When my daughter was in high school, she taught me a valuable lesson – how to keep my mouth shut and stop over giving.
I arranged my life so that I could work from home for the 4 years she was in high school. I wanted to be there for her. Naturally, like any mother, I idealized the fun we’d have. We would talk, have lunch and do things together. I was living in a fantasy. She didn’t want any of that, but as it turned out, she did benefit greatly from my consistent presence.
I was so attached to my idea of giving
I was so focused on wanting to help her, love her and support her self-esteem that I didn’t see her true needs for longer than I’d like to admit! I was disappointed that she didn’t want my help. I’d pick her up from school and begin to ask questions, she’d clam up. Near the end of her sophomore year, I finally started to wise up – what can I say, I’m sometimes a slow learner when it comes to people I love. Over giving was habitual for me. When I’d remain silent, she was more likely to start the conversation. Keep in mind, however, that just as often she wouldn’t speak at all. She was processing her day. She needed quiet time after the intense stimulation of a noisy, action-packed, high school environment. My daughter was an introvert, I’m not sure why it took me so long to understand and honor that. If she shared something, my best response was to just acknowledge what she had said. When I added my 2-cents, “Oh, really? Well, did you tell them…,” she’d clam up. I’d realize my mistake, but it was too late she was gone again.
Teens are struggling with autonomy, over giving just makes that harder for them
Sometimes she wouldn’t share with me for days. It was agonizing! Didn’t she want my help? NO! She had had plenty of time to absorb all of my good intentions over the years. Now it was time for her to explore on her own. She was engaged in her own autonomy and figuring things out for herself. This is when you have to back off and trust that you’ve done a good job up to now. This is hard for an over giver, it’s hard for any parent. The enormous opportunity here is to now turn toward yourself and model the behavior rather than talk about it as is our tendency. Teens may appear to stop listening, but they are keenly observing you and everyone else. If you are surprised by that consider how self-conscious they are. They think everyone is watching them the same way they are watching others. They do this to figure things out, to try on different attributes, behaviors, styles etc.
Somewhere near the end of those four years, my daughter told me “You’re the best mom ever.” Of course, I believed there were a hundred things I could have done better, but I tried to let it in. I was there, I showed up time and time again and we both knew that. What’s more, what touched my heart was that she appreciated it.
I sincerely wanted to learn how to offer what was needed and no more. She helped me understand that over giving discredits the other person and that giving only what the other can receive is a show of respect and trust. Saying less and trusting more honors both of you. By focusing on your behavior, your needs and communicating those needs clearly without blame or even reference to the other person is a kindness. Naturally, everyone is different and one size does not fit all when it comes to teens! You have to honor your child by looking at who they are and who you are to them.
My workshops, classes, and coaching provide instruction and examples of how to communicate what you feel and need without freaking out the other person. Check out my free assessment at www.TruePotentialQuiz.com or consider private coaching