I’m the good parent in our home. The one the kids actually listen to. At least that’s the case with our teenage daughter Sarah.
For some reason, when my dear wife asks Sarah, our daughter, to do—why anything at all—the girl balks, sulks, and sometimes yells epithets or slams doors (sometimes all of the above at once). But when I ask Sarah to do exactly the same thing—nay TELL her to do those things—not a peep out of her. Not a protest, not even a sigh at being forced to leave her iPad and Facebook for the duration of the chore.
The wife and I have explored why this is so. Sometimes I think it’s because she asks Sarah instead of telling her to do whatever it is that needs doing. Like she’s too polite, or perhaps MEEK.
Maybe if she just laid down the law: “Put away the groceries,” instead of, “Oh, Sarah, would you mind putting away the groceries, please,” Sarah would just do it. Instead, it’s like my wife is inviting our daughter to protest. After all, it’s the nature of teens to rebel and create conflict with their parents. By asking instead of telling her to do things, my wife is giving Sarah an opening.
Naturally, the wife disagrees. From her perspective, it’s just semantics. She’s just being polite. She doesn’t really expect Sarah to say no so every time it happens, my wife is surprised anew.
Good Cop/Bad Cop?
Carey (why yes my wife does have a name) suggests that it’s something about our personalities. For some reason, people just want to say no to her and yes to me. Much as I’d like to accept the compliment, I’d also like to think that my beautiful, brave, and courageous wife is also a likable person in general and in particular—else why would I have married her in the first place?? Love me love my, um, wife.
Our son Robbie is still at that youthful stage of idolizing the both of us. He thinks we’re both perfect. His rebellious teens are still far away. So maybe it’s premature to suggest this without seeing how things will be between Robbie and Carey when Robbie hits his teens, but the bottom line is I think Sarah’s receptiveness to me and hostility toward Carey is a gender thing.
I mean, we all know about the Oedipus and Electra Complexes in which there is just a natural rivalry going on with the same-sexed parent: a sense that both compete for the ultimate love of the opposite sexed parent/spouse. Like I said, Robbie is too young to test the theory. We have a good several years before he morphs into a pimply teenager. But I really think that’s what’s going on here: Sarah is just going to be this way: it’s innate, this issue of coming to conflict with her mother.
Whatever the reason, we do know that with Sarah and her mother, there’s going to be conflict. That’s our current reality. So at least for the meantime, I’m it when it comes to laying down the law on things we need Sarah to do.
I’m okay with that. And hey, who knows—Carey may need to do this for me with Robbie, somewhere down the line.
Just in case it’s really about me, I mean my personality or parenting style, as opposed to the opposite gender thing, I thought I’d give over some of my best tips for talking to and with teens so they’ll really listen. Here goes nothing:
1) Don’t ask, tell. Asking for chores to be done leaves an opening for protest. Just not smart. If it goes against your nature to be giving orders in a non-threatening manner, practice when no one is around to hear, until you get your tone down pat.
2) Watch and listen to how others do it. Do you know an adult who making effective contact with teens? Find opportunities to watch this pro in action. Go home and write down your observations. Review your notes before any important discussion with your teen.
3) Keep it light and casual. You don’t want to sound all polite and whimpery. Nor do you want to come down the heavy. Make like it’s no big deal. It’s what it is, no more and no less. Keeping your perspective intact will help your teen focus on what her perspective should be in relation to the task at hand.
4) Always listen when they talk. Sometimes kids need to ramble on about stuff. Just listen. Even if they’re not saying anything that sounds particularly important and you’re busy or in a hurry to go somewhere. When there is an appropriate moment for you to say something, ask an open-ended question that shows you’re really listening and that you really care. For instance, “So Shelly wanted to see that action film but you don’t like action films. What kind of films do you like? What movie would you rather have seen?”
5) The eye-contact thing. Don’t hyperfocus on your child. Kids don’t like to feel like you’re examining them with a magnifying glass. As it is, they’re all self-conscious about looks and self-image. A good trick is to make talking to your child incidental by avoiding eye contact. For instance, you could be fixing a broken picture frame and looking at your work as you speak to your daughter. Or you could be taking a walk together, so you’re standing side by side, only kinda sorta looking at each other. It sounds crazy, but it’s my best trick for talking to and with teens.
The main thing with teens is to keep your cool as much as possible. Blowups will happen. It’s just the name of the game.
Be Her Rock
What a parent should always try to do is be there for a teen no matter what, through bad days and better days and all sorts of days in between. Try to be calm and be her rock. Even if she doesn’t know it, she needs you.
And you know what? She does know it. She just doesn’t know she knows it.
Someday she will.