As the mom of two teenagers, I'm again unsure, wishing for a roadmap on how to parent my sons into young adulthood. There aren't major roadblocks but the territory is all new. My husband Bill often turns to me and asks, "What should we do?" and I wonder why he's asking me. I have absolutely no idea.
My inner critic is loud and a constant voice in my head these days. Friends tell me I'm doing a good job, I'm a great mom, my boys are lucky to have me. The inner critic doesn't agree.
Am I the only one who feels like she's failing as a mom of teenagers? Logically, I know that this can't be the case. But most of my close mom friends either have young adult children now or they're parents of little kids. The moms with older children offer advice and are highly empathetic. The moms of younger children are sympathetic but don't fully understand how the balance of life with teenagers can shift in one brief moment, one unsettling circumstance, one regrettable argument.
Recently, my husband and I met with a parent educator at Parents Place, a family support organization with several Bay Area locations. The parent educator approved of what Bill and I are already doing and offered additional ideas for parenting our teenagers.
My biggest takeaway from that meeting, though, was to trust my intuition. I've fallen away from that place of trusting myself. I've been afraid I'll push my kids away. I've been nervous I'll make a mistake that I won't be able to undo. I've often acquiesced to Bill's decisions even if I don't agree with them, mainly because I don't know what else to do and I want to keep the peace.
I've been thinking too much, which creates fear and indecision. Lately, rather than searching for ways to avoid not knowing, I'm learning to lean into not having a clue, allowing the unknown to shape my way forward.
I'm discovering benefits to not having a clue of what to do. Here are four of them, whether you're a parent of an infant, toddler, grade school kid, or teen:
1. When you honestly don't know what to do next, you may be more likely to stay in the moment and respond to what's happening right now, whether your crisis is an inconsolable baby or incommunicative teenager. When you find yourself not knowing, take a few slow breaths and ask, "What's the next best step?" and do that. If the first thing doesn't work, breathe a little more and ask again. Avoid the shoulds, supposed tos, and have tos, if possible. Thinking that way takes you down a long, bumpy road where you can't hear the quiet voice of your intuition.
2. By staying in the moment, you can ease stress and reduce your inner chaos by making choices and creating solutions based on what's really happening rather than coming up with a long list of worse case scenarios, most of which will never happen.
3. Being clueless also allows you to get ideas from your child. When your child is part of the decision-making process, you're more likely to come up with a negotiated solution that your child will accept. With younger children, finding solutions may look like offering your child two options from which to choose, like asking if your child wants to wear the blue shirt or the green one, eat apple slices or cheese and crackers, play in the backyard or go to the park. Tweens and teens can be involved in a bigger way, like working with you to resolve differences in curfew instead of you as parents dictating the time. Working together to come up with solutions might lead to your teen, tween, or "threenager" actually doing what's best.
4. Not having a clue allows you to be in beginner's mind, a place where you are open to possibilities and not reliant on preconceived notions of what's the right solution or what you should do. A study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that people who consider themselves to be experts are more closed-minded. "In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few," wrote Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.
So, when the baby is screaming, the toddler is whining, or your teen is sullen, scowling, and sequestered in her room, see if you can allow the moment to be an invitation. Wrote Wendell Berry: "It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey."