by Melodie Davis
***NOTE TO EDITORS: This is part 1 of 4 on parenting***
for release September 1, 2000
Parenting Teens: When You've Reached the End of Your Rope
I did a guest slot (by telephone) on a TV talk show recently where the topic was teens and young adults. I expected to talk about problems like teens finding jobs, loaning them money, dating issues, making bad choices, how it felt when they left home.
Both the hosts and I were surprised by the number of callers who shared deep and complicated issues arising out of the teen/young adult years, with concerns either about how they were parented or how to proceed in difficult situations. Therefore for the next four columns, I will focus on parenting teens and young adults.
One woman, Barbara, (all names changed) said her mother tried "tough love" on her and, at the age of 13, she wasn't allowed to come home. "For 25 years I didn't have a mother. People can be very damaged by it," she emphasized. Barbara became addicted to drugs and alcohol, but in the last several years has cleaned up her life and is now even getting back into contact with her mother.
When asked what she wished her mother would have done instead of kicking her out of the house, this woman said, "I wish she would have tried to listen to me and what was hurting me." Her mother was divorced and developing a new relationship with a man, and this young girl was hurting but also behaving in ways that her mother found unacceptable.
Tough love-the idea that sometimes you have to take a very difficult stand with your teen or young adult to the extent that they have to move out if they don't shape up-has long been controversial. The damaging effects-like with the young woman above-should be enough to make any caring parent extremely cautious about such a move.
There is something to be said for unconditional love. I'm reminded of the Psalm that goes "Your constant love is better than life itself." This of course refers to God's love for us. For most of us, love for our children comes as natural "parenting" equipment. Our love for our children is stronger than even our love for our own life. God gave us this equipment-this extreme amount of love for our children no matter what, because God knew just how difficult parenting would sometimes be. Fierce as mother bears, we look out for our cubs. Yet stray they will.
Terri, another woman now grown recalled her parent's attempt at practicing "tough love." She admits that she was a very rebellious teen, but when her mother tried to clamp down on her, "chaos erupted. Things just got worse." Finally, they went to mediation, and Terri says they both learned so much about their different conflict styles. Terri was the type to back off of confrontation, clammed up, got silent, while her mother was the type to want to deal with things, get things out in the open. Happily, Terri (and her mother) are now doing fine; Terri is an early childhood educator and they enjoy a good relationship.
One father shared about an extremely rebellious son. He and his wife eventually made the difficult decision to make him move out at age 18. "We made him move out, but we didn't give up on him. We helped him where we could, we prayed for him, we let him know we still loved him. Today he's a fine church-going man and hard worker." Perhaps the age difference (age 18 rather than 13 when made to move out) had a lot to do with a successful outcome.
How do we know these gambles will pay off? We don't. Antoinette Bosco, an author and single mother of six, told how she once punished her teenage daughter when she disobeyed the ironclad rule of "we don't hitchhike" (this was longer ago when some kids did hitchhike). She totally grounded her daughter for several months. But she knew her daughter would need something to do while grounded or they would all go crazy. She bought her daughter a sewing machine, and the girl spent hours sewing and designing clothes, and eventually became a clothing designer. "A huge gamble that paid off," according to Bosco, but it might not have turned out so well.
Mediation doesn't always work, tough love sometimes backfires, grounding can make things worse. Parenting support groups on the Internet or in person can be a source of testing ideas. Parenting the Prodigal by S. Rutherford McDill (Herald Press) is a worthwhile book, and Beyond the News: Parenting Adolescents (Mennonite Media) is an excellent video featuring interviews with both teens and adult experts.
No matter how tough it gets, don't cut yourself off completely from your children. Let the natural love you have for them-however dim it may feel sometimes-draw you together to communicate and work at solutions that work for you.
For a free booklet, "Parent/Teen Conflict," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 805 words; end material = 105 words
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