I have often told my daughters that “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.” What I neglected to tell them was that there are a lot more frogs out there than there are princes…or princesses for that matter. My oldest daughter has put this theory to the test and my youngest has informed me that you don’t have to kiss ANY frogs in order to find your prince; you just have to wait it out until he comes along.
How can we, as parents, aid our teens and young adults in their quest for relationship learning? Communication, patience, and understanding. In this matter, communication should consist primarily of listening. No matter what advice you give, only about half of it will be heard and only about half of that will be taken seriously. I told my daughters multiple times during their high school crushes to “think about it; it is highly unlikely that anyone you date during your high school years will be the person that you remain with for the rest of your life.” While this is usually true, this does not stop their high school hearts from being convinced that THIS ONE is THE ONE for them. Reality is based upon our perception and when they perceive they are in love, it is as strong and as real as the love we feel for them.
As you listen to their thoughts and emotions, be aware of openings in which you can slip in small words of advice. Remember that unless there is an immediate concern, lengthy instructions are not going to be well-tolerated or even heard. When they talk about their friends, ask: “What do you think of how they handled that situation?” “How do you think they may have handled it better?” “What could have gone wrong?” “How would you handle such a situation?” These conversations provide openings for thought-provoking questions and give you a glimpse of the thought process of your own teen/young adult. Do not be afraid to use your own experiences as an example. We all did “crazy” things when we were teens and unless it is something that continues to trouble you, our own experiences allow our children to realize that we were once their age, we remember the trials of the age, and we didn’t always make the wisest choice, either. Illustrations of how we handled situations and remarks of how we wished we had handled the situation allow our children to learn through our experiences.
Be forewarned – this does not necessarily mean that they will not make their own mistakes! They learn from our experiences, but sometimes repeat rather than avoid them.
Patience with teens/young adults is a necessity and is often in short supply. Our children are exploring the world and life and they will not always do what we hope. They are going to argue, wheedle, complain and rebel in order to get what they believe they want, often only to find they didn’t want it anyway. Patience is the key – but I will always advise that a parent should not pray for patience. [The answer to a prayer for patience is a series of tests of that patience. I can do without that!] Patience is better practiced than prayed for. Let your teen/young adult know up-front that there will often be situations where you need to take the information away from the conversation and carefully consider it before giving them answers. It is time they learn that life is not cut-and-dry, all black-and-white. Often consideration is necessary in order to make the best situation. With us as their examples by which they should learn, what better way to illustrate careful consideration than by demonstrating it? Walk away, contemplate carefully and plan your response. When you are ready to deliver your thoughts, be prepared for resistance. Ask how they believe the situation should be handled; ask them for modifications to your suggestion that might be acceptable to both of you; come to a compromise that fits their needs and your needs. Safety and well-being – physical, emotional and spiritual health – are a parent’s main concern for their child. Let them know these are the aspects important to you so they can understand your decisions on a level other than “because I say so.”
If you foster open communication with your child, sooner or later you are going to hear something you will wish you hadn’t. This is where understanding becomes critical. The first time my oldest daughter talked to me about a sexual experience, I told her that I would rather not hear about it. She looked at me in surprise and stated: “But you always told me that I could talk to you about anything.” I had. Had I meant it? At the time, I meant it with all my heart, but in reality we find that there are some situations about which we would rather not know. My daughter needed instruction and she turned to me. I had to deal with the fact that she had been sexually active in order to help her understand the repercussions of her choice and to help her search for ways to steer the relationship back to a reasonable path. It was difficult for both of us, but had I refused to deal with the situation – had I abandoned understanding – she would still be struggling with her choice and the relationship. None of us believe that parenting is a stress-free, never-get-your-hands-dirty job. But we often wish that we could avoid the real nitty-gritty situations that are bound to arise sooner or later. By avoiding, we are doing neither ourselves or our children justice. Think back to a time when you required understanding – and forgiveness – from another person. Understanding and forgiveness do not mean that you condone actions/choices, nor does it mean that there are no repercussions of those actions/choices. It does mean that while we explain why we cannot condone and help our teens/young adults understand the repercussions, we use compassion as their parents.
From the time our children are born, we embark on the journey of raising them to be self-sufficient adults. If we do it right, we find out a lot about ourselves and we foster healthy, open relationships with them along the way. Communication, patience and understanding go a long way in that journey.