Relationship Parenting – A 21st Century Requirement

By Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

“She doesn’t need me. She tells me a thousand ways everyday.”

Don’t believe it. She does need you. Now more than ever.

The parent/child connection is our most precious and enduring relationship. Like Yin and Yang, the sun and moon, Laurel and Hardy, one cannot exist without the other. We belong together. We balance one another. When it works, it feeds our soul. When it doesn’t, it is demoralizing and destabilizing – for both parent and child.

Cultivating relational health in your parent/adolescent relationship, even when your teen is actively blocking you, takes reinvention, persistence and a willingness to look inward. It can be a difficult transition moving from parenting an adoring, pretty-perfect, pre-adolescent child to parenting a teen, whose developmental job is to differentiate from her parents.

Differentiation is that growing space between you and your adolescent, where too much space becomes disconnection and too little space hinders growth. The parent/child relationship from birth onward is all about negotiating that precious space.

One way of thinking about and measuring the health of your parent/adolescent relationship is to take a closer look at the quality of the space between you and your child. This can be measured by how reactive you are around your child. Space brings calm, the ability to see more clearly. It is where the relationship thrives.

The parent/adolescent relationship demands flexibility simply because a teen’s changing needs and sense of self is dynamic and in constant flux. Understanding your teen is much like reading a book where crucial plot points are redacted. Teens are literally hard to read. And because communication changes so drastically during adolescence, it’s critical that parents adjust their expectations and perceptions along the way – not only of their child but also of themselves.

This means, quite simply, that parents must grow alongside their teen. It is a parallel process of mutual growth. It is as much internal work as it is external.

Relying solely on grades, friends or other external factors to gauge the well-being of our adolescent children can be misleading. It takes the parent out of the relational space, making them judge and juror, someone who is watching their life, not part of their life. This leads to a power dynamic where both parent and adolescent struggle with who holds the power between them, creating a match of wills.

A relationship is not one of power, but of connection, that includes mutual respect and self-respect.

Because teens want to keep parents at bay, to insure their social-emotional freedom, kids become expert actors, transforming themselves into who their parents want them to be. When parents attune to the relationship, they see beyond the “act.” Because relational parents work at being curious and engaged, teens are less likely to hide in plain sight.

In an age where cyber friending passes as relationship currency, parents are called upon as an antidote to heightening social and emotional alienation.

Real time connection is fast becoming a 21st century parenting requirement. Our children need parents to ground them, to daily sit across from them, face to face, to talk, to listen, to work through the discomfitures of this most important relationship, and to not cave in to the scowl but insist upon what’s beneath.

Only seven percent of communication is verbal, the rest is vocal, facial, gesture and posture. Parents who zero in on their child’s non-verbal language tune into their teen in a more comprehensive way. Kids need to be seen. All the cyber visibility in the world will never replace what it feels like to be seen in real time.

The 21st century parent/adolescent relationship is much like turning the radio on. When there is static, you automatically adjust the dial for clearer reception. Static is important. Static lets parents know something is up, something needs attention. Static catches your attention. It’s the red blinking light. You know to slow down and focus in, to both yourself and your child.

In 1953, pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the term, “good enough mother.” The good enough parent is someone who works at it, but is not always successful, someone who doesn’t give up, someone who accepts the messiness and work of relationship.

The success of the parent/adolescent relationship must start with the parent. Many parents don’t like to hear this. Old school parenting thinking creeps in – “do as I say, not as I do.” “How dare she talk to me that way? She needs to change.” But the parent/adolescent relationship must remain an inherently unequal relationship. Parents must be in charge. They must set the relational standard. Your efforts now will be repaid hundredfold in your child’s future relationships, both personal and professional.

Our 21st century teens consider themselves relationship savvy and cooly cynical about connection, especially when it comes to their parents. Yet they are craving authentic connection. Teens today have instant access to escaping any relationship that hints at awkward or scary. This is where relational parenting comes in.

Our children are fast becoming the Disconnect Generation. Whenever they are the least bit relationally uncomfortable, they can block, delete, or un-friend anyone in an instant. Sitting in their room pondering life, sitting with “awkward” or “scary,” without screen escapism, is fast becoming ancient history. Parents are beginning to truly grasp the stark reality that we have no control over what worlds our children enter behind their bedroom door.

All the more reason then, that relational parenting is needed more than ever. Solid, firm and loving connection is the antidote to silence behind closed doors. Our 21st century children are in need of their parents’ presence in their everyday lives. Tenacity is at the top of the list of parenting traits we must all acquire. We must stick to our children with a different kind of glue, a glue that binds parent and child in real time connection.

Finally, parenting takes courage. A lot. It asks a lot of parents to stay connected to children who send strong messages they are no longer needed. But please don’t believe them. You are needed now more than ever.

Everyone benefits when parents commit to relational parenting, to insisting on connection with their child. Our children need us in a new kind of way. They need our presence, our conversation, our ability to be firm and loving and calm. They need us to keep trying, to not forget how important we are to them. They need us to insist on relationship and to remind them that life is all about cultivating those relationships, those real relationships.

 

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer. She specializes in struggling adolescents and their families. She helps parents focus on relationship, attachment and connection and helps teens achieve greater developmental well-being.
She is writing a book that explores 21st century parenting.Kimberly is married with four kids and divides her time between her private practice in Arlington and Vermont.
Find out more and read her blog at KimberlyHackett.com. Kimberly can be reached at 617-475-0942, or email – Hackett.kimberly@gmail.com.

 

Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of CTM’s editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional, diagnosis or treatment.

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