Thursday, March 2, 2017

I'm Not You!!!

I was at my gym the other day, on a mat, lying down, and pretending to do sit-ups! Next to me were two moms of teenagers. I only know this because I was eavesdropping on their conversation. It was the first day back from their february vacations with their families and they were recounting to each other how their vacations had gone with their kids. One of the moms told the other mom: "And so I said to my husband, just take him home, he is making everybody miserable. He just sits in the (ski) lodge with that snide look on his face, and that attitude, I just couldn't stand it for one more minute. So I told my husband, just get him out of here, and take him home, and find somewhere for him to go so we can enjoy our vacation!"

Ok, so we haven't we all had that vacation! I totally and completely get what that mom was feeling. You plan, and pay for a wonderful vacation with your children, fantasizing about family togetherness and memory makers, and then much to your chagrin, your teen son or daughter makes your vacation a living hell!!

Here's the thing about teenagers. They may have gone along for years with whatever your families interest was, because being with their parent(s) is really all they care about. And if going skiing, or to the beach, or on a hike, or to a sporting event is what you like to do, then they will like it too. But then they get older, and they start to realize, I don't like skiing, or the beach, or hiking or football, and why should I have to do what THEY want to do!!! Once they hit the teenage years you just can't drag your teen along for the ride anymore. They need and should be asked or at least consulted about decisions that effect their life. Because of this new teenage brain, they are thinking about things that they never thought about before. They are naturally driven to be more analytical, judgmental, and opinionated. They are bombarded with thoughts they literally have never had before, and you will be the receivers of this new thinking process. In the example above, that teen finally realized he hated skiing, and why would he, and I mean that seriously, would he want to spend his vacation doing something he hates to do, just because the rest of the family likes it. And honestly, I kind of agree with him. After all it is his vacation too! It was a set-up from the get go. Parents make a decision that seems wonderful, a ski vacation for the family. Teen realizes he hates skiing, cue oppositional behavior!!

One of the major tasks of Adolescence is to develop a personal identity; what are my values, my interests, my passions, what are the qualities I look for in friends and lovers, what is my sexual identity, what are my goals? etc.  Part of this process is also to look closely at the people who raised them, and analyze how they are both different and the same from them. I always say that having a teen in the house is like having your own personal therapist. With this new brain of theirs, they are able to really look at you without the cloud of perfection that hovered over you in their childhood. Why the hell do these kids have to grow up?????? They are now free to share with you their thoughts and ideas about you! Unfortunately much of what they share is the stuff we already don't like about ourselves. Having them be so honest can be very uncomfortable. But if you can listen without hurt or defensiveness, you might learn something new and potentially useful about yourself. More importantly it is part of the process of figuring out who they are.

As teens start thinking for themselves, they might start to go down paths that parents aren't comfortable with. I'm not talking about unsafe or risky behavior, but life choices about what they like to do, where they might want to go to college, and ultimately what they want to do with their life. Most parents have dreams for their kids. In healthy families, parents keep those dreams to themselves waiting to see what path their children seem most interested in, even if it means parents giving up their own dreams for their kids. In some families, parent's dreams for their kids is more of a requirement than an option. We call that Identity foreclosure, when the option of choosing one's own identity is taken away from them. The following paragraphs are answers to a question on the midterm exam I gave last week, asking students to choose the identity type that most describes their experience with this process. These students have answered identity foreclosure.

Food for thought:

"My parents forced me to go to all elite catholic schools form kindergarten to college. I  was never allowed to get anything below a B or I would be in serious trouble. I am now not a catholic."

"My parents picked nursing school for me. they said they would only pay for college if I went for nursing. My mom graduated from a nursing program and really wanted me to go."

"My parents control most if not all decisions made in my life. If they think that this is the best decision for my future they will push me toward that path without acknowledging my concerns."

"Everyone in my family is in the medical field and my parents urged me to become a nurse. I was pushed to pursue this.

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