Next week my kids go off to school and as always, the bittersweet nostalgia sets in. I so enjoy the summer months and spending more time with my kids. I so look forward to school starting again so I can regain some focus on work, some peace and quiet, and some “normalcy” to our days and schedules.
This year my older son goes to high school and I am humbled by my relative lack of influence on his choices. Gone are the days when I could share my values with him while he sat intently listening, asking questions, and formulating his own ideas and opinions—which pretty much mimicked my own. Now I worry that our values seem so far apart. Our priorities so different. Our attempts at resolving conflicts messy and requiring lots of effort and self-empathy.
At 14, he is just entering those murky waters of the teen years. Already we’ve wrestled with some big issues that could easily shake even a sturdy foundation. I’m often gripped by fear when I observe behavior I label “risky,” “dangerous,” “self-destructive.” I constantly walk a fine line between honoring his needs for autonomy, expression, and freedom and my needs for trust, safety and his wellbeing. I seem to constantly be in the mode of relationship repair. Conscious parenting is not for the faint-hearted.
And still there is comfort in knowing that we can repair the relationship when the connection breaks. We do know a way back and have found it many times. I’ve worked with families where the chasm in their connection is so wide that it can seem quite hopeless to build a bridge across. And yet I know that certain conscious parenting processes, like Parenting From Your Heart and Connection Parenting, can support families in establishing, repairing, and maintaining trust and connection. Even in those difficult teen years.
Compared to other processes, conscious parenting may take more time and effort. It’s often easier to use power-over, especially when the kids are young, to get the behavior and “cooperation” we want. But just try “counting to three” with a teenager or forcing a teenager to sit in “timeout.” I think you’ll find those behavior modification techniques are short-lived and buy you a little extra time at best. At worst, they tend to be disconnecting and alienating, the antithesis of relationship-building.
The work of conscious parenting, of building a relationship with your child based on mutual respect and trust, is harder and takes more time. You often don’t see results right away. It may take weeks or months or even years to build the trust. Why would you want to put that much time and effort into it? Because keeping the focus on relationship rather than behavior allows the process to grow as you and your child grow (not just in age, but also in consciousness and skills). Behavior modification techniques come and go according to the latest trend or parenting guru. A connecting relationship between you and your child transcends all ages, developmental stages, trends and “experts.” Keeping the door open to communication and connection serves the relationship when your child is a toddler and carries over into when your child grows into an adult. A solid relationship built of mutual respect and trust provides a strong sturdy foundation that lasts a lifetime! I mean, way past the teen years. Isn’t that worth the extra effort?