Monday, May 9, 2011

I Just Don't Fit In This family Anymore

Sometimes I get coaching requests from parents who just don't "get" their teen. Its not just the normal teenage angst stuff these parents are struggling with, but a deeper sense of not understanding or connecting with the real "who" this teen is. When you first become a parent, and start a family there are fantasies and expectations of what your family will be like. You have visions of family ski trips, or trips to museums, or Monday night football dancing in your head. And while your kids are growing up those fantasies may become your family's realities. But now your previously appreciative, enthusiastic 9 year old is 14, and expresses deep resentment at having to participate in family activities that they have absolutely no interest in and to be blunt...hate.

Recently a parent told me about her 14 year old daughter who likes nothing better than to watch cooking shows and bake, her favorite TV show being "Cupcake Wars." This family however is athletic personified. They have a vacation house in the mountains and in the winter the family skis and in the non-winter months they love to hike. Everyone in this family is thin and fit, this 14 year old is not. She is not fat, but she is not trim and everyone else in the family. The parents came to me because they were feeling completely disconnected from their daughter. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but she continually separated herself from the family perpetuating her sense of non-belonging.  Their other children were active, participated in sports, and these parents were busy coaching and attending and engaging in their other children's lives. Not so much with their 14 year old daughter. Not surprisingly, this 14 year old was surly, argumentative, and angry most of the time.

Adolescence is all about figuring out "who you are". This 14 year old was doing that, and realizing that who she was, was nothing like anyone else in her family. What was problematic in this family was that in order to fit in and be be accepted you had to buy into the family being physical! This 14 year old literally had a different body type,  a different style of physical energy and completely different interests. As she became a teen, this became glaringly obvious to everyone. The parents, loving their daughter, were doing everything they could to make her feel their activities. They cajoled her to come hiking with them, offered her a gym membership to get in shape, maybe take a dance class, a yoga class, a personal trainer, anything to get her interested in taking care of her body. All to no avail, it only seemed to incite the daughter even more.

The truth of the matter is, your kids are not you! Maybe as your kids move into Adolescence they continue to enjoy and participate in the same family activities as they always have. Just the luck of the draw. Some teens, now at the "buffet of life" start to see options that are more appealing to them, like this 14 year old. But in her family, not being like them was seen as a rejection instead of a possibility. And it was no wonder she seemed angry and resentful, she felt like she had no place in this family.

My suggestion was to accept and embrace the interests and perspective this daughter brought to the family. Instead of resenting her for not wanting to join the family hike, why not take her shopping for baking supplies and leave her to bake goodies for the family for when they return, starving and craving a snack.  Make her the dessert chef, send her to cooking school, find ways of supporting her interests but also her contribution to the family. How wonderful is it when members of the family are different from each other. Variety is the spice of the life.

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