Parenting is a roller coaster for all of us. Last night my usually level-headed, even-keeled daughter lost her mind because I asked her not to use her brother’s art supplies. This was incredibly uncharacteristic, but hey, we all have off moments. She was asked to go “take a break” for 30 minutes in her room. I didn’t want to give her a negative consequence because this outburst was so unlike her that I figured she could reset if she could calm down for a bit.
Instead of hearing this as a chance to regroup, she became more angry and started yelling at me. At that point I was forced to inform her she’d have to go to bed even though it was an hour early. She cried, begged, and pleaded for this not to be the case.
As a therapist I was keenly aware of how crucial this moment was in parenting her. If I chose to give in to her sincere apologies and entreaties to roll back her consequence, then I’d teach her she can negotiate with me. If I chose to repeatedly remind her, “This is all your fault,” then I’d be callous and harsh. My husband and I instead chose to hold the line of her consequence while showing her immense compassion. We understand that compassion doesn’t equal soft boundaries. We held her through her tears and talked to her, but still put her to bed. She was still a bit weepy when we kissed her good-night. We reminded her she is deeply loved and tomorrow is a fresh start. However, we did not give in to her desire for a reduced consequence. She felt our love but also understood our line.
I realize this isn’t easy to do. It requires a cool head. You can’t profess some unreasonable consequence in your anger because you’ll almost certainly be required to roll it back later. Or, if you stick to it, you’ll be strongly tempted to put all the responsibility on your teenager in order to justify your own overreaction. Even though my husband and I did it well last night, we are far from perfect in this arena. It’s still a work in progress, and probably always will be.
Here I share a few more thoughts on being both firm and compassionate; I hope it helps:
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT