Embrace your emotional rollercoaster of an adolescent as the priceless gift they are.
Growing up, I was a compliant and obedient adolescent. I had a mom that had gone through a lot and I didn’t want to upset her. I was a “good girl” and wanted to make her happy. I made my bed every morning. I never threw my clothes on the floor. I rarely argued or expressed any negative feelings.
Being compliant had its benefits. Overall, I was easy to parent. I was agreeable and “nice.” I avoided conflict, I was well liked, and people loved to have me around.
There was also a cost to being compliant. I didn’t know myself very well, and I was mostly unaware of how I felt.
For years I prayed for a happy and connected family. I knew there were things about my childhood that I didn’t want to repeat with my own kids. Namely, I didn’t want my kids to be afraid to share with me how they felt like I had growing up.
God sometimes answers our prayers in the most mysterious and humorous ways.
He gave me an emotional and strong-willed tween.
When my emotional tween daughter would express her feelings, I had a critical parent yelling in my head. I felt confused and conflicted as how to best handle her. I had no emotional compass to help me to navigate my emotions, let alone hers.
Having an emotional tween daughter was a gift, that at first felt like a curse.
The gift ended up being priceless. Her emotions woke me up to knowing myself. I soon realized that if I was to help her process her feelings and channel them in healthy ways, I was going to have to learn to feel and process mine.
Emotions are the heart of connection. I learned that if I was to have a close and satisfying relationship with my daughter (and others in my family), I was going to have to “do” emotions. Plain and simple.
The perceived curse?
I had to feel. This was uncomfortable and foreign. Feelings aren’t always fun.
We all have an emotional history which comes from our childhood. Some of us grew up in families where it was okay to express and talk about how we were feeling. It was okay to be sad, to cry, and to express when you were angry.
Others among us grew up in homes where we were told, “Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about,” or, perhaps, a “Don’t you dare talk to me that way,” or “Don’t say anything unless you have something nice to say.”
Those of us who grew up in homes where our emotions were dismissed have more work to do as adults and parents.
Knowing what I know today, a red flag goes up when I work with a mom who expresses her desire for a happy family in which everyone gets along.
While I understand our desire to have a close and happy family, the concept of a “get along, happy family” isn’t the goal for attaining close and fulfilling relationships.
It’s essential we grow our emotional intelligence and become a self-aware parent in order to have honest, connected, and satisfying relationships with those we love.
How to be an emotionally intelligent and conscious parent (most of the time):
Awaken to Your Feelings.
My emotional tween wasn’t afraid to express her feelings. It was me that was having the struggle and feeling the discomfort.
It’s scary to get comfortable with negative emotions when you’ve gotten the message that you’re only lovable when you’re good, and that you’re bad or less lovable when you express them (Not that this message is intentional. In fact, it’s common).
We want to push our kids’ negative feelings away. We want them to be happy and make them feel better. Without realizing it, we often tell our kids the “right” emotions to feel and we tend to treat our own emotions the same way.
Becoming aware of my own feelings and welcoming them, made it easier to accept my emotional tween’s roller coaster of hormonal emotions. I was less prone to be defensive, yell, and dismiss her feelings.
Embrace the “messy”.
I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable with the “messiness” that negative emotions can create.
This doesn’t mean that I still don’t want to avoid conflict or smooth things over.
Messy is sometimes necessary to figure out what’s really going on inside of ourselves. Messy is REAL. It’s honest. It’s raw. It’s healing.
REAL is what we all long for – to be accepted and unconditionally loved when we’re at our worst.
You don’t need to be afraid of the anger bogeyman.
Today I view anger to be just a feeling. It’s not the scary bogeyman that I once thought it was. Anger has never jumped out and bit me. Sure, I still don’t like someone to be mad at me, nor do I enjoy conflict, but I know it’s important if I want to have a close relationship with someone.
Understanding the importance of anger has helped me to pay attention and listen to it.
Anger signals that something’s wrong. There’s something we want. Something we don’t like that needs to be expressed.
It’s essential to recognize, model, and teach our kids how to process and express anger in responsible ways. It takes lots of practice to learn how to express anger in ways that are helpful. We won’t do it perfectly and neither will our kids.
Negative feelings are the pathway that leads to connection.
If we stuff our negative feelings and don’t talk about them with each other, then resentment, hurt, and anger will slowly build up. This causes a disconnect in our relationships.
I have to continually remind myself that negative feelings are an opportunity to connect to someone’s heart.
There’s no magic bullet.
“Please tell me what to do,” I often hear from desperate moms. I feel a little badly when I remind them that most of the time, there’s no magic bullet that’s going to make everything okay.
There are no easy answers with adolescents. We can’t fix them, solve their problems, or spare them the emotional turmoil of the adolescent years. What we can do is create a home where they feel free to express their emotions. A place where we listen, seek to understand, and validate their feelings.
Don’t be a lone ranger.
I’m a big believer in our need for support as we navigate parenting and life. I find that, many times, I don’t want to share my struggles. I would rather bypass the vulnerability piece every time. But that’s pretty lonely and I know I need support.
Over a decade ago, I joined a moms’ group where feelings and telling the truth were encouraged. Hearing other moms share their feelings helped me to recognize mine after shutting them down for so long. And, I had a place to go to process through my emotions and gain clarity about how to handle different parenting situations.
I received feedback and learned from their experiences. Rather than feeling out of control, I had a place to process and talk.
Rather than feeling conflicted, I was able to learn to stand strong and put boundaries in place when needed.
And today, after years of training, I love to coach and lead groups for moms. I want other moms to experience the personal and relational gifts that I have received.
If you have an emotional rollercoaster of an adolescent, know that there is hope! It’s never too late to have a close and satisfying relationship.
I want to encourage you to take a deep breath. Relax and allow your adolescent to have and express their negative emotions. Get in touch with your own feelings. Understand that your adolescent is expressing because they need to be heard. Learn to navigate the messy stuff. Set boundaries when needed.
And remember, it’s our emotions that connect us to our heart and the heart of others. It’s how we’re fully known. True intimacy can’t exist if we don’t give emotions the voice they deserve.
Embrace your emotional rollercoaster of an adolescent as a priceless gift they are. A gift of growth and transformation that you may have never experienced any other way.