Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want!

Usually when I write a line like that, I am referring to your teen's sense of entitlement. but this time, I'm addressing you. When your teens were younger versions of themselves, they wanted to please you. If you were a skiing family, then they loved skiing, if you were a Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, Football, Tennis, etc family then they loved playing your sport du jour. Younger children are developmentally built to want to please you. We call that the "good girl, good boy" stage. They crave your attention, and your admiration. You are their # 1's, and whatever they have to do to get your attention and keep it they will.

Then Adolescence hits. And the drive is not about pleasing you, its about figuring how they differ from you. We call this separation. Maybe you or your partner are their soccer coach, and you have absolutely loved coaching their team. But with fall signups coming up, they have clearly and with no ambivalence let you know that they absolutely do not, under any circumstances want to play soccer or (fill in the blank) anymore. You are shocked!! "What do you mean, that's our thing, I love, I mean you love Soccer." " Ah no, that was your thing, not mine," they retort.

I once knew a parent whose daughter was an outstanding gymnast. During elementary and middle school she had moved from local competitions to regional, and national ones. Because there were two other children in the family that required equal attention, the parents had to divide and conquer. Dad was the designated gymnastic parent. He loved loved loved being the gymnastic parent. He loved all the car time he had with his daughter, driving from meet to meet. He loved enjoying her success, he was an ambitious guy himself, and loved having a daughter who was as ambitious and focused as he was. It was a match made in heaven. Until it wasn't anymore.

Hello teenager. As the daughter began 9th grade, and the lure of cute boys, weekend parties, and new friends became part of the picture, her passion for gymnastics started to fade, and she made the announcement that she wanted to quit! As you can imagine, this did not go over well....at all! This dad was extremely invested in his daughter's gymnastic life and success, and was not happy about giving that all up. He had olympic trials dancing in his head! He didn't want his daughter to be a quitter, and why, just so she could go out with her friends on Friday and Saturday night? How superficial, he thought.

The daughter never had seen herself as a career gymnast, it was fun, and without other distractions in her life, she was happy to do the gymnastic thing. But now entering high school, there were a lot of other things on her radar that were of interest to her. And the truth...that's just fine.

Your teens are now in the position of making decisions for themselves. They may have pursued interests because they saw how happy it made you when they did, and also it was fun! Now perhaps they want to stop those piano lesson, or team sport, or scouting, or whatever, and try something new. Their new teenage brain is letting them know that there is a world of possibilities out there, and they want to try it all out. And they need your permission to go for it.

Your gift to them is to give them that freedom to explore, even if it means having to deal with your own disappointment...privately. If you have a teen that you think has been following your dream, you might say to your teen: "you know, I've noticed lately that X doesn't seem to interest you that much anymore. I just want you to know that this is your life, and if you want to stop doing X I am fine with that. Our goal is for you to find the things in life that make you happy, not us happy. Freedom of choice, what a great gift, so much cheaper than a new pair of sneakers!

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