(Originally published: http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_24889178/marin-voice-challenges-parents-adolescents#)
Marin Voice: Challenges of parents of adolescents
By Roberta Seifert, Ph.D. and Mark Phillips
IN THE BOOK, “The Good Marriage,” by the late Marin psychologist, Judith Wallerstein, the section on adolescence was called “Adolescence: A Wolf in Denim Clothing.” She treated adolescence as an almost universal family crisis.
It is a time most parents find challenging that can confront us with problems that are difficult to solve. Even the best parents can find themselves frustrated and self-critical, partly due to unrealistic expectations they’ve set for themselves.
In another book, “Compassion and Self-Hate,” the psychologist Theodore Rubin focused on the illusions we have about who we are supposed to be and what we can accomplish. He included as an example the illusion that if you have enough money you’ll be happy.
Each illusion he describes results in unrealistic expectations that make us self-critical and unhappy.
1. You can and should be able to connect with your adolescent.
Of course you should aspire to this, but you will set yourself up for frustration if you expect it to happen with the same constancy as it may have earlier in your child’s life. Adolescence is filled with complex challenges. No matter how caring and open you are as a parent, your son or daughter may be caught up in relational problems or struggling with internal issues that they’re not ready to share.
They’re also busy developing independence from you and that may create barriers that you just can’t get through until they feel more secure in their newly independent identity.
2. You can (should) always be able to protect your child.
While you do your best to keep your adolescent safe through setting fair and effective rules, there is a limit to what any of us can control. Your teen may usually heed your rules and your advice, but you can’t possibly know all of what is going on internally with your child. And, you have little or no control over what they do with peers or in school.
Parenting is always finding that balance between safety and letting a child grow and learn, even from making mistakes. Finding it is even more difficult in adolescence when kids are making choices with serious risks and consequences.
3. If you are good and caring your children will always feel love for you.
Adolescence is a time of tumultuous emotions coupled with increased idealism and thoughts about how much better they would do things if they only were in charge. Kids at this time seemed programmed to see your quirks and mannerisms as flaws, your sense of humor as boring, your advice as intrusive and insulting.
This can be a normal part of their process of separation and individuation and, while necessary, can be trying for parents.
If you harbor the illusion that there are better families in which children mature without rough patches, you’re doing yourself a big disservice.
4. You can (should) always make the right decisions as a parent.
Even the best parents have bad moments. You may lose your temper, make some unreasonable demand, be insensitive to something that’s delicate for your child.
If you feel you have too many of these moments and are not able to parent as you’d like, it may be helpful to seek counseling about your parenting. Sometimes just getting an objective perspective from someone outside the family can be a big help.
But even if you’re one of the great majority of caring, intelligent, loving parents, you will sometimes screw up!
The bottom line is that while we should always be working to improve within each of these categories, we will never attain anything approaching perfection. Believing that we can insures continual dissatisfaction and unhappiness as parents.
Roberta Seifert, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in San Rafael (visit her website). Mark Phillips of Woodacre is a professor emeritus of education at San Francisco State University. He is a regular contributor to Marin Voice.
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Please visit http://www.marincountypsych.org for more information about our association and membership benefits or to locate a licensed clinical psychologist in Marin County.
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Blog Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Marin County Psychological Association. The information posted on this blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional mental health services.