Understanding Our Teenagers Reactions & Behaviors

Attention Parents of TEENAGERS!!

So my oldest son turned 16 last month. I’d like to say we have a pretty great relationship, but I noticed the minute he turned 16, that teenage, entitled, attitude started. You know, the one every parent talks about. Let’s just say I had to bring him down a notch at least once or twice in the last few weeks, something he did not like very much. So needless to say, we started butting heads a bit. Then it dawned on me…his entitlement…his attitude….his eye rolling….his pushing me away, was just a defense mechanism. At first I’d get angry and fire back which is exactly what I think he wanted, subconsciously anyways. But my anger quickly shifted to hurt. I was being rejected and pushed away from my baby. It was in that pain that I was able to see that he too was struggling. I could see it in his eyes. I could feel it when we argued. His behavior was just a symptom of the struggle.

He is growing up. He is slowly going his own way. Once I was able to step back a bit, I was able to feel his pain, his grief, his fear, his guilt and his excitement. He has so many strong emotions all at once. I took some time to gather myself, then asked him, “What’s going on with you? I want to be there for you, but I can’t if I don’t know what’s going on.” He shared with me that he wasn’t entirely sure, but what he was sure of is that he wants to be more independent…he just doesn’t know how. These were his words, not mine. I responded by saying, “And we want you to be more independent. That’s why we helped you get a car, a job, and open a bank account. Do you think you feel guilty or sad pulling away from us? He answered, “yes.”

It was then that I realized my theory about what was going on is accurate. His anger, entitlement and disrespect were real, but they were a deflection; intended to push me away and cause a fight. Because if we can create a argument or create chaos in the relationship, then we can justify our wanting space and independence from that person. If we can hurt the other person and get them to react, then it’s easier to be mad at them than feel sad or guilty. In the midst of this conversation I was able to tell my son that it doesn’t have to be this way. We love him and want to support him becoming an independent teenager and young man. We want to walk beside him, not against him.

I’m not going to lie, I cried myself to sleep that night, reminiscing on the old days when my kids were toddlers and we spent our days visiting family, shopping at the mall, and playing at the park, the days when he needed me and wanted me all the time. Through those tears I grieved and there was a shift in our relationship, from dependence to independence.

I know that the next stages of my kids lives are going to be amazing with a whole lot of precious memories, but that doesn’t take away from the grief I feel of losing the past. I will never experience being a mom like that again. And I want to feel it….all of it. I want him to feel it too, not deflect away from it or push us away because it might be easier.

I share this because I think so many of us go through these battles with our teenagers and we become blinded by their behavior. We fail to recognize the struggle and challenges they are facing and the emotions we, the parents, are experiencing, the changes we are both going through. I know most of us want to love, support and walk with our kids. I think sometimes they are so overwhelmed with what that looks like and feels like that they become reactive to avoid processing the change. I think sometimes we become reactive to avoid processing it too. If I feel this amount of emotion about my son growing up and becoming more independent, I can only imagine how great the magnitude his emotions must be as he is only 16. His brain is not even fully developed yet. So I share this with you as a hope of shedding light on this complex stage in the relationship between teens and parents. I know many of you are struggling too. Thank you for reading;)


The Number One Destroyer in the Parent/TEEN Relationship


-Proverbs 18:12
“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.”

Pride is a big trigger for me. Just hearing the word makes me cringe. I do not tolerate certain forms of pride in others very well. My immediate response to unhealthy forms of pride is typically a negative reaction of fight or flight. I have no problem pointing out this kind of pride in others, especially when it presents itself as entitlement, but looking at pride in myself can cause a wall of defense to go up.

Having pride can cause significant challenges in any relationship. Pride affects the communication between two people and forces it to break down. Positive communication is necessary in order to have a healthy and growing relationship. This chapter will help you to understand what pride is, specifically how it can show up in the parent/child relationship. We will begin by exploring the definition of pride.

What is Unhealthy Pride?
There are two kinds of pride: healthy and unhealthy. Healthy pride is when we take pride in something or feel a healthy sense of pride with regards to an accomplishment. But unhealthy pride is when we feel entitled or like we desserve something. Often times, a prideful person will act as though they deserve more or they know more. They can have a sense of entitlement and see things one way; their way. They can present as arrogant, selfish, thinking of oneself as being better or more important than others and not being able to admit when wrong. While researching unhealthy pride, I came across the following characteristics:

  • Having an inflated sense of self or thinking that you are better than others.
  • Arrogance and selfishness.
  • Being defensive.
  • Not taking responsibility or ownership.
  • Inability to listen to another person’s point of view is the same as saying that your way is the only way.
  • Being fearful or anxious is the result of not trusting God. Distrust in God represents a belief that you know more than Him.
  • Controlling people, places and things is an inability to surrender which is another form of distrust in God’s will and plan for your life.
  • Having a deserving or entitled attitude.
  • Someone who is negative all the time and can only see the bad in things.
  • Someone who has expectations of perfection.
  • Consumed with what others think of them.
  • Judgmental and critical of others.
  • Breaks rules and doesn’t follow directions.
  • Wanting what others have.
  • Consumed by appearance or material things.
  • Allowing the inner critic to control your mind.

The Parent and Unheatlhy Pride

There are many different ways that parents can demonstrate pride in their relationships. It can present through their thinking and also through their interactions and reactions with their TEEN. I don’t think parents recognize their behaviors as being prideful. This is because the pride is a defense mechanism used to defend against a trigger.

As I stated earlier, a parent’s job is to make decisions and have control over their children until a certain age. Around age 11, the child begins to develop a sense of awareness and independence. Parents have much difficulty with this transition in the relationship and often times, the control and decision making that was once a healthy interaction, turns into prideful thinking and prideful behaviors. I’m not saying that once your child turns eleven that you should stop setting boundaries or having expectations. What I am saying is, that as parents we need to be aware of what how we are responding and reacting to our children. We need to be aware of our own triggers and we need to come from a place of intention when communicating with them, rather a place of reaction.

Let me give you a classic example. The “because I said so” answer we all give to our children. A teenager expresses dislike for a limit or expecation that is set and the parent responds with , “You need to do what I say.” The teenager will reply with, “But why? It’s not fair.” The parent then gets frustrated and hollers, “Because I said so, that’s why? And if you talk like that to me again, you will lose your phone privileges.”

Now I get it. I really do. I understand that as parents we want to raise children who respect us, listen to us and obey our requests. But just because the teenager expresses that he or she does not like a particular rule or agree with a certain expectation does not necessarily mean he or she is being disrespectful. And just because they respond with curiosity by asking why, does not mean that they are being disrespectful.  Parents can get easily triggered by simple interactions such as this one. We become immediately defensive if our children do not want what we want for them or behave how we think they should behave. We become defensive when they do not see things the way we do or have the same feelings and opinions about the things we do. And most importantly, we forget too quickly that we were the same way when we were their age. We had our thoughts and feelings; beliefs and opinions. We too expressed curiosity and at some point in our lives were probably shut down by a parent for having those thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions. You see, we learned to react this way from our upbringing in our culture. We learned to believe that we are more powerful, more important and feel this entitlement to be able to express that to our teenagers.

This is prideful parenting. We think that because we are the parents, that we have the right to respond this way. We think that it is not okay for our children to question us or have an opinion about things. We think this way and because we think this way, then we assume that our way of thinking is the only way.

This way of thinking and responding in relationship with our teenagers causes the relationship to break down. The more it breaks down, the more prideful we become. We tell our children they need to be with the family and enjoy it. How do you force someone to enjoy something they don’t want to do? How do you force someone to want to do something they don’t enjoy doing? Do you see where I am going here? It turns into a great big mess and in the end, because we are the parent, we think it is okay to blame it on our children being selfish and disrespectful.

Another form of prideful thinking is trying to change or “fix” your child. It blows my mind how many parents bring their teenagers to see me so that I can mold them magically into the person the parent thinks he or she should be. I’m not at all saying that if you bring your child to get help that you are prideful. Again, please understand that it is the intention behind the behavior or reaction to the teenager. If your intention is to give your child the guidance you do not feel equipped to provide, then the decision is not prideful. But if your thinking is to “fix” your child because they are not living up to your expectations, then this is prideful thinking. If you are a parent and you are going about your relationship with your child this way, then please let me tell you that you are not going to get anywhere. The changes need to begin with you letting go of your prideful thinking.

The TEENager and Unhealthy Pride
Okay TEENS, it’s your turn now. Let’s look at how TEENS can be prideful. I am pretty sure there are many things on that list that the TEEN reading this book can relate to. The biggest prideful characteristic in TEENS I see is a sense of entitlement. When they get to a certain age, usually around 13, they become very entitled. They form their own opinions about things and automatically assume that their way is the right way. They disregard their parents life experience and knowledge and say things like, “Things are different now.” They talk to us like we are old and washed up and have no clue what is going on in the world. There is especially a sense of entitlement between the years of earning their license and turning 18 years old. The thinking many TEENS have is “I don’t have to listen to you.” “Your rules are dumb.” “I’m almost 18 and I can do whatever I want.” “Once I move out, my life will be easy.” For some reason, many TEENS live in this fantasy world that life is going to be so easy once they move out on their own and can make their own decisions. They have a tunnel-like vision and can only see life through their eyes because for a TEEN, their life is the only one they are responsible for. They don’t have to worry about anybody else, but themselves. This is the way it should be for TEENS until they go out into the world and begin an adult life. But they tend to have a sense of entitlement about it and one track thinking.

This entitlement comes out in their interactions with their parents and causes great discord and breakdown in communication. It can be a tremendous trigger for a parent who is working so hard to find balance between taking care of themselves, working and raising a family. Again, those triggers cause stress and both parent and TEEN to go into fight or flight mode.

Effects of Unhealthy Pride on the Parent/TEEN Relationship
We all have some form or even multiple forms of pride. How does pride affect your relationship with your parent or child? Let me guess, you are looking at the list identifying all of the characteristics your parent or child has and how it impacts your relationship with them. You are saying to yourself, “Yup, if they weren’t as entitled, then I wouldn’t have a problem with him/her.” Or you might be saying, “If they could just see things my way for once, then we would be able to communicate better.” “If only he/she weren’t so critical and judgemental.”

As you can see, pride can present itself in many different ways. And if we look at the list one by one, we can probably see how each behavior or attitude affects our parent or child in the relationship. I know what you are thinking, “I need to give this book to my parent/child so they can see how their pride is affecting our relationship. If they read this, then maybe they will be able to see what I am trying to say to them.” Guess what! This way of thinking is the number one problem in the relationship. It is your form of pride and it is affecting your relationship with your parent/child.

I want you to tackle this chapter by looking at yourself, not your parent or child. As I stated earlier, it is easy to point out the flaws and faults of the other person in the relationship. It’s difficult to look at our own. Having a healthy relationship with your parent or TEEN begins with you being able to look at yourself first. And being able to do this is the first step in conquering pride in the relationship. When you deal with your pride, the other person’s defense mechanisms come down which allows them to deal with their pride.

Always seeing fault in the other person is the biggest form of pride. Blaming, shaming, judging and acting as though you are the victim in the relationship is a form of pride. Trying to change the other person to be more like you think they “should” be is a form of pride. By doing this, you are saying, I am better than you and my way is better than yours. And this way of thinking and being causes major breakdowns in communication. It triggers the fight or flight response which is why parents and TEENS argue, fight or shut down. I can’t even begin to tell you how many parents bring a TEEN to therapy and expect that the therapy will help their TEEN to open up and talk to them more. Their chief complaint is that their TEEN won’t talk to them and they think the way to making them talk is to bully them into it through therapy. I know this sounds really harsh, but it is so often the case of what I see. They use shame as a desperate plea to get their TEEN to talk to them. When the parent checks in with me before a session begins, they will say things like, “Well, he is still not talking with me and opening up with me at home.” They say it with a blaming tone and leave the session with the expectation that this will be worked on in therapy. Little do they know that the only way this will change is if they look at themselves first.

I experienced this kind of thinking a few months ago in my relationship with my sister. Over the years, we’ve grown apart. Slowly, I’ve distanced from her and a few months ago, she broke down and called me out on it. She was angry and upset and her frustration came out on me as shame and blame because I do not talk with her like I used to. I knew her heart was in a place of desperatly wanting the relationship restored, but the way she went about it was to point the finger at me instead of looking at why I was shutting down from her. And my response to her was exactly that. I first acknowledged that I do not open up to her. She responded with, “Well you need to. You can talk to me about anything.” I then explained to her that instead of pointing the finger at me, that maybe she should look at herself and ask herself why I don’t talk to her about my life. I explained that I feel judgement and blame when I tell her things. After the discussion, I had to let go of my pride and put the effort in to give the relationship a chance to change. I started calling her more and even opening up more. She too let go of her pride and respond with an open mind, listening ear and no judgement. And she even went above and beyond and began responding with curiosity to what I shared with her.

Pride affects communication. When there is a breakdown in communication in a relationship, there is a breakdown in the relationship. Pride triggers the fight or flight response in both the parent and the TEEN and the results of this can be detrimental to the relationship.

God and Pride
I’ve had a lot of parents and TEENS come to me with these very same issues and ask me how I can help them. Well, actually, their request is for me to change the other person by talking to them. My answer is always the same. I explain to them that we can certainly sit down and communicate their feelings to the other person, but we ultimately cannot change the other person’s behavior. Trying to change someone else is where our pride is.

So instead, if they are a believer, I am able to explain it to them in such a different way, by relating their relationship with their parent or child to their relationship with God. God is our Father. He is our creator. He does not make mistakes. He does not shame, judge or boss us around. He does not roll his eyes at us. He does not give up on us. He does not walk away from us. The God I know loves us unconditionally. He is patient and kind. He is forgiving and merciful. He sees the mistakes we made and continue to make right under His eyes and He is there to catch us when we fall.

When I started looking at my relationship with my children in this way, I was able to respond in such a different way to them. The walls came down and all I could see is love for my children. The relationships changed and their walls came down too. God wants us to talk to Him. And when we do talk to Him, He doesn’t respond with criticism and judgement and He doesn’t tell us what to do either. He’s given us the Holy Bible as His Living Word and He wants us to use it to seek Him and know His will for our lives better. It is a lifelong process and we mess up a lot.  Just like God gives us a way to live, we give our children rules, boundaries and expectations. And when our children disobey those rules and don’t live up to our expectations, we get stressed. Our reactions to our TEENS are not always Godly.

TEENS can learn a lot about how to have a healthy relationship with their parents through their relationship with God as well. As a child of God, I want more than anything to please Him. I’ve learned that my way of doing things doesn’t even begin to compare with His way. I’ve learned by making mistakes that His way is so much better in the long run, even though most of the time His way makes me uncomfortable or may be hard. It’s the same thing with our parents. We may not always like or understand what they are asking us to do, but God tells us to obey our parents. If your parent is making a mistake, you need to trust that God will work that out for you and your parent.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I know your parents are not God. But God is your Father. Your parents are your earthly parents. God is the ultimate boss. He created you and know what is best for you. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” This means that He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. He loves
your parents and He will work it out if you just step back and give Him the time and space to do it.

And just as our TEENS need to be reminded of this, so do we as parents. We need to be reminded that they are His before they are ours. He will work for good in their lives. He can fix any mess they make. Our job becomes transitioning to be their brother or sister in Christ.

Ways to Conquer Pride
After reading this chapter, my hope is that you are better able to identify your own pride in your relationship with your parent or child. The following are ways to conquer pride in the parent/child relationship.

1. Awareness.
Having awareness is the first step in being able to change the relationship you have with your parent or child. Once you become aware of these things, you can take the next step toward conquering your pride.

2. Prayer.
Prayer is the act of communicating with God. It involves admitting our faults to Him, asking Him for forgiveness and
then asking Him to show us a new way; His way. It is the act of letting go of our own way and surrendering that way to Him. I will usually end these prayers by asking God to help me see a situation or person through His eyes.

3. Learn a New Way of Thinking
Once you let go of your pride, you will be restored with a new way of thinking. There are three characteristics I strive to replace my pride with. I say strive because I am human and like you I am never going to do this perfectly. The three characteristics are humility, grace and gratitude. The next chapter is going to explore how these three characteristics can change the parent/TEEN relationship into a more loving, open and healthier relationship.

So if you take anything from this chapter, please understand that pride is a defense mechanism that gets triggered by stress. A parent gets stressed when he or she is not in control and has fear of what will happen once they let go of that control. And the TEEN gets stressed when he or she feels controlled. Replacing this pride with humility, grace and gratitude is the way to having a healthier relationship with your TEEN.

Questions for Reflection
Find a quiet space where there are little to no distractions. Take a moment in quiet to reflect on what you just read. When you are ready, answer the following questions in your journal.

1. Do you recognize your pride in your relationship with your parent or child? Which characteristics listed above do you relate to? Explain by giving an example.

2. How does your prideful thinking or behaviors affect your relationship with your parent or child?

3. Describe one way your pride triggers fight or flight in your relationship with your parent or child.

4. How does God respond to you when you do not meet His expectations for your life?

5. How can you respond more like God in your relationship with your parent or child? Give an example.


Stress and the Parent/Child Relationship


-Romans 12:2
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Stress blocks intuition; it blocks our ability to hear from God. Stress leads to living in survival instead of living life. Learning how to manage our stress and balance our mind, body and spirit leads to a more intuitive and balanced relationship with our children. This book will help you to understand why and how stress is triggered in your relationships with your children, will help you to learn ways to overcome that stress and will teach you how to incorporate new ways of communicating and relating to your children. But first you must be able to identify what stress is and what it feels like.

A Psychological Explanation of Stress
Stress occurs every day, everywhere and in everyone. Stress affects a large percentage of the general population. People struggling with stress range from infants to the elderly in age.

The long-term impact that stress has on a person’s nervous system is great. Often times stress will affect a person’s mood and can even result in a clinical diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression. It can lead to people engaging in high risk or unhealthy behaviors to numb them and help them cope with feelings of fear, worry and insecurity. Lastly, stress can have a tremendous impact on relationships.

Last week I had a friend tell me that he doesn’t know what is wrong with him.  He said he simply feels exhausted and he doesn’t know why.  He told me that it’s gotten so bad that he plans to see his doctor to discuss medication options.  I looked at him with a flat affect, confused by how he really had no idea why he is so tired.  He gets up at four AM to start his day and doesn’t stop to rest until about eleven PM.  He has a high
stress job that is demanding, a busy family to take care of and recreational commitments to tend to.  He does practice self-care by eating healthy, exercising regularly and feeding his spiritual needs through his church community and music, but he does not take enough time for rest.  Instead, he tries to fit all the activities into his week and the result is fatigue and exhaustion. It has affected his mood, his behaviors and his relationships with family and friends. My friend expressed feelings, symptoms and long-term effects of stress which is the result of not listening to his mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs.

The following explanation is my understanding of what happens to the body, mind and spirit when it experiences stress:

Stress is a chemical reaction caused by an increase in cortisol and adrenaline. When we experience a stressful situation or event, it causes sudden feelings of panic, fear or worry.

The feelings of panic, fear and worry make us uncomfortable, so our natural instinct is to respond by fighting back or trying to avoid the situation. Sometimes our natural instinct to these feelings is to freeze.

This kind of response does not solve anything. It simply makes it worse and over time the stress builds, sending more frequent and intense surges of adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body. If we experience stress on a regular basis, then our bodies adapt to the cortisol or adrenaline high and they eventually become unbalanced. If our bodies are unbalanced, then we can experience the rise in cortisol or adrenaline at any time, even when there is no external stressor. When this happens, it becomes difficult to rest, eat, exercise and do the natural things our body needs to rebalance itself and can result in a clinical diagnosis of anxiety.

Stress on Mood, Behavior and Relationships
Over the last several years, I’ve worked with many teens who are struggling with high stress at school. We live in a culture where we push our kids from morning until evening. They don’t eat properly, they don’t drink enough water and they don’t sleep enough. Electronics are taking over our world and children and teens sit in front of the screen instead of going outside to play. They sit all day at school and have test, after test, after test. They become overloaded with sensory and auditory information. The amount of stress and pressure they experience combined with the lack of nutrition, exercise and sleep has a serious impact on a child or teen’s mood. After years of living with this kind of stress, they usually experience symptoms of anxiety accompanied by panic or sometimes even agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house). In time, the anxiety leads to depression.

Adults also struggle with high stress. Our culture does not encourage us to take time to unwind or destress. Instead, it pushes us to keep going, suck it up and fight through the stress. Half the time we don’t even know we are stressed until
it is too late. Like teens, adults do not eat regularly or nutritiously. They do not sleep enough hours and they do not get enough exercise. Many don’t drink enough water and instead survive off of caffeine or energy drinks to stay awake and energized. Our culture has made it nearly impossible to recognize stress and anxiety because it’s way of dealing with stress is to use some kind of quick fix or substance to numb and relieve it. Addictions have become high among teens and adults for this reason.

Relationships are deeply impacted as a result of the effects that stress has on our mind, body and spirit. Do you know anyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression, mood disorders, or addictions? If you answered yes, then please take a moment to reflect on how their disorders impact their lives, specifically with regard to their relationships. Take a moment to reflect on how their disorder impacts their relationship with you. Anxiety, depression and addiction are family disorders, not just individual ones.

Stress and the Parent/Child Relationship
So what does this have to do with the Parent/Child relationship? Stress has everything to do with it. Children shut down because they get stressed. They retreat to their rooms and their video games or cell phones because they are avoiding being triggered by stress.

Do you ever wonder why your kid is rolling his or her eyes at you? It’s because he/she is shutting down and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. Why? Because they are stressed or they fear becoming stressed. 
Or do you have a child who is constantly butting heads with you? Why might this happen? The answer is because he/she is stressed, defensive and as a result goes into fight mode to conquer the stress.

I know what you are thinking. You are rolling your eyes saying to yourself, “What the heck does she has to be stressed about? When I was her age….blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, I know, I thought those things before too. But the fact of the matter is that I would never go back to being a teenager. Why? Because I had no choices or control over anything. Being a teenager was hard and today with cell phones, social media and electronics, life for the teenager just got harder.

Finding balance by learning how to manage our stress is a key ingredient to healthy relationships between parents and children. When we live life with balance, we are filled with peace and contentment.

As parents we have a choice with regard to what we do for work, who we surround ourselves with, what we surround our lives with, what we put into our bodies, how we choose to move our bodies, etc. Kids don’t have these choices. Until they are adults, they are expected to follow our lead. And as I grow older and learn more about what it is that children need to become healthy, successful, independent adults, I am learning that children need to learn how to take care of themselves. They need to learn how to listen and honor their intuition and follow where their spirit is being led. Are you raising your children this way or are you feeding off of each other’s stress? Are you guiding your child or are you controlling your child? Are your expectations of your child dictating how you communicate and relate to your child? Are your fears, worries and insecurities triggering stress for you and impacting your ability to make intuitive decisions?

God created each of us for His purpose. He gave every person gifts and skills that they will use to live out their life purpose. Many adults continue to struggle to find the balance between what they want to do and what God wants them to do. In time we begin to recognize that when we adhere to God’s plan for us, our lives become full and blessed and we find peace and contentment even in the midst of distress.

So why do we think it is any different as we raise our children? They are His before they are ours. They too are here for a purpose. As a mother, I’ve come to recognize that my job is not to control my children out of fear that they will go down the wrong path. My job is to teach them how to have a relationship with God so that He can lead them. My part as a parent is the easy one and I am not in control of anything.

Stress impacts our ability to stop and remember this. It implodes us with feelings of fear and worry which are not from God. The rest of this book will help you to better understand why stress gets triggered in our relationships and what we can do to manage it so that we can stay in step with God’s plan for us as parents and how He wants us to guide our children.

Questions for Reflection
Find a quiet space where there are little to no distractions. Take a moment in quiet to reflect on what you just read. When you are ready, answer the following questions in your journal.

  1. Does stress impact you mentally? Explain.
  2. Does stress impact you spiritually? Explain.
  3. How does your body physically respond to stress? Do you fight, flight or freeze in a stressful situation. Give an example.
  4. Does stress affect you emotionally? Explain.
  5. What people, places and situations trigger stress for you?
  6. Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors to help you cope or numb stress? Explain.
  7. How does the way you cope with stress impact your parent/child relationship?

Grief and the Parent/Child Relationship


Proverbs 3: 5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

I think when we hear the word grief, we automatically assume it has something to do with death. I know I used to view grief this way. But I learned that grief does not only occur when we lose someone or something, it also occurs when we experience changes.

In my book RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal, I wrote a chapter about grief and the stages we go through. I explain that we go through this grief process with any kind of change or loss. This process includes the following 5 stages: denial/resistance, anger/blame, bargaining/shame/guilt, sadness/depression and acceptance.

There are two things we grieve when it comes to the parent/child relationship. The first is the changes that occur in our children as they grow older and how grief affects our relationship with them. The second is the expectations we have of them and in our relationship.

Grief and Change
It has been my experience both working with children and being a mother of three that our relationships with our children evolve over time. When our children are little, it is our job as parents to protect, teach and care for them. Our children develop personality traits early in childhood that help us to determine how we parent, but our role as the parent is the same for all children. It is to guide them. This is somewhat easy for us to do because ultimately we are in control of them. It is a time when we instill our values, beliefs and ideas onto them. It is a time when we dictate the schedule of their lives and have control over what they do in their lives.

Around age eleven something begins to shift in our children. Age eleven is when the beginning stages of pre-adolescence begins. At this age children begin to experience a sense of self or identity. They begin to have their own thoughts and feelings about things. They are able to process the meaning of things and make connections between those meanings and their feelings about those meanings.

As the child continues to get older, the boundaries and rules change. There is a shifting that evolves over time in the parent/child relationship when the relationship is healthy.

The explanation for this shifting is the systems theory. Systems theory says that we are one part of the whole and that any change that happens to one will affect the whole. I believe this to be true as children develop. As they evolve through the developmental stages, we too as parents must evolve.

So what does this have to do with grief? Well, as I talked about earlier, we grieve change and loss. As our children evolve into more independent human beings, we too will evolve with them. Evolving is a process that involves going through a series of feelings much like grief. At first we may have difficulty recognizing or even resist the changes our children are going through. We may become triggered by their independence and feel angry when they express thoughts and feelings we don’t understand or agree with. We may bargain with them in order to gain control again. We blame and shame them when they don’t live out our expectations of them. And lastly, we feel sadness and sometimes even depression as we come to realize that they are becoming their own person, rebelling against our desires and wishes for them. Eventually we learn to accept them for who they are and love them no matter what. And when we reach that place of acceptance, we find peace in our relationship with them. They are no longer shut down from us or fighting us.

Grief and Expectations
The second thing we grieve in the parent/child relationship is our expectations. Our expectations come from what we were taught. They are instilled in us through our culture and society. Our teens have expectations of how we will parent them and parents have expectations of how their parenting will turn out. Neither one will be right though.

I can remember envisioning my family before I gave birth to my first son. I envisioned the family from 7th Heaven, you know that cheesy show where there was sunshine and rainbows after every argument. I learned the hard way that in order to be a better mother to my children, I needed to be aware the expectations I have of myself as a mother and of their paths of my children. Having expectations of people, places and things will always lead to disappointment and puts pressure in the relationship.

I believe that every child is different and we need to assess each situation as it comes. The situation that most comes to mind when I think about expectations is grades. Parents have expectations that their teenager will get certain grades. I don’t think there is anything wrong with challenging your child to get those grades if he or she is academically capable of getting them. But often times, these expectations are not even discussed with the teenager. And if they are, many times we are not listening to what they are saying as to why they are not fulfilling those expectations.

I had a teenager I was seeing and she had A’s and B’s on her report card. She was bright and worked hard in school. As she got into high school her grades dropped and she had a harder time keeping up with the expectations in the classroom. She would forget to turn things in and would not get grades for missed assignments. Her parents insisted that she was being lazy. As I started learning more about this client, I decided to recommend some testing. Long story short, we found out that this teenager had a mild learning disability. Her parents were shocked as they had no idea their child was struggling the way she was. They never expected to get the results they got, but once their child received some help, her grades improved and she was back to getting her usual A’s and B’s. The relationship was also restored.

I can’t tell you how many times I have a teenager in my office that is telling me about their struggles and the parent is in denial that there is an issue. They are convinced that their child is being lazy or oppositional. Some even use the excuse that it is a phase instead of taking the time to sit and talk with their child and really listen to what is going on. I too am guilty of having expectations of my children. I expect them to get up in the morning without an attitude, help around the house, go to school, then sports and also maintain friendships. I expect them to be nice to their siblings and respect their parents. I expect them to do this all with a smile. But then I reflect on my own life and realize that I don’t do this all perfectly either and I am a grown adult. As I began to understand what my expectations are of my children and in my family, I experienced grief. Why? Because in order to accept the reality of the things I am expecting, I go through resistance, anger, blame, shame, sadness every time they don’t turn out exactly how I expected them to.

I am not telling you it is bad if you have expectations of your children. I am telling you to be aware of your expectations and be aware that you will grieve if they don’t turn out the way you expect. And during those moments grief you will experience denial, resistance, anger, blame, shame, guilt, sadness resulting in ups and downs with your children.

What You Can Expect
As the parent and child go through the changes in their relationship, it is common for the both the child and parent to feel stress and become reactive to the stress they encounter. This is why you will often see a child shut down or become argumentative or resistant to the parent during these changes. The stress that is triggered comes from the feelings of grief we experience as the child develops and changes and as we are forced to let go of things being exactly the way we expect them to be.

The grief we experience in the ever changing parent/child relationship is a process and it happens over time and in layers. I share this explaination with you to help you understand why you may feel some of the feelings you feel in your relationship with your child. Be compassionate with yourself and with your child as you become more aware of these patterns. Allow yourself to feel these feelings without judgement of yourself or your child.

God gave us feelings for a reason. He also gave us the process of grief, therefore I know it is not bad to feel these things. But what does He want us to do in times of grief? I believe He wants us to lean on Him. And He wants us to teach our children to lean on Him. When we lean on Him, He will guide us and comfort us through our times of grief. He will make our paths straight if we trust and obey His will and desires for us.

Questions for Reflection
Find a quiet space where there are little to no distractions. Take a moment in quiet to reflect on what you just read. When you are ready, answer the following questions in your journal.

  1. Is grief triggering stress in your parent/child relationship
  2. What kinds of changes are happening in your parent/child relationship that are causing grief?
  3. What stages of grief have you experienced in your parent/child relationship? Explain.
  4. Please list your expectations (“should” or “should nots”) that you have for yourself and your teenager. Have you experienced grief with any of these expectations? Explain.