I've been working in this field for ten years, and this page's content has been the most challenging to write (and so it spilled over into a blogpost). Probably because the parenting role for many, myself included, is simply one of the most important, harrowing, and rewarding roles we can play. Counseling adults with depression when I'm sad, or people with panic disorders or mood swings when I'm off kilter myself, or couples with relationship stress when mine isn't working so well... These efforts have been challenging but manageable. Therapists know the drill. Our training and aspirations have us pretty well-adjusted, let's hope, and so we are able to leave our personal strife mostly at home and bring our very best energy and discernment to clients and their troubles.
But for me, counseling parents or teens when my relationships with my daughters were at their worst would've been nearly impossible to do with adequate confidence, so I didn't begin working with parents and adolescents on their specific challenges until a few years ago. That is to say, somewhere along the way, my daughters and I arrived at something we regard as a pretty strong and wonderful relationship, and the more we practice the things that make it so, the more stable and loving it becomes, and the more confident I feel guiding others on this particularly sacred and sometimes damn scary journey.
Here is a double edged sword that I bring to any work I do with parents and that infuses my work with teens:
If we really want to know our children, if we really desire genuine, open communication with them, we have got to be brave enough not to shut the doors on the particular content that scares or offends us, which includes not overemphasizing the pride-producing content we would prefer instead. We want them to be open with us, right? Then we must be unconditionally open to them and hear and hold whatever is likely already happening in their lives to make them unhappy and us worry — no more cherry-picking the good stuff over the bad. Doing so shuts doors, says we can't handle the anything and everything that we signed on to handle as parents, and really makes lame our expectation that our kids be able to handle themselves well in any circumstance if we can't do the same.
Both my daughters, now ages 21 and 19, have remarked that being able to bring the shameful painful hard stuff to me has been very important to their development of self-awareness and confidence. Where their experiences were offensive or foreign to me, where I really wanted to hold and honor only the good, I needed to lean in more, cut through my own preferences and aversions, so I could understand and respect their very personal logical ups and downs better, i.e., so that I could hold and honor their holding and honoring of all their experiences, period.
That took a lot of humility and courage on my part, to be honest. It was hard work to relax my need for my kids to be ok when they weren’t. But when I realized the mutual joy and benefit of learning who my kids really are and how they operate through their tough times — sometimes quite apart from who I am and how I operate — I found myself inviting rather than antagonizing their heartbreaks and confusion. These apparent negatives have an open invitation in our home to sit right alongside the accomplishments and insights and strengths, and to reveal themselves as equally important to development, and basically good and workable. They simply have to be.