I remember when my son was a teen. So many days I felt so miserable and had no idea how to feel better! I would find myself thinking, “If only he’d _____(fill in the blank with the opposite of what he was doing), I’d be a lot happier.”
What I eventually learned (better late than never, right!) is that it is possible to feel good (less stress and frustration and more peace) no matter what my son does or doesn’t do. This is because I learned that my happiness (i.e. how I felt) had more to do with me than with him.
Let me explain.
I have heard it said that one of the greatest causes of suffering is resisting what IS—in other words, when you make your happiness and inner peace contingent on something outside of yourself changing first.
This makes so much sense when you think about it: what else could you possibly hope to achieve when you try to control something that is out of your control besides suffering!
To me, resistance is a lot like worry: it takes so much emotional effort on your part that it feels like you’re going to get somewhere, but in reality, it’s an illusion—a false sense of control. The truth is that resistance (and it’s accompanying emotions like frustration and resentment) is actually a huge waste of time and energy—all that brain effort and heartache on your part has no chance of reward because in the vast majority of situations, you will not be able to change what is happening or has happened no matter how much you wish you could. So you might as well figure out how to be happy (or at least happier) despite what is going on!
It’s like if you are walking along a hiking trail and suddenly you come across a huge boulder in your path—you can wish it would move, focus on how badly you want it to move, think about how much better your life would be if it would just MOVE! But no matter how much thought or emotion you put into it, that large boulder is not going to move. You need to figure out how to have a happy hike despite the boulder in your way!
Another example: Your teen is failing math. Again. All the yelling and feeling frustrated is not going to change the math grade. You can want and wish it to be different all day long…but how s/he does in math is out of your control.
While you can’t control your circumstances (or what others do or don’t do), you can control how you think about them, which then changes how you feel, which then helps you react differently and be able to make better decisions from a more calm, peaceful place (and then also helps you get better results). No matter what is happening around you.
I’m not saying you have to think about rainbows and unicorns all the time, even if your teen is failing math. But what I am saying is that when you are in a feeling state of frustration or resentment, you are not in a space where you are going to make constructive parenting decisions (and you also run the risk of damaging your relationship with your teen when you say and do things from that frantic resisting state of mind).
So the best (only) thing you can do in those moments is focus your energy on the one and only thing you can control: your thoughts.
The first thing to do when you are RESISTING WHAT IS (as evidenced by feeling really frustrated and thinking things like, “if only things were different, I would feel better,”) is to get curious.
You can do this by wondering, “Hmmm, why is this situation causing me to feel so miserable? What am I thinking in this moment? What are the beliefs I have about parenthood and/or about how he ‘should’ be acting that is s/he violating? What am I thinking is the cause of this situation? (i.e., do I think it’s my fault? Do I think I could have done something to prevent it?)
Note: sometimes, the simple act of just being curious and wondering is enough to give you some space and perspective from the intensity of your emotions and can result in you feeling a lot better. But I urge you to go one step further (see step 2) so that you can continue to feel good as you move forward.
The next step is to find ways to see things differently–this means thinking new better-feeling thoughts about the situation. For example: when your teen fails math, instead of thinking, “He is never going to get the credits he needs to graduate,” or “Why is he doing this to me?!” you could think, “If he COULD do better, he WOULD so it’s pretty likely in this situation that his ADHD is getting in the way of him behaving differently. He just needs different tools and techniques.” Or, “This is not personal.” These new thoughts will result in different (more peaceful and calm) emotions. Then, from that more peaceful/calm place, you will be able to have a much more calm reaction and come up with some much more constructive ideas for how to help your teen.