Why Raising Your Teenager Means Raising Yourself First as a Parent
We’ve all had our moments as parents that we’d like to forget. In my experience, it’s losing my cool in front of my kids, raising my voice, and saying something I instantly regretted. I often asked myself, how can I have more patience and react in a less impulsive manner?
To find an answer to that question, we spoke with Kimberly Hackett, a therapist and parent coach, who created the original Parenting You model that makes parenting about the parent, and not the child. Read on to understand how this philosophy of parenting can help us all with our day-to-day interactions with our tweens and teens.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the Parenting You philosophy.
I’m a mom of four adult kids, ages 24-31. Parenting You evolved during my work as an adolescent and family therapist and from my years of parenting and from being a kid. Parenting is hard work because it demands more of us than we think we're capable. We grow as people and as parents when we meet these challenges.
When working as a family therapist, it was clear I needed to help parents embrace the challenges of parenting. Parents are generally overwhelmed across the board. They are fearful and lack confidence and don’t trust themselves. It’s why the how-to parent-book business has exploded.
Parenting You helps parents focus on themselves. What’s challenging them and why? What’s really going on? What’s getting in the way of being the parent they want to be and the parent their child needs them to be?
The goal of Parenting You is to make parenting about the parent. To help parents parent themselves so they can move into leadership. And to think about parenting as this incredible opportunity for personal growth, healing and repair. Our kids are supposed to push our buttons – the question is – what are you going to do about it?
How is Parenting You different from other parenting philosophies?
Parenting You is about parents asking themselves: "What’s getting in the way of connection, of being the parent I want to be and the parent my child needs me to be? The answer takes parents on a journey inward. How was I parented? What worked? What didn’t? Why do I feel this way? What's the real story behind this feeling?
Most parenting philosophies focus on the external “job” of raising kids, not the internal life of parents. We spend a lot of energy understanding the psychology of kids but very little on the psychology of parents. When, in fact, we all know children are shaped by adult reactivity. When adults aren’t aware of their reactivity, and see child behavior as something that needs managing, they do a huge disservice to their child, but also to their chance to know and love themselves – which always benefits children.
How does Parenting You help parents to grow as adults and connect with their child at the same time?
Parenting You is inner work. Parents get to know how their protective system works. In order to stay connected to their children, parents must choose to get to know, love and understand unresolved pain. That's the work. Otherwise, we tend to parent from reactivity and when that happens, we are disconnected from ourselves and, of course, our child.
Parenting You teaches parents to get to know their inner child, to connect the past to the present, to take charge of their parenting style and the quality of their parent-child relationship. It teaches parents not blame children or block the past, but instead to move into outer leadership through inner leadership and to truly know themselves.
How can this model transform a parent’s relationship with their teen?
Well this is the real reason I developed this work. Kids can’t change parents into who they need them to be. They try with behavior though. Unfortunately, what is true, is some parents whose children are at risk are forced to deal with what’s not working at home. But even then, it’s hard for parents to take responsibility for themselves It’s painful. Difficult. Even though parents know their child needs them too, it’s often too hard to connect their childhood to what’s not working with their child.
Parenting from reactivity (from strong feeling, fear, frustration, etc) is how parents know there’s work to do. Every parent reacts but not every parent wants to deal with why they are reacting and how it is shaping their family system.
Taking responsibility for feelings, getting to know them and express them is what kids want from their parents and it is exactly what parents want for their kids. It’s emotional health, relationship health. It’s knowing why you feel the way you do and being able to express the feeling without doing damage to yourself or others.
Emotional health is what all parents want for their kids and it’s what kids need from their parents. Emotional health comes when parents are invested in understanding what’s getting in the way of connection. Reactivity is the red flag that tells parents there’s work to do.
What are some ways or techniques that parents can connect with their Middle or High Schooler who won't respond to questions about their day?
The first question I ask parents is, why are you asking your kids about their day and what’s going on in their lives? Are you asking for you or for them? If you are asking for yourself, because you Need something from your child, then the question is reactive.
And your child will react.
I might ask my son about his school day because I’m anxious that he didn’t go to all his classes or concerned he had another bad day or worried he’s losing his chance to go to a good college. This is about me and my son will know it.
But if I check in with myself first, acknowledge I have a reactive part but I’m going to let it take over, the conversation between my son and I will go very differently. He will feel my interest and curiosity more than he feels my anxiety and fear.
Getting to know what’s getting in the way of connection with your child means getting to know the feelings that your child is triggering in you.
What should parents do if they feel as though their teenager may have an issue in school (for example bullying), but they won't talk to them?
Have a family meeting. Make the family meeting a Thing you do. It’s simple and all about connection. Go to my website to download my free e-book on How to Run a Family Meeting the Parenting You Way – KimberlyHackett.com.
A family meeting is a safe place to surface whatever’s going on, problem-solve together and keep communication going. Connection is everything. Where parents’ get in trouble is they don’t realize they are parenting from reactivity, which moves parents into managing their kid’s behavior and struggles rather than connecting to them.
Any techniques parents can do when they feel angry at their child to avoid yelling and escalating a conflict further with their teenager?
It’s ok to be angry. But parents are leaders and need to take responsibility for what they’re feeling. If you let anger take over and parent your child, connection is lost. And there’s no point. You’re talking but your child is busy reacting to your reactivity. Only the parent (leader) can break the cycle. But it starts with understanding why you are reacting in the first place. You can’t fake calm if you don’t feel calm. Kids are the first to burst that bubble.
Nothing good comes from disconnection. First parents have to parent themselves. It’s literally taking time out to calm yourself down with self-talk. The adult You soothing the Inner You who is triggered. Once you feel space, and you will, then you must go back to whatever was going on with you and your child. But this time you’ll have options. When you are reactive, there are no options.
Can you provide some tips for gaining confidence as a parent of a teenager?
Self-care is how you gain confidence. Self-care meaning how well you love and take care of your inner life. When you’re triggered, you make a U-turn and spend a few moments calming yourself down, all the while doing the work of getting to know know why you are triggered.
Self-care is self-talk or parent to inner child talk. How do you talk to yourself when you’re angry? How do you talk to your Anger? What’s the story behind Anger? What does Anger need from You? You are the only one who can give yourself what you need.
Thanks to Kimberly Hackett for her helpful guidance and tips and reminder that we also need to look inward as parents before looking at our growing children. We hope that Kimberly’s advice is beneficial to you as you as you raise your tweens and teens, along with raising yourself as a parent!
Kimberly Hackett, MA, LMHC, is the founder and creator of Parenting You, an online parenting community that makes parenting about the parent. She is a former adolescent and family therapist and now calls herself a parent coach/educator. Kimberly has 4 adult kids ages 24-31 and lives in Vermont and NYC with her husband Kevin. Get more info and learn about her upcoming workshops at: www.KimberlyHackett.com
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.