Have you ever said “I’m the parent here” to your teen? Have you ever needed to say it to yourself? I have done both – the latter more frequently.
I have a 15-year-old daughter, *Jessie, who I’ve raised alone. Need I continue? “Yeah, I know, right?” (If you know a teenager you’ll have heard that one.)
A beautiful bundle of joy, just like the day she was born – only now she also has sharp thorns and grenades that fly from her mouth when she’s agitated. On top of the usual teen stuff, Jessie also has bipolar, PTSD and an anxiety disorder, so things can be pretty full on around here.
After suffering a trauma at age eight, Jessie’s behaviour started to change dramatically. She’d always been such a healthy, happy, outgoing kid with a big bunch of friends, and she did well at school. Her laugh was what made her well known and was contagious to all who came in contact with it. But now she was becoming violently angry, having huge tantrums not even seen as a toddler.
Disappointment was something that became unbearable for her to cope with, which she showed in aggressive and abusive outbursts that could last for hours. Her teenage years saw these behaviours escalate and her school attendance drop to the point of non-existence, resulting in her current enrolment with distance education.
Parenting a teen can be really challenging, which came as a bit of a shock to me. I thought I was always going to be an awesome mum, with all the answers. I was doing really well with that theory until BAM! It all started falling down around me, and I got bogged down in my own self doubt and obvious failings as a mother. Do we all have images of always being capable and confident parents? I know I certainly did.
Teens are experts in the art of manipulation, and sort out very quickly what works and what doesn’t in getting what they want. They are fickle creatures whose actions and behaviours can seem so alien until we learn more about what they need and how their changing brains work at this age. Jessie’s attempts at trying to rule the roost with her back chat or aggression get me internally fuming at times when I realise what’s actually going on.
I used to find myself getting into arguments with her, until I’d stop for a second and remind myself who the actual parent was in this duo. I managed to get trapped in that so often, it drove me crazy. I thought I had a better handle on this parenting gig, but my ways just weren’t working any longer. I wasn’t prepared for her anger, the sullen moods or her gradual disengagement from life – or the triggers in me they would set off.
I was stumped and only just hanging on at times. I seemed to be doing all the wrong things and that can only mean one thing, surely – I’m a failing mum, a Z- on my report card. Seriously, who can’t get their kid to school? Who can’t control their kid? Whose kid behaves like this? From so many I heard all she needed was a good kick up the bum, which was like an affirmation that I was a poor parent. I was desperate for help, none of this was okay with me.
We were lucky enough to be referred to The Benevolent Society, who provided us an invaluable gift in the form of our fabulous caseworker. With her incredible patience and compassion, she spent two years teaching me new parenting skills and how to interpret the negative behaviours I was faced with.
She listened to me and heard me, then worked with me helping me to see things differently – first and foremost that I was an awesome mum and that I was doing the best I could with what I had. She gave me the means to help myself help Jessie. Teaching Jessie language around her emotions, and less destructive coping methods, has helped reduce her anger and aggression immensely. Until we learn a different way, we operate with what we do know.
Listen: This Gloroius Mess discuss: Why are parents so stressed out? (post continues after audio...)
It’s such a mental game in which we are required to be the best. This is more easily achieved when we have open lines of communication. The hope is then they will come to us, and any problem can be solved together. But that doesn’t always happen, and we need to be expert sleuths to bring the underground issue to light and then know how to get to a common ground where you can work with your teen to gain the outcome you’d like to see. There are so many obstacles and dangers facing our teens, many we’re not aware of. We cannot possibly have all the answers to the possible situations our teens could find themselves in.
Being involved with the parent forum on ReachOut Australia – the leading digital mental health service for young people and their parents - I’ve found to be a fantastic place to share and receive support and practical tips on what has worked for other families struggling with their teens. Through the forum I heard about the ReachOut Parents Coaching Program they run in collaboration with The Benevolent Society. As there are always new skills to learn, I opted to take part and see what it was all about.
I found coaching to be very different to counselling. Coaching focuses on supporting us as parents to find a way to move forward. Firstly we clarified what it was I wanted help with, and then we worked on finding particular parenting skills I could use and role model for my daughter. It is really very flexible and works with whatever you would like help with, making it ideal if you are wondering how to best support your teen through mild issues all the way through to teenagers who are really struggling. The coach focuses on strengths and provides solutions to use immediately.
The coaching through ReachOut and The Benevolent Society is FREE and is done over the phone and on the computer. Appointment times chosen by you, for your convenience, and you can the things you may want help with can be completed in one session or you can utilise the whole 4 sessions. The first one allow 90 minutes for, so the coach can learn a little about the family situation. After that each session is 60 minutes. To find out more click here.
'Stronger, wiser, kinder' is the mantra I learned, and the key to healthy parenting. Patience is what allows us to achieve that - along with a great library of resources.