I’m a parent. I struggle. Is it just me—or do those two statements naturally go together? While wanting to respect my children’s privacy, I tend to reveal my struggles. That is especially true with an adolescent daughter, who is reaching for increasingly greater independence—often, it seems, at the expense of my own emotional well-being.
I realize that my child and I are hardly the first to cross this deep and swift river of adolescent independence. Many have made the passage before us, many are now fighting against the same current and many more will follow. I learn from some, share company with others and–when I get to the other side of these present struggles–will offer understanding, encouragement and hope for those who follow.
Exploring what is happening at my house lately, I am even inclined to wonder: Can we rightly call a quest for independence “rebellion?” To the parent, the smallest struggles can seem that way. And yet, they are quite natural, especially for some individuals.
Maybe I need to not just recognize that fact, but go on to accept it, and not fight against my child so strongly. Rather than struggling against the current of a child’s quest for independence, perhaps I could learn to more often go with the flow.
Stepping back for a moment and surveying the scene along this river, I ask myself what I would like to impart to my child at this point in our life together—besides angry words, that is. The list is not all that long.
I want to:
–Help my child solve her own problems (including those of her own making—of which there are some, especially when the urge for independence—rather than clear, rational, more mature thinking—is the driving force behind many decisions).
–Communicate that I love her fiercely (no matter what).
–Express some level of compassion and understanding (even when we butt heads, almost literally).
As to understanding, the truth is that I’ve been there, right where she is. All of us parents have. We’ve all been adolescents—whether we acted out our rebellions modestly or in the extreme.
Although memory is fading, I can still recall that my own 14th year was the one in which I tested my parents, especially my mother, the most. I was riding in cars with boys and going to parties that featured illegal substances. In the midst of all that, by God’s grace or some stroke of luck, I was disinclined to fully partake of the booze, the drugs or the boys.
By contrast, my child’s quest for independence is more verbal and at this point is being played out right under the family roof. No booze, drugs or boys. Hardly seems like this should be such a problem then, right? Even so, the repercussions of a child’s negative attitude can be hard on a parent. Every parental statement is impetus for a disagreement. Parental-black is child-white—and vice versa. As comedian Caroline Rhea answered several years ago to an interviewer’s inquiry about whether she would ever have children: “I don’t think I could take that much ingratitude.”
And yet I stop and ponder: How do I like someone else telling me what to do? Don’t I, also, question authority? Don’t I like to argue? To be right?
So I am trying to be more patient, more understanding and less controlling on my end of things. Attempting some empathy, I tell myself that part my child’s own struggle is that she is still too young to actually be independent; she just wants to be. She feels that need deep in her bones, and she will achieve that goal in just a few short years. Meanwhile, she lives with adults who set standards and make demands. (And who at the moment seem not to know much about anything.) That must be tough on a kid. But that’s also love.
As upsetting as parent-child struggles like mine can be, I know that I have it relatively easy. No serious compromising of our family’s principles going on; no criminal activity here. That tells me there are plenty of parents who are even more frustrated than I am with the kind of struggles they face. Many are in genuine pain over children who seek independence in self-destructive ways.
And so I challenge each of us to pray today for someone in a parent-adolescent coupling. Pick an adult-teenage pair and ask God to bless and guide that relationship. Pick me, if you like—although there probably are others you know who would also welcome your prayers.
Lord knows, the influence of the Holy can only help in the midst of the intense floods of the quest for adolescent independence. May God help us all.
Karen Zurheide is executive director of Positive Tomorrows, a center providing support services for children and youth facing family life challenges.