Thursday, July 9, 2015

Parents Living in Teenage Hell

Teenage hell.  Although we have no children (other than our beloved fur babies), I have great empathy and respect for parents, especially those raising teenagers.  I've heard about and wiped the tears created by "teenage hell."  Teens think they go through this hell alone, but that nasty, hormone dense tug o' war between youth and adulthood is something the parents are also forced to endure.  If you love your kid, you feel their pain, confusion and trouble as if it were your own.  To make things worse, teenagers often blame the parents for all of it!

As an objective bystander, I find the whole thing really tragic.  One of my closest friends and my brother is suffering in teenage hell at this very moment and have been for three or four years; the teenagers fling nasty, rude or ambivalent remarks their way on a daily basis, probably multiple times each day.  The empathy I feel for them is palpable, and I cannot do anything to help.  And I so want to.  

I know what a parent does NOT want to hear after they vent about their bratty teenagers:  "It's going to be okay.  He will grow out of it.  She doesn't really hate you.  She loves you..."  

And parents also do NOT want to get unsolicited parenting advice, especially from a childless rebel like me... "Have you ever tried this?  Or that?  I read an article about parenting online; I'm sure it will help you."

And worse yet -- and I'll admit I've uttered these same words in a vain attempt to comfort a friend -- venting parents definitely do NOT want to hear their friend say:  "Oh, I get it completely.  You know what I do when my cats misbehave?  I get out the spray bottle and..."  Although I must add that spraying your kids in the face with some water would at least get their attention when they are staring at you glaze-eyed, dramatically sighing, as you read them the riot act about a recent rule infraction.

So I find myself floundering uncomfortably, unsure what I should say, what will comfort my friend as she goes through this emotional rollercoaster with her teenage hellion?

The Buddhist in me says, "You don't have to say anything.  Just listen with an open heart."  And this does offer some solace to my friends, I think, though it is not the impactful aid I would like to offer them.  So I thought, since I do my best thinking when I'm in front of a keyboard, I would attempt a blog entry on the subject.  So my wonderful keyboard... let's figure this out together, shall we?

What should I say when my friends and family vent about their incorrigible teenagers?  Well, step one is I have to be one hundred percent there with them, really put myself in their shoes, which means engaging with the teenager myself, if that is possible.  But it also means visualizing, feeling, understanding what it's like to live in teenage hell.

How would it feel to have the person you love most in the world, your child, look at you with seething hatred, day by day?  How would it feel to have your child pull away from you, grimace and cringe at your touch?  How would it feel if your child could not bear to be in the same room with you, much less actually engage with you in a meaningful way?  How would it feel if your child rejected your advice or ideas about almost everything, even ridiculed your mannerisms, speech, dress, behavior -- you name it --  as old-fashioned or boring or silly?  How would it feel to know that your presence, especially in front of their friends, embarrasses them?  How would it feel to have them forget you on Mother's Day, Father's Day, your birthday?  How would it feel to have your child shrug off all your attempts to help, ignore your gestures of affection and never say thank you for the myriad things you do for them on a daily basis?  How would it feel if they blamed you for everything that goes wrong?  How would it feel if your child wanted nothing to do with you unless it involved spending money or some other reward or gift?  How would it feel if your child said, "I hate you.  I will never forgive you for this"?  

The answer is it would be absolutely AWFUL.  It would be heart-breaking, make you feel insecure, depressed, confused, angry, resentful, helpless, hopeless.  While you have to discipline your teenagers, hold them accountable, ensure their safety, teach them to be respectful, responsible, etc., that makes the parent the bad guy, the jailor, the boss... And honestly, who wants to spend a lot of time with their jailor or their boss?  It makes sense to me why a teenager might want to distance themselves from their parents.

So this relationship, between parent and teen, is doomed from the start, isn't it?  At least it seems that way on the surface.  I definitely do not have the answers, but I do think I can understand both sides of this slippery coin.  I don't have kids, but I do have fur babies, and that's a mad, mad love, I assure you.  And I am not a teenager, but in some ways, because we don't have kids, my husband and I never really grew up.  So yeah, I think I can see it from both angles.

And then I put myself in the teenager's shoes.  And here's where the really interesting stuff comes to light.  I think:  What would it be like if you felt like a grown-up but felt trapped inside a teenager's body?  What would it be like to desperately crave independence but had to follow someone else's rules, day after day?  What would it be like to feel like your parents didn't trust you but you kept screwing things up so couldn't earn their trust?  Or maybe they were just too paralyzed with fear about your well-being that they never let you try and earn their trust?  What would it be like if your body was feeling all strange, new sensations and you felt like nobody in your family really could relate to it?  What would it be like if your hormones were raging so much that one minute you wanted to slam your head through a brick wall and the next minute you felt like your heart was being ripped out?  What would it be like if you needed your parents' approval but were afraid you'd never get it, no matter how hard you try?  What if every word out of your parents' mouths felt like daggers because you were so insecure?

What if your parents clung and pushed and prodded you to spend more time with them, and all you wanted was space and time?  And what if you felt terrible guilt and shame for wanting to be alone so much and not wanting to be around your parents because often, you just feel like they are your jailors a lot of the time?  And what if that guilt made you hear in every word your parents say, even more blame and resentment because that's what you think you deserve?  What if you hated your parents for the gifts they give you, because you cannot believe that they actually love you and have no ulterior motives for giving you something nice?

What would it be like if you were constantly making mistakes because you were still learning almost everything?  What would it feel like if you wanted to test the ground around you, even walk across a few minefields, to learn from your own mistakes but your parents are always there trying to prevent you from even trying?  Giving unwanted advice?  Forbidding you from doing this or doing that because they know it will hurt you?  But what you want  most in the world is to just DO IT and see for yourself and without hearing them say, "I told you so" right afterward.

I think being the parent of a teenager would be a very painful and difficult tight rope to walk so balance is key.  I hesitate to give unsolicited advice, but I venture to guess that this balance could be attained, along with the harmony that comes with it, by gently letting the apron strings go, just a little bit, a teeny bit, and really be honest about what happens next. Is it really a tragedy if your teenager gets  a D one time?  Or if he has to walk home from school because he didn't tell you that he'd have to stay late for a special function?  Or if you stopped picking up his/her dirty laundry to wash it and he or she had to go to school in stinky, dirty clothes every day that week or month?  What would happen if you let your teenager screw up sometimes and did not rescue him or her?  What if you let them have some freedom, nothing that could be life-threatening, of course, but small things, like that?  Let them decide when to go to bed each night.  Or let them decide whether or not to study and do homework.  And if they screw up, let them face the consequences, fully, on their own.  And don't tell them I told you so.  

And though you want to hug them and share their innermost thoughts and protect them from everything and ensure that their lives will be healthy and educated and safe, this is their time for testing and trying and learning, sometimes through actions, sometimes through inactions.  They want all those things for themselves, too, though they might not know it yet.  I have an inkling (and it's just that, because like I said, I'm not a parent) that if parents refocused on their own interests and friends, living full lives, and thus, gave their teenagers as much space as they needed... BUT embraced them  fully without resentment, when they returned, things might improve. And I think every teenager would return, would want a hug, would want to talk... it might not be often or as fully as the parents would like, but subtle signs of affection are the teenager's way.  A teenager who stands a few feet closer or comes downstairs to sit with you on the other side of the couch might be the best they can do (for now) to say, "I love you, Mom.  I love you Dad."  Take that.  Embrace that.  It's golden. And don't be afraid to say, "I love you" to them or "I miss you and I'm always here for you, no matter what."  That is golden for them.

I think teenagers are trying so hard to be tough, smart, independent, etc., that they cannot admit they need love, need help, need support... they think it's a sign of weakness when all they want to do is show you how stong and capable they are.  They do need your love and support and they need it badly.  But they're never ever, ever, ever, going to ask you for it.  That's the crazy, heart-breaking truth of living with a teenager.  

I hope this blog entry helps someone, if not my friends and family, then some stranger out there who happened upon my blog today.  I bid you good luck and don't give up!!  And trust yourself and your own instincts.  Your love is deep and will guide you to the right path through the prickly patch of teenage hell.  

But one day -- I hate to say it, but you know it's true -- they WILL grow out of it and if your arms are still open wide, they WILL run into them someday.

Note:  My apologies to any parent who reads this and thinks I am clueless and condescending.  I swear I have nothing but the best intentions and could be WAY off-base here.  And if I am, please forgive me.   I really really meant well.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pondering On The Homeless

The outside thermometer here at our house reads -3 degrees F (yesterday it was -7).  As always when the temperatures dip below zero, I find myself thinking about all the homeless people who live outside without protection from this bitter cold.  My thoughts took the usual train ride, which begins with me asking, "What can we do to help the homeless and, more importantly, prevent people from being homeless in the first place?" 

In the past, I've come to one very unsatisfying conclusion: "People need to learn how to share more."  It is unsatisfying because I know, though people can be very generous and caring, occasional charity is not the whole answer to the problem.  Sure, you can hand the homeless guy a dollar or two or donate to a homeless shelter.  That's wonderful, but it's not enough. It's not a preventative measure.  It won't stop the homeless from streaming into every nook and cranny of the city streets in every major city in the world.  It will just keep happening.

My answer to the homeless problem (the same as for any problem that causes suffering) is:  1) Slow down, breathe, relax... 2) See what is here now...  3) Wake up to what is real...  4) Respond with compassion.

To ensure the validity of it really strikes you and sinks into your bones, let me take you on the same train ride I took to get there...

I started by asking myself why people are homeless.  There are one or more obvious reasons:  Job loss, lack of education/training, mental illness, alcohol or drug addiction... And yes, some live in the streets by choice, but it is not likely to be the norm.  How we do stop these from happening, get at the root of it so everybody can enjoy a life with their basic needs being met?  It's about cause and effect.

Let's look at just one of these:  Job loss.  What causes people to lose their jobs?  Well, businesses or organizations need to make a profit, and that's not a problem.  The problem lies in the growing imbalance between greed and integrity.  Employers increasingly hire the minimum number of employees to do the maximum amount of work in the shortest time frame.  This means a higher likelihood of more job cuts and downsizing, fewer job opportunities and more stressed out employees.  It all leads to job loss. More and more people are quitting their jobs because they are simply emotionally and physically exhausted and stressed beyond belief.  Out of my small circle of friends and family, MOST of them are working more than fifty hours a week. Some of them are working sixty or more.  Where is the work-life balance in that?  If employers really cared about their employees even half as much as they do their profits, things would change for the better.  They could act with integrate and still make a nice profit.

What about the other causes?  Education and training is easily fixed.  Give everyone access to a good education.  Mental illness?  Provide healthcare and eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness.  Alcohol and drug addiction?  Provide non-profit recovery centers in every neighborhood and celebrate recovery.  And I can't help but wonder if even one of these is fixed, it would positively impact the others.  If more of the mentally ill could find treatment, they would not depend on drugs and alcohol to cope with their illness, and they could find and keep a good job.

The atrocity of people living in urine-soaked boxes in every urban alley is perpetuated because so many of us think, speak and act without wisdom.  We are deluded.  We think we are not connected.  But we are connected in myriad ways... by our common humanity, by our actions, by our very breath.  Everyone who suffers affects us, either now or later.  We cannot continue to hold tightly to our habitual way of life, our hyper-indulgent lifestyles, buying yet another device or entertainment, driving fuel-hungry vehicles, expecting more and more, living with a sense of entitlement instead of gratitude and kindness.

We all need to start by slowing down, stop rushing because it is what someone else expects you to do or because it is your habit.  Stop taking on so much that you need to rush.  Simplify your life and you CAN slow down.  Then look and SEE what is around you, who is around you.  Stop being a blind pleasure seeker and find freedom and peace of mind.  The moment you see the natural, perfect beauty of life and also respond to the needs of those around you, you will no longer be bored or without purpose, reaching for more and more temporary pleasures to fill you up. Living an ethical, compassionate life is all you need to be happy!  It gives back to you more joy than you can imagine. And best of all, it is contagious.  Kindness begets kindness.  Calm begets calm.  Awareness begets awareness.  Wisdom begets wisdom.

Open up your eyes!  See who you really are.  See the world as it is.  Educate yourself.  Wake up!  We are all connected.  If we want paradise on earth, we cannot continue to act as we have been.  And we cannot continue to walk right past a homeless man or woman bent over against a brick wall. We have to stop, really look at this person and more importantly, respond in a helpful way as you would if it was your own brother or sister.  In absolute reality, it IS your brother or sister.