Whether your midlife is calm and fulfilled, or turbulent and crisis-like, it is also a period for many of us when our children are going through their own transformative years. The hurricanes that ensue may be painful and difficult for both. But midlife crisis parenting is something a lot of people go through and survive, on both sides of the battlefield.
While you are going through the “did I waste my youth?” stage of self unraveling, it can be extremely challenging to have the patience and empathy for your child and their mood swings. Both processes are very natural and needed for us to grow and transform individually, but when they happen at the same time it may cause a true crisis with no winners.
So, how what can you do to be ready for the storm? Here is some advice. It won’t work for everybody and you need to bear in mind that each family is its own universe, but even if it makes you think and reconsider your own strategy, it is worth the read.
We are so wrapped up in our minds that we often don’t even realize that we are not listening to others. Yes, we hear them and yes we believe that we understand what they are trying to tell us and what they are going through, but very often it is selective, or biased. And when it comes to teenagers, it gets even worse. Their whole world is going through a radical reform and most of them can’t even articulate what they are feeling, so imagine how difficult it is to actually hear them. Therefore, listening may involve not just hearing out what they are saying, but also what they are not saying.
Give them the necessary opportunity, space and time to express what they are going through and listen without judgement. Even though you may think you have the answers, and to you their problems may sound trivial, it is best to be supportive.
One of the wisest things said about parenting that I have read is that parenthood is an endless exercise in letting go. And during your child’s adolescence this is most prominent than ever. While the child needs to explore new freedoms and find their own place and meaning in the world, we have to accept that our control over their life and decisions is becoming less and less. This is where respect comes.
Even if we know that puberty is the time when lots of dumb decisions can be made and lots of risks are all around, we need to respect the child and their opinions, decisions, and need for space and exploration.
I remember when an aunt of mine said: “I can’t wait until my daughter outgrows her adolescence. I am so tired of constantly listening to nonsense.” This sounded hilarious at the time, and I know that she meant no harm. On the other hand, it is important to remember that what seems like utter nonsense to you may be the most important thing in your teenager’s day.
It may not seem like the most appealing thing to do, but learning about their music idol, favorite game, or any interest they have a the moment may be a window to more bonding. And those bonds are needed.
Sometimes it is easy to fall in the trap of trying to be your children’s friend. No matter how appealing this is, your child actually needs you to be their parent while they are growing up. After that, once they reach adulthood, a good, close relationship that contains meaningful connection will definitely grow into a friendship. But you don’t want to prioritize being friends with your child over being they support and guidance.
This is particularly important when you are trying to connect with them. Whether it is through their interest, hobby or through getting close, always try to keep the space for their friends and the needed distance. They need to know that you understand them and are there no matter what.
Be open about what you are going through too. You may not find an eager pair of ears at the other end, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be the needed glue to bond with our teenager. As they are entering adulthood and realizing how complicated and burdensome adult life can be, you are probably the closest and most open example to them of how difficult situations and life stages are handled.
Sometimes this opening up will work, other times it will leave you short, but it is definitely better having a door open instead of building more walls.
To sum up, here are a few things to practice to make midlife crisis parenting easier:
- Listen to your teen. Really listen, without judgement and prejudice.
- Respect their need for space, independence and being different from you
- Connect to them so that they know that are always their support
- Share your thoughts and feelings honestly and give an example on how to navigate life’s difficulties.
What would you add to this list?