And what we can do to prevent further meltdowns
A dear friend of mine is the mother of a teen obsessed with musical theater. For the past decade, despite working full time and having one other kid to raise, her son has participated in community theater that requires my friend to drive far and wide all over New York, often late at night.
A Window View
The other day, I was on the phone with my friend when her son came into the car from another rehearsal. Here’s how the dialogue went:
Teen: I’m hungry.
Friend: (handing him string cheese) Here you go.
Teen: No, I want McDonald’s.
Friend: You can get that tomorrow after your PSAT test.
Teen: What the f$%&! No, I’m not taking that. I don’t even need it. I have plans with my girlfriend tomorrow.
Let’s just say, I got off that phone as quickly as possible.
My friend is a single mom. Everything has been on her. As her son was growing, there were several small occasions when her son spoke down to her and my friend placated or ignored the disrespectful behavior.
My friend’s empathy for her son eclipsed her judgement.
For years, my friend would say:
“He doesn’t have a father. I feel so bad for him. I want him to know how loved he is and how much he matters.”
Creating a Monster
Just prior to her son entering the car, my friend confided:
“I snapped the other day. I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve created a monster.”
All those years of yes-ing her son in an effort to make him feel like he mattered, prevented him from learning respect and appreciating another person’s perspective — in this case, his own mother.
We humans tend to snap when there’s been a buildup of tension and frustration. We snap after a long time of undisclosed and/or unaddressed unhappiness or resentment.
Like a zit that’s just come to a head, the snap is a manifestation of pent up emotion that needs to come out.
My friend snapped after her son told her he was going to be changing high schools because it had a better musical theater program.
There was no discussion; in his 15-year-old-mind, changing high schools was going to happen.
Friend: I will look into the high school program.
Teen: I already know I want to do it. There’s nothing to look into. This is my life, not yours.
On and on this dialogue went until my friend, inevitably snapped:
“You know what? You are a child, a minor. Do you not understand that? You know what, just forget it. You’re going to do what you want anyway. Just do it; just do it! GO — what are you waiting for?! I don’t care anymore. Just do whatever the hell you want.”
And the teen’s response:
“It’s okay. I don’t have to do it.”
The Aftermath of a Snap
My friend felt such guilt for snapping at her son.
“You should have seen the look on his face. He looked so scared of me. I feel awful about it.”
And yet, a day later, her son was cursing up a storm in front of her, sometimes at her. There was no:
- Thank you for picking me up from theater rehersals.
- Thank you for bringing me a snack.
The Thing About Snaps
Snaps don’t address the core issue (in this case: lacking respect for a parent).
Snaps are nothing more than the surface of an emotional iceberg.
It’s no wonder her teen returned to dictating what would and wouldn’t happen regarding the PSAT and McDonald’s. The roles in their relationship were never addressed in my friend’s snapping.
Love isn’t a Doormat
Whether married or raising kids solo, parenting is not easy. But loving our kids does not mean letting them run the show.
We wouldn’t give a kindergartner the key to our car. Yet when we placate our children with blind consent, contorting ourselves to please them, we are effectively putting them in the driver’s seat.
There’s Still Time
I don’t know what transpired between my friend and her son after I hung up the other day. I can only hope she:
- didn’t get him McDonald’s
- insisted he take the PSAT
- is going to look into the new high school and not blindly consent
As long as her son is under her roof and a minor, there’s still time for the roles to alter.
Of course, its’ easy for me to see what’s happening: I’m not in the situation. I’m a mere observer. But I can relate to those moments when a need to demonstrate love to my children eclipsed my better judgement.
My friend is trying her best. We are all just trying our best in this life. The word compassion means: to suffer with and take action.
Self-compassion is looking within, exploring the why behind our respective snaps and doing something about it. Sometimes that means saying no to your kid, even if that no will illicit a temper tantrum.
Better a temper tantrum from our kid now than a giant snap from us later.