forth with all kinds of never-before-seen challenges to our parenting chops. If you haven’t reached human perfection yet, you might want to try this simple process. It can help you be more of the parent you want to be more of the time. (i.e., especially when someone in your family is being soooooooo annoying!)
When a family member does or says something that grates on your nerves, ask yourself:
1. What’s going on with me right now? Irritation? Embarrassment? Frustration? Boredom? Resentment? Jealousy? Identifying what you’re feeling is the first step to understanding yourself and your reactions and taking those reactions off automatic pilot.
2.Why is this bothering me so much? We just may be least tolerant of those whose behavior reflect traits that we least like in ourselves. That’s something worth thinking about when a family member starts to drive you crazy.
3. What’s my usual way of responding? What are the usual consequences of my response? How do those help/aggravate the situation? Thinking clearly about your usual reactions can encourage you to explore other options. Especially if what you normally do just makes things worse.
4. What does this person need? That’s not often asked when people push your buttons, but if you can ask it and consider the possible answers, negative family dynamics may start to shift. For example, does this person (my son/daughter/partner) just need someone to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings? Sounds like what most of us want and need at different times. So the problem may not be what the person wants, but rather their inability to ask for it directly. If you can figure out what they want and you can provide some or all of it, you might find a) their “irritating” behaviors become less frequent, b) you feel more compassion and love towards them, and c) you feel good about having freed yourself from an unhelpful automatic response. Win-win.
Begin today. Talk honestly with your teens about the challenges all people have expressing our needs and responding to family members in conscious and compassionate ways. Share with them what you’ve learned about being part of a family. (The positive legacy and the not so.) Remind them that families are forever, but family dynamics are not carved in stone. Just because two people have always interacted in a certain way doesn’t mean they can’t change. With compassion and a willingness to be honest about your feelings and your needs, you teach your children that healthy adults can continue growing in positive directions. Bottom line, just like our teens, we parents are also works in progress.