How do you handle it when your teen screws up?
Not just a little thing, either. I am talking about big stuff. The stuff that puts you over the top and makes you feel like you are going to explode doesn’t usually happen often but when it does it can be devastating.
I do not have a history of handling this type of thing well but my fifth child just turned eighteen so I tend to think I am bullet proof because I have seen it all.
And then someone comes up with something new.
Two things I do differently now than I did in the past is that I don’t let myself react to the circumstance and I don’t let myself take it personally. I don’t know about you but a lot of my parenting “failures” have been caused by my concern about what kind of parent other people would think I was.
God forbid that they think I am a horrid mom!
Teenagers don’t do stupid things because they want to make us look like bad parents. They don’t do stupid things because they want our friends to whisper behind our backs when we walk down the street. Teenagers do stupid things because, quite frankly, they are teenagers and it’s part of the job description.
Stepping back and not taking it personally allows us to see the screw up in perspective. It might be a big thing now, or it might even be one of those big things that will follow them the rest of their lives but when we, as parents, react violently and emotionally we are creating more trouble than what’s already there.
Saying that parenting is a stressful lifestyle is a bit of an understatement, wouldn’t you agree? Even on the best of days there are all kinds of variables to be concerned about. Add more than one child into the mix and the chaos increases exponentially.
I’ve found that one way to deal with all of that parental angst is to keep a journal. I write down all of the things that I don’t want to say, all of the things that are bothering me, and all of the brutal honesty that my family couldn’t take if I was to allow it to burst forth in a torrent of emotion when I am angry.
It’s relaxing to spend a few minutes at the end of the day to just write it all out – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes it takes just a few minutes to unload my baggage for the day and sometimes it takes hours. The point isn’t how long it takes, or even how it’s done, but how much toxic waste you don’t dump on your family.
Well, and as a writer I have to admit that it is a great way to create a “scene bank” for use later in a book or as fodder for a parenting article.
When I’ve filled a notebook I pull out the best writing prompts (again, always a writer) and destroy the rest. After all, the whole point of keeping a journal is to keep your family from being damaged by raw emotion, right? Lately I’ve taken to using a folder on my computer – it takes up less space and is easier to hide. I do find that the act of writing with a pen is often a better release, though.
It isn’t that I use the journal to put my head in the sand. I still confront issues, handle discipline problems, and yell at the kids on occasion. The journal is merely to collect those things that I tend to say in the midst of a rage.
Words can wound worse than any physical punishment. My mother was a wonderful woman but she had the most poisonous tongue you could imagine when she was angry or frustrated. At nearly 54 years old I still have difficulty with some of the more painful words she spat at me in her anger.
While I am not perfect, and I can be rather poisonous myself having learned from such a talent, I prefer not to give my children long term wounds with my words or anything else. Especially as I have gotten older, it’s just easier to be quiet and wait until I have had a chance to get rid of the mean stuff I want to say and decided on the rational stuff I want to say.
It’s easy to begin. If you are going to be physically writing in your journal make sure that you keep it somewhere that it won’t be found and destroy it regularly. Journaling can make your life much easier and more peaceful but it will be a billion times worse if someone finds your journal and reads it.
How about you, how do you deal with parental frustration?
I don’t know if you have seen the news article on the teen that got frostbite during a fire drill but it was pure stupidity. The girl was in the pool at school when the fire alarm went off and she was rushed outside, in Minnesota, in only her wet bathing suit and a towel.
The temperature was 5 below zero with a windchill of -25. Here’s the crazy part. It is school policy that the students stay in their assigned places during fires and fire drills so she was kept out there for the full ten minutes rather than being allowed to sit in a car or have her mom come get her.
Is this insanity or what?
My children know what to do if officials of any kind are endangering them. They have my full permission to totally break whatever rule they need to break to be safe.
If a teacher or official stops them, they will deal with me and it won’t be pretty. I don’t want my kids to be disrespectful but when adults can’t think for themselves they are no longer worthy of respect. Sorry.
There are times when we have to bend or break the rules for a variety of reasons as parents and as adults. We are supposed to have the ability to reason and to know right from wrong — it’s one of the things that sets us apart from animals.
There are time to break the rules, to bend the rules, and to overlook the rules, but apparently society is finding it more and more difficult to do so.
If I was this mom I would own the school at this point. The principal and every teacher that had seen my daughter’s situation would be in serious trouble. I would sue the school district and every adult that saw what was happening and was too stupid to handle the situation responsibly.
This isn’t the only case, you know. It doesn’t take many news articles before you see that a lot of what is wrong with the world today is because of people following the rules without thinking.
Although it usually isn’t newsworthy, parents do the same sorts of things at home. We make rules and then mindlessly enforce them without taking each individual situation into consideration.
When rules are blindly enforced in every case we do more damage to our relationship with our kids than we know. Sometimes we just need to apply a thick coating of grace to the situation and move on.
If your teen gets in past curfew, and the consequence for that is two weeks of being grounded do you enforce it no matter what? What if they were talking to a suicidal friend? What if they lost track of time this one time? Where do you bend the rules?
I think that having a set of rigid rules is a sign of weakness in anyone, any government, any entity. It means that you don’t trust yourself to make a wise decision on a case by case basis or in an emergency.
Do you tend to maintain rigid rules or are you a flexible parent?
The other day we decided to take the kids out to breakfast before school. It really isn’t that we are just that cool as parents — our older daughter had an out of town softball game and had to be at the school at the ungodly hour of 6:15 AM. Since it is a 20 minute drive to the school we decided to take everyone at once and the only way to kill time at six in the morning is breakfast somewhere with unlimited amounts of coffee.
Thank you, IHOP.
It’s amazing how few people are actually up that early. We were immediately seated by a sleepy eyed waitress in the nearly empty restaurant. I knew what I was getting — didn’t even need a menu.
While everyone else was deciding what to order I began to do that writer thing and look around at the characters, I mean people, in my immediate vicinity.
We weren’t the only family there. Another family was in the direct line of my site and I wondered if they were there for the same reason we were. They seemed pretty normal until the food came.
The kids were facing me while their parents were facing the same direction I was. These kids, who were teenagers, chewed with their mouths open and talked with mouthfuls of food. I swear it was like watching a glass fronted, front loading washing machine filled with anchovy paste and guacamole.
I kept waiting for the parents to correct them but they never did.
So many of the common courtesies and manners that were just taken for granted in the past are gone. Things like holding doors for others, speaking in quiet tones in public, and chewing with your mouth closed aren’t that common anymore. Are these courtesies unimportant?
What are your thoughts?
There are three questions I am likely to get asked at any social event.
The last one is plural. I have two sons in the Air Force and one son is in the Navy. I have five sons altogether and my three oldest are military men. The other two are young teens so I’ll have a while before I have to worry about saying goodbye to them.
I thought that I would answer the last question because by now I am pretty experienced with sending kids off to Boot Camp and most moms only have to get through it once.
I went through Boot Camp myself so I actually have an understanding of what is going to happen and how it’s going to go down. Luckily, most of the time when your child signs up you’ll have six months or so to prepare yourself before you actually send them off.
That’s a good thing because as it gets closer to the time for them to leave, they are going to become adults in their minds and act accordingly. By the time my child actually leaves the house I am ready for them to go. God, the universe, or nature has a way of getting us ready.
Boot Camp is tough and your child is going to be subjected to a lot of head games. You aren’t going to get many letters, if any at all, but you’ll need to write a couple of times a week because it really sucks not to have a letter from home when everyone else is getting them.
Resist the urge to send cookies, candy, or anything other than a plain letter in a plain envelope unless you want your kid to be singled out. Being singled out is something that you never want in Boot Camp, trust me.
You’ll cry hard for the first day, on and off for the second day, and after that you’ll gradually be tear free unless he calls, you get a letter, or you find his baby book. Stay away from the baby book!
When he graduates you’ll be the proudest mom on the planet and, a couple of years from now when your kid is a responsible adult and the other kids his age are searching for the meaning of life you’ll realize it was all worth it.
Have you ever had a real, live, full-throttle mommy tantrum?
I am talking about a serious, no-holds-barred hissy-fit of magnificent proportions — one of those moments when you suddenly realize that if your child was doing what you were doing there would be serious consequences.
You might as well admit to it because all of us have probably had one at one time or another. It’s one of those things that you quickly ask forgiveness for and then feel guilty about for weeks.
It’s not a good situation, of course, but it isn’t seriously damaging to your child unless it is a regular occurrence.
If you do find that you are losing it on a regular basis you need to figure out why. I know that when I am on edge it’s usually because of a stressful situation that I am not dealing with well or hormones.
Once I can identify the core problem I can begin to deal with it and the outward symptoms, like losing my temper, go away.
That’s great for the long term fix but how do you stop a mommy tantrum in its tracks when you are in the very middle of it?
The best way to get control of a mommy tantrum is to know what triggers them and make sure that you get rid of the triggers. Usually it’s some situation that you don’t have control of.
I know for a fact that the last week of the month is tough for me because of deadlines. I plan on eating pizza, mac and cheese, and sandwiches that week because if I try to do anything other than concentrate on making deadline, I am frustrated and stressed.
If I know early in the day that life looks like it is heading out of control I lower my expectations for that day — and for myself.
Being more organized helps, too. As a food writer I am often trying to fix a dish and photograph it before I lose the good light of the afternoon. It makes me totally crazy when I reach for a measuring cup and it hasn’t been put away properly. I can’t tell you how many times I have just about exploded when I couldn’t find the rolling pin!
I remind the kids to put things away properly and I try to have certain times when I cook. I allow myself plenty of time and try not to do things at the last minute.
Head the problem off at the pass by being aware of what’s going on. If you are having a day where the kids seems to be getting into more trouble than usual and you can feel your temper building, stop and watch a movie with them.
These are things that work for me. What do you do to handle your temper tantrums?
I don’t know about you but I have an active fantasy life when it comes to parenting, my role as wife and mom, and how I think things should be. It rivals anything Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables could come up with I am sure.
The thing that tends to create the most angst is in the area of parenting. I have a long list of things that a real mom does and when I fall short, which happens nearly every minute, I’m devastated and feel like a failure. Surely my children deserve more than what they are getting with me?
My fantasy mom sits down to read aloud, play Monopoly, and have long chats. She creates adorable Bento lunches that have a different theme every day and she has cookies fresh from the oven waiting when the kids get home from school. She never loses her temper and her children adore her in word and in deed. They never talk back, never disagree with her, and never tell her what a crappy person she is.
My reality is not entirely like that. My kids do adore me and we have a wonderful, open, honest relationship which can get volatile at times. Their rooms are embarrassingly messy, and the 18 and over crowd have extensive vocabularies which aren’t always appropriate.
I work at home so technically I am here with them but I spend most of my time on my laptop working. I have gotten halfway through My Side of the Mountain with them but I think that the last time I read a chapter was in the summer of 2013.
We have a half finished Monopoly game with notes about who owned what and how much money we each had in the box. It’s been there, waiting to be finished, for well over a week.
I want a 1950′s type of life. For some reason Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver are the parenting standard I set for myself.
No wonder I am failing!
My parenting reality is that I am a working mom with a large family and a house that is much too big for my lifestyle now. I have given up raising chickens and goats for writing articles and eBooks. I’ve given up deep cleaning for family time. There really is no going back to the way things were – and that’s not a bad thing.
I work hard so I don’t get to spend as much time with the kids as I used to. The flip side of that is the fact that I have been able to take them on cruises and family vacations – something that wasn’t available to do with their older siblings. Honestly, even when I was a full-time mom I couldn’t live up to my own standard of parenting, anyway.
Accepting your parenting reality means looking, really looking, at what you have right now and working within the boundaries of that. You can’t compare yourself to anyone else — you can’t even compare yourself to the way you were a decade ago. You have to accept that life brings change and make the best of what you have now.
Is it easy for you to accept change and move on without regrets?
I was really glad to read that today. You see, my children go to a school that is a 20 minute drive from our home. One of them is involved in a sports activity which sometimes requires that she be there outside of regular school hours. This morning she had to be there at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM.
Our choice was to drive her to school, come home, and then drive the others, or to make everyone get up early and go out to eat breakfast until it was time for school. With gas prices hovering close to 3.50 a gallon you can bet we opted for dragging cranky children out of bed early.
After we dropped our daughter off the rest of us headed for the local pancake house — and this is where the sugar thing comes into play.
My youngest daughter is testing this week. If you’ve read me very long you know how I feel about state testing so I won’t rant about this again. Anyway, her teacher told them to get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and to stay away from sugar.
We don’t go out to eat breakfast often so when we do it is a pancake fest. This morning my daughter, the one that was testing, ordered a pile of chocolate chocolate chip pancakes covered in chocolate syrup and whipped cream — oh, and a cherry. She washed it down with a Mt. Dew.
I am seriously hoping that the sugar and caffeine counteract the fact that she had to get up extra early this morning and bring her into a harmonious mindset. I am counting on the scientists who say there is no such thing as a sugar high to be right.
If they are wrong I imagine I’ll be getting a call from the school asking me to please come scrape my vibrating child off the ceiling.
Do you think your kids are affected by sugar?
Have you ever had one of those weeks where you’d swear you were on some sort of weird television reality show that was a combination of Candid Camera and Survivor?
Nothing seems to go right, the kids are being crazier than usual, and money is so tight your wallet squeaks. Weeks like that? I’ve had months like that!
I am learning that my perception about something totally changes the impact the experience has on my life. Knowing it doesn’t always help me change my perception, though.
Three words that have stuck with me lately have been grace, mercy, and humor. I am finding that if I can manage to apply at least one of those to the situation it is almost always easier to deal with.
Grace means that I can accept something because I can’t change it. Mercy means that I don’t try to control it or get even. And humor?
Humor allows me to find entertainment in the situation — which isn’t always easy. Every once in a while I can find all three but usually I am lucky to wring one out of it.
You know, it doesn’t really hurt anyone but me if I am angry because the dog peed on the floor (grace/mercy because I haven’t killed her yet), if I work myself to death trying to maintain the household the way I think it should be maintained (grace to accept dirty floors), or if I miss enjoying my family because I am so focused on getting things right that I miss the stuff that is wonderful.
I am trying to take each situation and look for humor in it. Is there something about this that will be funny someday?
Work on applying these three things to your situations and experiences like band-aids on a paper cut. Make it a habit and pretty soon you’ll find that you have much less stress in your life.