I love being a military spouse. It provides an opportunity to travel, be part of something bigger than myself, and serve along side my soldier. Balancing out the bright moments are the darker difficult days of relocating, adjusting, and times of separation. It is a bitter sweet relationship that promises to stretch me out of my comfort zone and make me better, even if I go kicking and fighting. I find that I can count on that now. Like clockwork, although I promised myself that I would not “settle in”, I find that I accidentally did and PCS orders remind me once again that I was never supposed to stay.
I realize I can’t help myself from nesting- buying those curtains that may only work in this home or constructing a garden that clearly cannot be uprooted. It is in my nature as a “lifegiver” to create life wherever I am. I’ve accepted that about myself. I love to plant myself, root where I am, and allow the season to hopefully create a harvest with me or out of me because I need it like a I need air. I need community, others to rely on and them to rely on me. I need my children to experience that home is wherever we are and if that means I buy new curtains that fit in every new home, then so be it. I need an opportunity to grow and be challenged with a project that forces me to “find a solution to the problem/need” like a life sized Calculus problem waiting for the student to raise their hands with a triumphant sigh.
And yet here I am again, realizing that I planted myself in Augusta, Ga- loving my current set of curtains and sitting on my new-er sofa looking at orders to leave. Augusta provided a chance for me to use my counseling license and practice. I welcomed new clients with open arms and shared the vulnerable journey of life along side so many. Augusta needed a Christian Counselor for teen girls, and I became it. Like a flock of birds migrating, they all came to me, brought by frazzled parents who were looking for hope and answers. This became my life-sized Calculus problem- how to help a large group of teen girls feel less alone- and so I sweated through the problem and found the solution by starting an outpatient program. I decided to introduce my teen clients to each other through a therapy group and it became theirs. Theirs to own, create, protect, and use to find acceptance, test new social skills, and say the things to each other that they also needed to hear.
I have seen girls overcome social anxiety through talking in group, find courage to do the right thing, find normalcy in the pressures of school and culture, and discover that being “good” still means something in this world. Creating a safe and inviting space was no easy task. My soldier championed me by making book shelves, hanging things on the walls, even delivering our own TV from our home to make group happen. It has been a joy to sacrifice for this project. I have learned so much from these girls, girls that still struggle to find how they can make a difference in the world around them.
And as I look at our orders in front of me to leave, I realize that none of this was ever mine to keep. It was never mine to begin with, it was something I was asked to make and take care of for a season. And after I go, it will evolve into whatever it needs to become for those after me. There will me more girls, more issues, and more needs to fill. It will become someone else’s life-size Calculus problem and they will see something that I couldn’t see. I realize now that we aren’t supposed to do any of it on our own or we will find ourselves tempted to be the god of our surroundings.
And so I am grateful. Grateful that I planted here and gave it my all. I know now that I wither without it and I don’t regret any of it. I am grateful that I got to be part of something that made a difference, even if for one family. Grateful that I get to hand all of this off to someone else- whether it means it thrives or finds the end of its life cycle. Grateful that I spent this season embracing the stretch of trying something new and saw it succeed, grateful that I can raise my hands in the air in triumph and sigh- it was worth it. I hate saying goodbye- to my clients who have opened up their hearts and trusted me, to my employers who gave a military spouse a chance knowing she would leave, and to friends that I would have invited into my imaginary neighborhood of collected life-friends we call family. But its time, and we are called to go.
I have grown to appreciate the warm wash of future uncertainty even though it still makes me nervous. This will be my fourth location and although I know how to direct the packers, can expect the dreaded 6 month mark of melancholy that I will feel, and can embrace the opportunity to reinvent myself, the anxiety of change still looms. What will my kitchen look like? Will we find a church home? Will the spouses like me? Will people want to invest in us when we won’t be around for long? What in the world will I find to do there? I don’t think that ever goes away, but at least I know this- I will plant myself. I will enjoy the warmth of the sun shining there and hold its memory for the days when the clouds seem to linger too long. I will take on a new season of growth and let it stretch me in a new way because its harvest reveals character. In the meantime, I will balance this decisive courage with a little bit of retail therapy shopping for curtains and possibly consider dying my hair some shade of purple.
There is nothing like our kids to bring out, well, the kid in us. And I’m not talking about being playful. What I’m referring to is arguing like a child. Children, tweens, and teens will always frustrate us and bring us to our wits end- they are supposed to. They are one more reminder (consistently) that we are out of control of those around us. We can’t force them to listen, obey, love us, or heaven forbid eat. A lot of parents come to me as their tweens turn to teens when they feel the most out of control. “The won’t listen” “I think they are lying” “What’s wrong with them?” “I’ve done everything I can think of and their still not happy!” and “Why are they choosing to be bad?” But what is it about our children that causes us to lose control emotionally and lower to their level. Sooner or later, parents can find themselves arguing like a teenage peer rather than being the adult in the room.
The first thing we need to remember is that these teens may look like adults, bathe and be responsible (maybe) with their homework like adults, but their brains are not. All too often, parents stop parenting when a child seems self-sufficient from the outside. Arguing and fighting, assuming they think like adults is only going to go from bad to worse. Parents need to understand that the part of the brain that is still developing in the teen is the frontal cortex, where impulse control and future thinking is housed. This doesn’t mean they are unable to think into the future, it just mean it takes 10 times the effort it takes an adult (I’m making that number up, but you get the point). If that is true, then when things get heated, the first thing your teen is feeling is all of their emotions in the moment and no way out. They feel overwhelmed, mad, sad, and probably like they want to escape- all at once. They don’t have the wisdom we adults have that if they just push through the conflict and connect, then the relationship goes deeper and becomes more safe. But of course, that’s assuming that we are indeed having a mature, grown up argument and have learned that ourselves.
When you have parents that have also not learned how to engage in healthy conflict and are still emotionally stuck as teens themselves, you end up with a big fat mess. You end up with a teen that is depending on their parents to teach them how to communicate now completely overwhelmed and beyond frustrated. The only answer for them is to somehow be the adult in the relationship, if they can figure that out. Otherwise, you have a teen that either mimics the immaturity in the home or shuts down completely, often going inward and hating or hurting themselves because they assume they are the problem. When they see their parents scream, stomp their feet, slam doors, call names, shut down, interrupt, drink, and go on the defensive- they might as well just go to their room and stop communicating all together. They can get plenty of that drama at school.
Come on parents, why are we expecting more from our kids than we ask of ourselves? Part of teaching your child how to communicate like an adult means that we have two brains full of feelings and thoughts that both matter. We have to be willing to listen to the tough stuff, the behavior they see in us that is hurtful, doesn’t make sense, and that they need to change. Just because we have “rules” in the home, doesn’t mean that the same rules we had for them at 12 will look the same at 17. They are going to have their own thoughts and feelings about those things and we have to be willing to listen. Adult to adult conversations “should” start to sound like this:
“When you ask me a question and don’t let me answer it, I feel like you don’t care”
“I’m so sorry you feel that I don’t care. I’d like to try again and I’d like to listen to what you have to say.”
We would hope our conversations with our spouse looks like that, why is the same conversation with our teen considered disrespectful? Is it because they are calling attention to something in us we don’t want to see or admit to? Isn’t that the way you would want them to communicate in their future relationships? We, and our home, is supposed to model that. If we don’t provide the place, atmosphere, and courage to practice this, we are setting them up to view themselves as unworthy to be heard, an inconvenience, and that they don’t matter. They need someone to teach them that they have the right to ask someone to change their behavior if it feels wrong or disrespectful, but it starts with the safest relationships around them, which includes us as parents.
So, first that begins with us learning how to communicate more like adults ourselves. Whatever you feel like you need to do to learn how to communicate more effectively, more maturely… start today. This is likely not a new issue, it may be already showing up in your marriage or work setting. Buy a book, join a small group, find a therapist, whatever you need to do to learn new strategies for handling your frustration and triggers. Sometimes previous relationships or conversations are triggered in our mind during conflict, but it often has nothing to do with your child- in that specific moment. It is your responsibility to manage yourself and that is what we want to also teach them.
Second, slow down. When things get heated between you and your child, take a deep breath and realize this is an OPPORTUNITY to teach and coach your tween/teen through how to talk like an adult. Your connection is always more important than the problem at hand. Breathe, remind yourself you are talking to the child and that you are the adult. Remind yourself that you need to be the adult that models healthy communication.
Third, model rather than lecture. Listen to what is going on in them. Ask or help them identify their feelings. Don’t talk them out of it, that is aggressive or passive aggressive (sometimes worse). Listen assertively, which means “Your feelings and thoughts matter just as much as mine do.” Listen for how they may have perceived something, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. To them, it is real- children and teens think in concrete ways and they often accidentally make concrete assumptions. You’ve been in their shoes I’m sure in other adult conversations.
Fourth, own your stuff!! If you took something too personally, got triggered by something else, or hurt them in some way- there is nothing more important here than owning it! Forgiveness modeled in the home is absolutely crucial to a teen’s ability to forgive themselves and keep connections with others. Keep your side of the “street” clean and teach them to do the same by taking responsibility for their part. Don’t expect them to do this if you are not modeling it yourself.
Finally, remember that it is often what we have said in anger that our child will remember the most. It’s not what we “meant to say”, it’s what we said, or worse- how we said it. Saying “I’ve had it” really sounds like “I give up on you.” “This is too difficult, I don’t know what else to do” actually sounds like “You are too much for me.”
Being a parent is possibly the most difficult thing in life, second probably to marriage. Do the hard work, be willing to grow yourself. Family is a crucible for chaos that eventually leads to a more healthy, balanced, and mature existence, hopefully for everyone.