I read a lovely article in the Sunday Globe. The author, Ellen Freeman Roth reflects on her own teenage years as she strives to understand her teenage daughter. It got me thinking on the standards parents set for their children as they grow up. I was a very average student in high school, but I surely did not want my daughter to be like me in that regard during her high school years. I wanted her to be better, to have more options, to exceed what I felt was my own mediocrity at the time. PS, I think I am doing fine now!
I have been doing a lot of parent coaching lately, and have been struck by the disappointment many parents feel about their teenagers lack of perceived motivation and achievement. Sometimes it's academic, sometimes it's the lack of passion their kids seem to feel for anything significant, and sometimes it's the resentment for the time and effort their teens put into their friends and not their family. When I ask these parents what they were like in high school, they often say, rebellious, angry, social, party animal, disrespectful to their parents... and then we smile at each other. One parent said, she didn't much like her teen these days, and started to cry.
Projection is a defense mechanism we can thank Freud for introducing us to. We often "project" on our children those qualities, memories and characteristics we hate most about ourselves. We sometimes see our children in a light that unconsciously reminds us of that part of ourselves we least like, and then wonder "how did they ever get this way?" Hmmmm
I urged the mom who was feeling so negatively about her teen to tell him she totally understood how he was feeling. She had never really shared honestly with him about her own teen years, which were full of rebelliousness and anger..just like her son. She could see how her own parenting style was mirroring her parents, smothering, and overbearing. She worried that being honest with him might encourage him to throw it back in her face. In fact, just the opposite was true.
Sometimes your teen feels your expectations so keenly and worries that they will fail. So rather than disappointing you and not living up to your expectations, they will just stop trying, and then you can be angry with them rather than disappointed. Anger is a much easier emotion to deal with than disappointment. This mom remembers well how she continued to disappoint her parents, and frankly continues to disappoint her family, not because she isn't successful enough, because she is, but because she isn't doing what they had expected her to do. She made choices to do what she wanted to do. The message that you are OK being who you are, is so much more loving and accepting than, you need to be how I want you to be. And they will be just fine.