My son and I have had numerous “discussions” these last few years. They’re over the usual stuff that arises between a parent and teen, and typically fall along the lines of things I ask him not to do, like hang out past curfew, or fail to check in, or neglect business at home. Often, our arguments are sparked by something as small as a request to be home for supper. Really? Inevitably the argument morphs into something bigger, until he’s dug in his heels in, and I’ve dug in mine, and we’re at a standoff.
This is when things get ugly.
I don’t like to fight, but as the mother of a teenager, it happens more often than I’d care to admit. And since my son spends half of the week living with his father, it becomes far too easy to say things I shouldn’t.
Me: “If you don’t like the rules here, go live with your dad.” Slam.
Him: “I’m done. I don’t have to put up with your stuff, Mom. I’m spending the night at Dad’s house. And I might not come back.” Bam.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many times when a cooling-off period is a good thing. We both need to check our attitudes and re-examine whatever roadblocks have arisen. But the one thing I have found too easy as a divorced parent is recognizing he does have that built-in option to leave rather than to work things out.
So one day I simply decided to take that off the table. Because ultimately, I think it sends my son the wrong message.
We don’t always have the option to pick up our toys and go home when life fails to go our way. We may disagree with our boss over the way our department is managed, but we usually can’t exercise the option to quit or find another job, at least not immediately. Instead, we must figure out a way to work through that difficulty. We might cross swords with a friend over a situation that’s made us angry. But if we value their friendship, we must find a way to examine the problem and come up with a mutually acceptable solution, or risk losing that friendship.
Granted, there are times when leaving makes sense, particularly if you feel your own standards are continually being compromised. I am the first to advise others to look for new opportunities if a job or a friendship is no longer a fit. But more often, we don’t have the option to simply walk away. And even when we do, is that the best decision? When it comes to relationships we value, walking away can mean closing the door on or causing further damage to ourselves or those we love.
Instead, my son and I choose to stay and work things out, together. I love him for that. Is it messy? Sometimes. Does it take more work? No doubt. But let me share this: through the process of trying to resolve our issues, we have learned several important lessons: how to compromise, apologize, and actively listen to one another.
The other realization that was recently brought to my attention is that we can’t always do this work alone. One argument had become particularly heated and neither of us wanted to back down. So my ex offered to step in and act as a mediator. This rankled me at first. I really didn’t think I needed his assistance, and who was he to butt in, anyway?
But, in fact, I did need help. We both did. My son and I share a stubborn streak, and I suspect if we hadn’t had someone to aid us in walking through this mine field, we might have sat there unyielding, or worse, acted on angry threats. Having a third party present enabled us to iron out our differences, so that by the end of our discussion, the anger had ebbed and in its place, peace. I was, I am, truly grateful for his intervention.
I guess my point is this. As parents, we need to think about the coping strategies we teach our children. Because if we allow ourselves to simply throw up our hands when the going gets tough, what are we modeling? That giving up or running away is an acceptable way to manage life’s difficulties? Problems don’t go away simply because we turn our backs. Better to face life head on and examine those things that challenge us. As I say to my son, life is messy, deal with it.