As kids grow into being teenagers the needs of kids change. Often growing up, dads seem to work a lot more, spending less quality time with their children. This is due to work demands but also cultural norms which often see mum playing an increasing parenting role. But teenagers need dad’s presence just as much as they do mum.
My daughter often now goes to bed after I do. Last night I was going to sleep at 10 pm. I came downstairs to wish my wife good night and I found my daughter awake. Still doing what she normally is doing. This made me a bit angry because I know she struggles to wake up in the morning. On the weekend sleeping in in the morning until 11 am or midday. Furthermore, I know that sleep patterns are often linked to mental health. Lack of sleep effects how we think and feel. I was a bit angry with her saying, “why aren’t you already in bed” and “This is why you are so sick because you are not getting, enough, sleep”.
As I reflected on what I said to her, part of me realised the timing of what I said really did not take full effect. At 14 years of age teenagers are often seeking independence from their parents. Wanting to be their own person. Make their own decisions. But mixed into this equation, is negative self-talk. A voice in their head which is constantly criticising themselves for not just what others do or say, but what they themselves do and say about themselves.
My daughter recently was writing a list of “how to identify a teenager” with checkbox comments like “teenagers often back chat parents”, “teenagers hate waking up early”, “teenagers like to question everything” and “teenagers like to do things their own way”. I quickly wrote next to these check boxes “mummy and daddy love all of you”, but sadly, my youngest son came along and rubbed off my positive comment.
The next day I realised that what our daughter needs is not more criticism and more critique around what she is not doing perfectly. As a teenager, she is quite structured and organised in her time. Further criticism only feeds more into her negative self-talk. But she needs people around her that build her up. That affirm her. That tell her she is doing good. That tell her she is doing the right thing. People around her that allow her to be her. People around her that listen to her and sit with her. Parents and adults tell her “What do you think”, “That is a good idea…”, “tell me more….” And maybe spend some fun time with her. Creating moments of fun which breaks the pressure of having to perform and of having to be perfect. Parents who are a voice that reminds her to mindfully create a positive self image, but also increasingly aware to capture the negative self talk when it appears.
As a dad I have to remind myself to break out of my habits of a rigid structure which I apply to my 8 year old son. As each child grows and changes. I need to adapt and change. To listen more and realise the needs are not necessarily built on what I think. But rather, by reflecting and pondering, what my child needs.
Parenting is an artwork. Like a sculpture who creatively wilds different artistic brushers. Like plasticine, some times you have straight edges, sometimes round edges, sometimes pointy parts. As a dad I need to learn to play with plasticine and be willing to grow and change just as my child grows and changes.
Flexibility. Like Marcellin Champagnat. Dads need strong minds and a gentle heart.
As a parent it is hard to know when to be flexible and also when to set boundaries. We cannot always be friends otherwise children do not learn the full perspective of life. It is easier to take the easier option rather than the Road Less Travelled. As a parent we must model for our children when to take difficult parts of life, so that when our children face the difficult path or the struggle alone they are more prepared.
Andrew (Marist Laity) 2022-11-19
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