Picking my Parental Battles
“Battle” is probably not the ideal metaphor when discussing parenting, but lately I’ve felt like it’s been one scuffle after another between me and my adolescent sons. As I have a chance to reflect each night, what unfurls is a day that seems to have been filled with a constant stream of nagging, niggling reminders.
With five kids and over two decades of parenting experience, you would think I’d have mastered this gig by now. But what I’m actually finding is that, as my parenting years have stretched on, my skills seem to have declined. Perhaps I’m getting tired? That’s a very real possibility.
My oldest kids—three girls—escaped before I became so bothersome and have gently pointed out things that “never would have happened” when they were younger. If I had a video reel of myself in recent years, I’m afraid it would be full of incessant badgering, countless annoyed expressions, and many exasperated sighs.
My youngest son, now 12, often points out when I’m “making that face”—a pained, fake-smile expression that comes over me when I’m annoyed. These days, I can’t seem to help it; “that face” has become a kind of autonomic response, and I can no more control it than I can quiet my own breathing. My non-verbals sabotage me, even when I’m trying to remain calm and stay out of battle mode.
This is not how I want to continue parenting my boys, so as any good general would do before battle, I’ve made a three-part plan of attack—a new strategy—for 2016.
First, I’m brainstorming a list of the things my boys do that bring out my worst parenting moments:
- Acting entitled to things that should be considered special treats or privileges (e.g., Jamba Juice after school)
- Not taking initiative when chores need to get done (e.g., waiting to be asked to feed the dog, unload the dishwasher, do laundry, clean the bathroom, etc.)
- Not saying “please” and “thank you” in an audible voice or appropriate tone
- Mumbling in general
- Asking a question, then walking away before listening to my response
- Yelling to me from another room rather than walking to where I am to talk
- Responding to my question or request with an argumentative tone.
Next, I’ll pick just one or two behaviors that reflect the most important, character-related traits that I want to nurture in them. That’s what I’ll focus on addressing, and then I’ll learn to bite my tongue and ignore the rest of the list as best I can. I’m leaning towards the areas of self-regulation and gratitude, because those traits are most predictive of future well-being. I’ll gently but consistently instruct, for example, when they neglect a chore or mumble a disingenuous “thank you”; I’ll be sure to offer praise when they get it right.
Finally, I’m going to strengthen my “boy-parenting” muscles by learning more about what the heck is going on with my adolescent sons and refilling my bag of parenting tricks. That includes reaching out to you and seeking support and interaction on this topic of raising pre-adolescent and adolescent boys. Join a private Facebook discussion group on this topic (search for “Parenting Adolescent Boys – Sunshine Parenting Discussion Group” and ask to join) or comment on this post with any great resources (books, websites, podcasts) you’ve found that have helped in your parenting of pre-teen and teen boys. I’m compiling my resource list now!
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Michael Thompson, Ph.D.’s Books (on the top of my reading list!)
Parenting Teenage Boys, Psychology Today
10 Parenting Tips for Raising Teenagers, Web MD
A Parent’s Survival Guide to Teenage Boys, Dr. Laura
10 Tips for Parenting your Pre-teen, Child Mind Institute
Beyond Discipline for Pre-Teens, Aha Parenting
How to go from a Nagging Parent to a Master Motivator, A Fine Parent