I write a lot about autism. I have written several times recently about the removal of the iPad addiction from Zion’s life.
It is still going well.
And I have reclaimed my kid.
But I have another child.
And to be very honest with you, she and I had a bit of a rough summer.
For years she was a delightful, philanthropic little cherub. She was constantly thinking of other people and their feelings. Everything she said and did was cute and funny. She’s the one who started Zoë’s Starfish at the age of 10, for corns sakes.
To say she was the apple of my eye would be a gross understatement.
But last fall she did something she’s never done before.
She turned 13.
Over the course of this year, I have watched my little angel-faced sweetheart baby disappear into a sullen, moody, and sometimes not-so-nice tween.
And it has been beyond painful.
Even more painful, have been the lessons I have learned from feeling unloved.
As it turns out, I am a not-so-nice person when I feel rejected.
This is not news.
Yet somehow it has spilled over into my parenting, and that is not okay.
I have spent years grieving my son’s autism and processing how to deal with the pain of receiving very little reciprocity from him. And I have slowly come to grips with that…mostly.
Divorce was hard, to say the least. But the infidelity was a pain and rejection I can’t adequately put into words. The years of therapy taught me on some level that there wasn’t anything “wrong” with me…but it’s much easier to believe that I wasn’t enough for him.
Over the past few years, I have successfully pushed away or shot down any man who tries to get within a mile radius of me.
So I remain single.
This means I spend the majority of my time with my kids.
Though most of that time is spent with my kids.
I admit it, I rely on the love and support I get from my daughter. Her kind and unfailing spirit is what makes me feel like I can do anything. Waking up in the morning and knowing that this kid unconditionally loves my insane mess of a self is what keeps me going some days when I want to give up.
So looking at her face and encountering a wall is too much for me to take.
So what did I do?
Without even realizing I was doing it, I met her wall with my own wall.
Her snark received snark in return.
Her annoyed expression received one right back.
Her slamming bedroom door was echoed with mine right behind it.
We spent our summer evenings in silence, watching the classic movies from the list she made on her own.
I sometimes watched her for what seemed like hours without her even acknowledging my existence, while she watched videos on her iPhone and exchanged texts with her friends, only to retreat to her room to do whatever it is that teens do.
And the chasm between us widened.
And more everyday.
Then one day over the summer I was sitting in a training course at work. I had my iPhone out silenced on the desk in front of me. The instructor, whom I adore and consider a mentor, started talking about our unhealthy attachment to our phones.
Once she was done admonishing, I raised my hand and said, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I keep mine out because as a manager, I like to make myself available to my staff at all times.”
I was feeling quite smug.
Then the woman sitting next to me in class said something that shattered my smugness.
“Perhaps it’s time to realize what you’re creating there.”
She went on to explain that constantly making myself available to my staff is creating a culture of dependency, so they don’t learn to problem solve on their own. Moreover, being constantly available to them means that I must constantly have my phone out, which distracts my attention from what is happening in the moment.
My mind immediately went to my kids.
If my phone is out, it is likely in my face.
And if my phone is in my face, there is less room for my kids to be in my face.
Namely, my teen daughter.
I stayed after class that day to speak with my neighbor. She talked about mirroring, and how the people who look to us for leadership often mirror what we are doing. And that if their behaviors are unsavory, the person I need to take a look at first is myself.
I know she was referring to my staff, but all I could think about was my daughter.
And the more I thought, I realized.
Sure, she’s a teenager. But how much of what I’m seeing is just a mirror staring back at me?
So I sat down and had a talk with my daughter.
I apologized for my distance.
We made some ground rules about our iPhones.
And I started really thinking about how I react to her reactions.
And guess what?
The sweet child of mine is emerging.
It is true that teens will be teens. They are finding themselves, testing the waters, discovering who they are and want to be. But as parents, meeting that attitude with more attitude and receiving it as rejection will only drive us further apart from our kids.
I had to take a hard look at myself.
And what I found was that I was pushing my daughter away the same way I push away other people who hurt me, and as a parent, I can’t do that.
If I want to have a healthy relationship with her, I simply have to change my propensity to meet walls with walls.
Kids need to feel love and acceptance at all times, regardless of what they do.
So if you have a teen at home…or two, and your life is full of snarky comments, dirty looks, and slamming doors, perhaps your first step is to first take a look in the mirror.
And if you find that the reflection staring back at you looks anything like the teen you are grounding every 5 minutes, it might be time to make some changes.