I have a few clients who have excellent relationships with their parents. They have the kind of relationships with their moms and dads that I hope to have with my children when they reach adolescence. These young men and women share openly about their lives with their parents. They want to hang around the house. They want to bring their friends over. Their friends want to come over. Their friends all consider these parents to be a second mom or dad. Despite getting along extremely well, these teenagers still respect their parents when asked to do or not do something.
When I see someone do something well, I always seek to emulate it. I try and model my walk with Christ after other Christians who have deep faith. I try and model my financial behavior after people I know who have humbly attained wealth. I try to eat and exercise like people who are healthy. I want to parent like these parents.
Here’s what I notice they do:
1. They NEVER make judgmental comments about their children’s friends. They don’t assume their teenagers will behave badly because they have friends who make occasional wrong choices. These moms and dads regularly tell their teenagers they are so grateful they can trust their teens not to make the wrong choices even when their friends do. This causes their teenagers to step up and behave well.
2. They are hurt instead of angry. When their adolescent says something awful, makes a poor choice, does badly in a class, or otherwise commits a transgression, these parents never react in anger. They feel hurt instead, and they show their teenager their genuine emotion. These teenagers absolutely hate to hurt their parents’ feelings, so they try to do well at things.
3. They take an interest in their teenagers’ interests even if they’re not interested. The parents I’ve observed who have incredible relationships with their kids don’t disparage their kids’ interests. They even go a step farther than that. They take an interest in them. I’ve seen these parents attend concerts of bands they’ve probably never listened to, help their kids plan trips for them with their friends, drive them all over just to spend time with them in the car, and buy clothes that don’t really fit the style they prefer their teens to wear.
4. Their expectations are clear. All these parents have a line that their teens wouldn’t dare cross. Because they show so much respect to their teenager, their teen doesn’t want to disrespect them. Their teenagers don’t sneak, but then again they don’t have to. They can tell their parents things without judgment.
These relationships are good because of years of work. It’s hard to completely reverse things if you’ve settled into too friendly of a role with your teen, or too controlling of a role. You can work to respect them and to enjoy them. It will challenge you a lot, but finding things to like about their friends will help you grow closer with your teen more than anything else you can do. Aside from that, learn about what they think is fun. Maybe you’ll even like it too.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT