I was a litigator – experienced and schooled at responding to opposing arguments thoughtfully and quickly. Literally, one of the most important skills as an attorney is responding in a thoughtful manner to you opponent’s argument(s) and not reacting too quickly – because saying unplanned stupid stuff can get your client in trouble. Surely thinking on your feet in the courtroom is tougher than having mildly awkward conversations with your tween… Or so I thought.
Whatever skill set you had in your professional life, it may not translate well to intentionally parenting tweens or teens. This gig is new. It’s different than the “mom to a little kid” gig. It’s harder now and here’s why.
You Are More Alone When Your Kids Are Tweens & Teens
When our kids were young – the advice was there. It was reliable. You know the drill: praise the positive behavior and redirect the negative behavior.
Everyone told you that your baby would throw food on the floor; have a tantrum or diaper blowout at the worst possible time, and might even bite her bestie in preschool. And then they told you how to handle it. Problem anticipated. Problem handled. Check.
But as a mother of tweens and teens, the advice isn’t there any more. #hugevoid
Maybe the advice isn’t there because these aren’t your typical facebook memory or insta-story sort of moments. Nobody shares the tween and teen difficulties for fear that little Theodore will someday want to run for political office…. The behavior is not “photo worthy” when your “little boy” is 5′ 10″.
Or maybe it’s simpler. Maybe we just don’t know the answers. Because there is no one size fits all solution.
Except for the one I’m going to share with you…
Awkward Conversations With Your Tween Are Unique
Advice is lacking for raising tweens and teens because so many of the zany things kids come up with during the tween and teen years have NEVER been anticipated before. How can I share advice with you about handing a situation that I can’t even imagine?
When they were little, you knew they would build with blocks and get frustrated. Google “frustrated toddler.” Crap. Ton. Of. Answers. Reasonable, reliable, and actionable answers abound out there when kids are younger.
Now, the intricacies are too nuanced, too detailed. Your child is becoming an amazing unique individual. With their unique way of seeing the world and acting in it.
As children grow up, parents feel more compelled to safeguard privacy. So moms aren’t always chatting about this stuff. It can feel lonely.
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You Don’t Want To React
What I don’t want is to react to my kids. I can’t just run around spewing the first anxiety-ridden or angry thought that comes into my head without having first considered my response. Reacting just doesn’t ever end well for anybody. And I don’t know about you – but my tween can cause me a lot of anxiety ridden or angry knee-jerk reactions.
So what’s a mom of tweens or teens to do?
Tweens or teens are the masters of asking or doing things we NEVER anticipated. Maybe tomorrow your teen comes home with a McDonald’s receipt tattooed on his arm. Or maybe she asks, “Mom – I’m going to shave my head, dye the stubble pink, and get a nose ring. We good?” Or, maybe you find out the latest craze is sucking on, licking, or actually eating TIDE pods. *eye roll*
And then there are the questions that you probably started anticipating from the moment you found out you were pregnant – yet you can’t possibly stop stammering long enough to pull an answer together at the moment they ask. For example, as you are pulling up to the drive through window at the dry cleaner’s, you son asks, “Mom, I really love my girlfriend and I’d like to take our relationship to the next physical level. What should I do?”
A great friend taught me how to deal with those moments in a constructive and respectful way that helps me to avoid dropping my jaw on the floor and immediately shaming my boys.
Or screaming stupid stuff for the dry cleaner to overhear, like – “Have you lost your mind? NEVER have sex!”
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But You Definitely Do Want To Respond With Intention
What I want to do is to both listen carefully and respond thoughtfully and intentionally during awkward conversations with my tween. When your kids were little they asked questions that were simple, and you knew the answers. For example, “Mommy, I want to color with Molly in school – but she always colors with Tad. So I stole her crayons.” Giving a reasonable life lesson? Easy-peasy.
And while it sounds impossible, I have truly found a one size fits all solution. Now, you may take me to task on my word choice “solution.” You may or may not want to call it a solution, but it does solve the problem of reacting and the need to respond thoughtfully.
First, it’s a way to keep you from reacting – which we know ends badly. (And might hurt the dry cleaner’s feelings…) Reacting in the heat of the moment allows for hurtful things to be said and done. It’s a no-go.
Second, it’s a way to respond in a way that is completely consistent with intentional parenting.
So here it is…
The Question That Will Work Every Single Time
This works every single time because it’s honest. If you can’t think on your feet, in the heat of a terrifying moment of motherhood, just be honest. I know – who ‘da ‘thunk it?
And this is the only honest response you can have when that surprise dagger is headed straight for your heart:
“Wow! You caught me off guard. I’m going to need a few moments/hours/days/years /life-times to process that. Can you give me some time to process what you just shared with me? I understand that this is really important to you and that makes it important to me. We will discuss it as soon as I can wrap my head around the issues. I promise.”
Now you have a chance to wrap your head around the issues, discuss them with your partner, and come up with a reasonable conversation starter to deal with the issue at hand.
As I mentioned, this brilliant advice actually came from a friend of mine who may be the best mother I know. She’s the queen of not sweating the little stuff and of knowing that most of it is little stuff. She’s the queen of knowing what to do and say and admitting when she doesn’t. Her kids have grown into brilliantly self-sufficient kids who are kind and thoughtful. And they come to her with tough and awkward conversations because they know that they can trust her to respond and not to react.
It’s the glue that will hold your family together as you make your way through awkward conversations with your tween or teen.
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