When you first imagined being a parent, you probably imagined fun times, shared memories of meaningful connections, and perfect family meals together. It is unlikely you imagined the often-painful realities of parenting a teen that struggles with emotion dysregulation: shouting matches, crying, slammed doors, constant tiptoeing around their moods, and isolation or shame about your home life.
You might be asking yourself how did we get here. This is a common response to all of life’s struggles. As Dr. Zurita Ona points out, our brains are ready and waiting to make an excuse, but typically settle into two types of solutions: blaming ourselves or blaming others.
So, what can you do?
Compassion is the practice of “suffering together” and connecting through suffering. Click To Tweet
One option is to increase your compassion skills both towards your teen and towards yourself. This allows space for alternative understandings and acceptance of even the most painful situations that you encounter. With practice, cultivating compassion allows you to more effectively cope with the painful moments and remain connected as a parent, rather than distant or hopeless.
Compassion is the practice of “suffering together.” It is a way of connecting with your teen not just in suffering, but through suffering. Looking past the feelings of threat that show up when you are habitually in battle mode with your teen, you can begin to see how they might be experiencing you too and that you are not alone.
One way of bringing compassion into your relationship is to get familiar with your self-blaming thoughts. As you do this, you can increase your awareness of how these thoughts prevent you from being the kind of parent you want to be. Rather than struggle with these thoughts, make the time to acknowledge and accept them, examine them, then gently let them go. Remembering that this is a practice, aimed not at being a perfect parent, but at making the commitment to choose to be the parent you want to be, even while experiencing painful interactions with your teen.
Why should you practice increased compassion?
Simple, parenting is hard! Parenting teens who are struggling is even harder. As you increase your skills at compassion, you can ease some of the suffering associated with blaming thoughts of “their struggles are my fault.”
You can let go of the need to “fix” everything that went wrong and help your teen by being with them in the pain. You can start to see that all parents are imperfect and commit simply to doing the best you know how in each moment.
“Compassion skills won’t solve all the painful issues you have with your teen, but they will certainly help you cope much better with the stress, so you can focus on getting unstuck and move toward being the parent you want to be” (Zurita Ona, 2017, p. 185).
Parenting a Troubled Teen: Manage Conflict and Deal with Intense Emotions Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dr. Zurita Ona