It can be heartbreaking when our loving child turns into a teenager who criticizes our every move. The same child who used to run to meet us at the door with open arms now turns a critical eye to the things we do and say. It is a hard change to accept, causing many of us feel rejected or even betrayed.
But we needn’t feel that way.
Young children are comforted by the notion that their parents possess superior wisdom, seeming to always know what is best for them. But once children hit adolescence, the rose-colored glasses begin to disintegrate, and they start to challenge this high pedestal where their parents reside. And while this is usually a very difficult process for parents to adjust to, it is an essential part of growing up.
If adolescents feel like they can never identify with their perfect parents – that they can never be as good as them – they will always feel inferior and incapable. And it is for this reason that our teens need to cut us down to human size. Criticizing and finding fault with us empowers them to be imperfect too. If they can spot our ignorance, inadequacies, failings, and failures, they can identify and embrace their own as well. What a relief!
So, we shouldn’t take this criticism and downsizing personally. There is nothing “wrong” with us. Instead, it is about teenagers needing to have imperfect parents so that they can assuage their own self-doubts, feelings of incapacity, and insecurities.
In fact, we can help our teens embrace both our and their imperfections by encouraging this downsizing. And we can do this by:
Announcing Our Failures. When we let our teenager know that we have had – and still have – failures, we empower our teenager to keep trying themselves. If we can treat failures as a testimony of effort, we communicate to our teen that the only real failure becomes the failure to try. So, for example, if we don’t get a promotion that we were expecting, we can share this experience with our teen and then discuss what our next course of action will be.
Admitting Our Shortcomings. When we point out our own inadequacies, accepting them as part of our human nature, our teenager can become more self-accepting too. As opposed to something that should be hidden, we expose our shortcomings and accept them as part of being human. So, if our teen catches us making a mistake, we can simply fess up and say something like, “I’ve never been good at following directions.”
When we treat mistakes as experiences with instructional value, our teen can feel encouraged to learn from this mistake-based education too. Persistent mistakes are especially valuable, because they show that, even though it can be hard to get it right, it is important to keep trying.
Offering Apologies. When we apologize to our teens, admitting and regretting what we did or said that hurt them, we encourage them not only to forgive themselves, but to expect forgiveness too. Apologies strengthen relationships, because they allow us not only to admit to wrong-doing, but to also commit to not repeating the misstep again.
Sharing Hard-Won Lessons. When we share our own struggles and reverses, we provide an example that our teenager can relate to and learn from. Self-sharing affirms what we primarily have to give our teens: an understanding of who and how they are. When we share our hard-won lessons, we provide teens the opportunity to learn from what we learned the hard way.
Playfully Putting Ourselves Down. When we, with humility and humor, identify our struggles and missteps, we humanize ourselves by accepting our own imperfections. Honest self-depreciation can encourage teens to be more self-accepting too. So, the next time we trip up, we can choose to take it in stride, saying something like, “Can you believe it? I blew it again!” Doing so sets a powerful example to our teens, showing them that they, too, can approach challenges with humor and ease.
So, let’s embrace imperfection. Because, if we appear to live a life free of mistakes and failings – or if we expect our teens to live up to a standard of perfection – we make them feel that they will never be good enough. But if we openly embrace our imperfections, our teens can accept theirs as well. For this reason, our teens need to have imperfect parents. And as it turns out, we need permission to be imperfect too.
Published with permission from Who Stole My Child?: Parenting through the Four Stages of Adolescence.