I was talking to a colleague at school. I asked a question, he gave me a serious answer. This man usually jokes around a lot, so I really enjoyed having a more intimate conversation with him. When he's joking around, I find myself playing along and being part of it. But... if I'm honest about it... it's work for me. At some level I'm not enjoying myself. To understand why this is so, you need to hear about the shy, awkward teenager I was.
I was always shy, feeling more comfortable with adults than kids my own age. That's true as far back as I can remember, even at the age of five. Fast forward to 17. I'm at regular weekend get-togethers at the homes of friends in my youth group. Most of the kids are known to me, week after week. I'm the one sitting on a chair in the corner, smile on my face, watching everyone else mingling and having (or seeming to have) a good time. And I sit. And watch. And then it's over and I go home. I've been out, but I might as well have stayed home for all the socializing I didn't do.
And one day I just decided that it was no way to live, that I had to get past my own shyness and insecurity and just 'get out there'. So I did. At the next party, I forced myself to be part of conversations, laugh, make jokes, maybe even flirt a little... in other words, I was a participant, not an observer. And when it was over, I was EXHAUSTED! It was such hard work and took everything out of me.
Like any other skill, this one took practice. Week after week I worked it, until one day (probably years later) it came automatically. No doubt about it, it's a great skill to develop. Truth be told, though, I still don't enjoy large groups of people. I much prefer small groups or one-on-one where I can talk to people at a deeper level and really get to know them. I can hold my own just about anywhere, but it's not as satisfying, and I find I need some down time afterwards.
Fast forward 40 years, to that morning in school. You see, it had all become so automatic that I didn't think about it anymore. And then the AHA moment. I don't need to engage in those 'one of the guys' moments all the time. It's okay to sit back and just be the 'quiet' me.
I'm glad I pushed myself in my teen years --- my life definitely changed for the better. I am proud of my courage and determination at that tender age. I wouldn't want to be the person I was back then. But I don't need that attention, not so much of it, anymore. I'm more settled and accepting of me. Age and experience give you that, and thank goodness, too. I don't have that kind of energy now. And, as the song says, "I gotta be me."
Of course, I throw out a challenge to you. Who are you? Who do you sometimes pretend to be? How does it serve you (or does it)? I encourage you to bring this up in conversation with your children. They desperately need to know that their teenage angst and confusion is normal, and there is hope that they will get through it, just as you did. Their life is all about being accepted. Most everything they do is an effort to belong.
They believe you have always been the person they see before them, in spite of you insisting you know how they feel, you were young once, too. Share your challenges and struggles with them. I guarantee you will inspire them! I know it did with my kids. These are the moments when you can teach without lecturing. You can be a real person to them, instead of just the provider, driver and person with whom they fight for control. Do it now. They are waiting.
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach. She works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life's challenges. FernWeis.com | 201-747-9642