It is probably fair to say that your teenage son gives you plenty of opportunity to work on this particular skill.
Many people only associate adolescence with difficult and unpleasant experiences. Drugs, sex, defiance and risk taking. It seems like teenagers are expected to be wild and crazy. Fortunately, you and I know there are wonderful aspects of this challenging time as well.
In this blog post I will answer the following three questions.
- What does it mean to be a more accepting parent?
- How will this change the way you communicate with your son?
- How can you recognize the things that you cannot change?
Consider the following list of words and how you see yourself as a parent.
Are you more understanding, patient, tolerant, empathetic, flexible and forgiving . . . or
Are you more rejecting, disapproving, anxious, judgmental, reactive, emotional, angry, controlling and shaming?
Now, I know you have good days and bad days, just like I do. But, what is the general flavor of your parenting. Do you tend to be more open and understanding or more rigid and controlling? It is helpful to know your strengths and weaknesses so that you can work towards more of a balance in your parenting.
A parent who uses the power of acceptance understands the normal behavior of a teenage boy and recognizes that this is an inherently challenging time for everyone in the family. She also accepts that her son is developing his own identity, which involves some pushing and pulling.
Your son is actively trying to figure out who he is, where he fits in the world and how to establish his independence from you. This can be painful because he doesn’t have the emotional skills to communicate clearly or always know how to assert himself in a positive way. However, if you work on developing more empathy for your son, you will naturally find it easier to be more accepting.
How will this change the way you communicate with your son?
I truly believe that if you bring more empathy and acceptance into your parenting approach that you will find yourself responding with more patience, flexibility and grace. You will be less anxious, less frustrated and more present for your family. I have had many teenagers tell me that they wish their parents would be less stressed out, less quick to judge and less emotionally reactive. You are the one, as the parent who sets the emotional tone of your house and your family. You don’t get to choose how your teen acts or what he says, but you do get to choose your own reactions.
I love the old Chinese Proverb that says, “A family in harmony will prosper in everything.” It may seem idealistic, but I think it is possible to stay calm and practice radical acceptance even when your teenager is really rocking the boat. The most powerful expression of love is to say, “I am going to love you and accept you even if you hurt yourself and even if you hurt me.” That will absolutely change the way that you communicate with your son.
How can you recognize the things that you cannot change?
I think the serenity prayer sums this up beautifully. It simply says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Whether or not you believe in God, I think this is a powerful intention and it can change the way you relate to your son.
In my therapy office I talk about two kinds of work, change work and acceptance work. Relationships can get pretty messy when we try to change the things we need to work on accepting. The opposite is true as well, many people just accept their negative relationship patterns and never put in the hard work to make positive changes. When you think about your teen there are likely some things that need to change as well as some things that you could work on accepting. I would encourage you to take some time to make a list of the things that you would like to change versus the things you know you would benefit from accepting.
Things that might need to change could include . . .
Respecting curfew, getting chores done, participating in family activities, helping him learn appropriate social skills or working on developing important character traits, such as responsibility and integrity. These are areas where you don’t want to just accept that things are the way they are and it makes sense to work towards change.
In terms of things to accept, you might consider that . . .
His room may never be as clean as you want it to be. He may not be able to achieve the kind of grades you wish he would. As a teenager he is going to push the boundaries at times. He is going to get angry and not handle it well, because he is still learning. He will not always take the advice you give and may even do the exact opposite. He is his own person and he needs to make his own mistakes. You get the idea. The last thing I will mention is that you may need to accept that your son will not open up and share his inner world with you, despite your amazing parenting skills and your best efforts.
Acceptance is an ongoing process, especially if your teenager has unique struggles, such as ADHD, Autism, severe depression or anxiety or alcohol and drug related issues to name a few. It can be extremely difficult for parents to accept the reality of these situations and adjust their expectations accordingly. As parents we all have our unique dreams and desires for our children and our families. Often times the reality of where we find ourselves does not match up with our ideals. This is a time where acceptance can make all the difference.
So take a moment to think about the things that have been frustrating you the most lately and consider whether it is something that you need to work towards changing or rather accepting.
Click HERE to read part two on 4 Ways to Become a More Accepting Parent.