"If I only knew then what I know now." I can't tell you how many times I've heard that from parents (and how many times I said it myself). We tend to put up with a lot until we just can't stand it anymore, and find our family in a jam, or worse. We have the best of intentions, but those intentions can lead us astray, away from what's really in our family’s best interest. You've heard the expression, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." There is a way back, and there's also a way to avoid going there altogether. Let’s get started.
One of the things I learned during my child's trial-by-fire teen years was that love and good intentions weren't enough. They were actually part of the problem. It took some work to come to terms with where I had gone wrong, and to accept that I was still a good person. This quote sums it up: "Intentions! You can have them. They can be pure and good. In your mind you will execute them in a very precise manner with the purest of hearts. Then something happens and shoots it all to hell. Does that make a person any less good? I don't think it does." (From the novel, A Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable.) Your family is doing all right, there are no crises looming. You're all chugging along. And then one day you wake up and ask yourself, "How did we get here?' Now there are some issues: disrespect, slipping grades, defiant behaviors, drinking, breaking curfew, depression.
How did you get there? There are many reasons you can find yourself on the bad road of good intentions, such as a desire for peace and quiet (also known as harmony over truth), over-giving to your children (especially when you want them to have what you didn’t have), or excessive pressure about grades. It can also be difficult to accept that life isn't quite fitting the image you had when you started your family. That ideal image is tough to let go. (I also want to be clear that you are not responsible for everything your children do. They made choices along the way; however, they had some help from you in becoming who they are now.)
How do you find your way back and do right by your kids? 1) Pay attention to that little voice or sensation in your body, the one that's telling you something isn't quite right. Ignoring it can get you all in trouble. 2) Accept that there is a situation or behavior that needs attention. Not all problems turn into a crisis, but you must pay attention and be willing to look at it.
3) Share it with someone you trust - a spouse or partner, another family member or a professional who can guide you through it. I know firsthand how difficult it is to put words to it; to admit that there's something too big to handle yourself; that maybe you made mistakes; and the embarrassment that you and your kids are struggling when everyone else seems to have it together (which they don't, because everybody has something they're dealing with).
I also remember that when I finally found the courage to voice my deepest fears and regrets, they took on a life of their own and became real. They were no longer my secret. And once I put it out there, there was no turning back. I had to act... which leads us to #4.
4) Take action, even imperfect action. Nothing changes until you do. If you wait until you're standing at the edge of a cliff, your options are limited. So do something, sooner rather than later. Resist the perfection demon, the one that says you must have everything planned out perfectly, all the steps lined up and ready to go. Many people get stuck here, and lose sight of the bigger picture of what needs to be accomplished. You need a first step. The rest will follow.
This is the way back. Don't wait for a little unpleasantness to turn into a big problem. Be aware and proactive. Share and take a step to break those unproductive habits and attitudes, so you can all be your best, unique, amazing selves.
Fern Weis is a parent coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more). With parent-centered coaching, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life’s challenges. Learn more about coaching and workshops at www.fernweis.com. And while you’re there, download a free report, “Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk.”