“I HATE YOU!” spits out Kathy, my mate, Blue Eyes’s teenage daughter, she has just involuntarily moved in with us. These are the first words she’s uttered to me in months and are in response to my attempt at re-opening communication lines. It’s a start, I think to myself and the venomous barrage of false accusations and insults are much more revealing than she’d like them to be.
Admittedly, a wee part of me wants to hate back, damn it this is MY house!! But an inner voice quietly reminds me, “Who’s the adult here?” and I take a deep breath. Hmph. So now I’m being watched by my inner voice, that nettlesome guardian angel that hovers atop the highest tree and sees it all quite clearly. 360º and then some.
As the teenage tongue lashing continues, Kathy’s eyes ablaze with pent-up fury, angry pimples ready to erupt like little volcanos, I mentally close my eyes and listen to the weighty words that crowd the air. Expressions far surpassing teen comprehension are being flung about.
Her mini Mt. Vesuvius complexion reminds me of where I was emotionally when I sported my own facial battlefield. Mercifully, a wave of compassion for my young adversary washes over me and I take in another deep breath.
Once again that inner voice calmly coaches me… while the onslaught is spilling from Kathy’s lips, I recognize she is merely the teenage messenger. She appears to be shape-shifting right before my eyes as she morphs into her mother.
It becomes clear to me that the verbal assault is a direct, long awaited hit straight from her mother’s lips. Delivered by her daughter, an innocent bystander being used as an envoy of hate. Oy!
Feeling rather like I’ve just been ejected from a tornado, I reel awkwardly and reassemble the pieces, but differently this time. My initial reactiveness migrates toward empathy, the ensuing clarity and understanding causes a major paradigm shift in my being. I’ve just put myself in her brightly colored sneakers.
Holy epiphany… Kathy is fighting her mother’s battles, not hers.
This teenage girl is carrying her mother’s unbearable emotional burden. Unbearable because she is being errantly guided to choose between parents. Pushed to love one and not the other. Made to suffer the pain of a parental break-up doubly. Doubly because Kathy already has her own feelings of abandonment to wade through and now, out of imposed loyalty, is being flooded by her mother’s feelings of disappointment and anger.
Okay, triply because at Kathy’s age, she just doesn’t have the tools to wrangle any of those confusing emotional monsters.
This is a teenage mindscape mess I wouldn’t wish on even my worst enemy. And it looks like I have at least one.
Stumbling about in someone else’s shoes is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned because it is humbling. Plus their footwear may not be of the fine Italian leather variety I favor. You really have to step outside your ego to learn that one. Really step outside of it.
Truly being present and aware in all those ill-fitting shoes is the first step towards doing a paradigm shift.
Now when I see the black thunder cloud my new teenage teacher, Kathy wears over her head and feel the contemptuous glances she shoots my way I smile gently and say ‘hi’. And I feel great appreciation because by unwittingly fighting another’s battles she’s taught me a most valuable lesson.
All that anger and hate she tries so hard to direct my way is not hers at all and furthermore, it has absolutely nothing to do with me.
I think I’ll go out and buy myself a pair of screamin’ purple sneakers.
Have you had a paradigm shift in parenting teens?
I’d love to hear about it! Please share your experience in the comment section.
Paradigm Shift |ˈpɛrəˌdaɪm ʃɪft|nouna fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.ORIGIN 1970s: term used in the writings of Thomas S. Kuhn (1922–96), philosopher of science.