So, what exactly do I mean by “get good with what you’ve got?” To put it plainly, this mindset is not synonymous with attempting to change or fix your teenager. It’s not about molding them into a predetermined image or erasing their unique traits and quirks. This mindset underscores the essence of embracing your teenager for who they authentically are rather than imposing your expectations or attempting to alter their fundamental nature. This is a shift away from the mindset of needing to correct or modify your teenager’s identity.
Instead, it is an invitation to acknowledge, accept, and celebrate the qualities, characteristics, and complexities that make your teenager who they are. It recognizes that your teenager, with their distinct strengths and vulnerabilities, is a complete and valuable individual. By embracing this mindset, you strengthen and empower your relationship through respect, empathy, and understanding. This, in turn, lays the groundwork for effective communication, mutual growth, and the forging of a solid parent-teenager connection built on genuine appreciation.
Unfortunately, many parents have adopted a very different mindset, one that I call the “molding to an ideal” mindset. This mindset involves trying to reshape or alter their teenager to fit a predetermined standard or expectation, often disregarding their natural inclinations, strengths, and uniqueness. Instead of celebrating who their teenagers are, the “molding to an ideal” mindset often manifests as striving to enforce specific behaviours, preferences, or achievements that align with societal norms, family traditions, or personal aspirations. This way of thinking can unintentionally pressure teenagers to conform, suppressing their individuality and potential for growth.
A parent’s refusal to accept their teenager for who they are can have significant emotional, psychological, and behavioural impacts on their teenager’s well-being and development, which include:
• Low Self-Esteem
• Identity Confusion
• Mental Health Challenges
• Communication Barriers
• Rebellion or Defiance
• Peer Approval Seeking
• Long-Term Resentment
• Impact on Future Relationships
• Loss of Emotional Connection
It is important to understand that when I talk about the importance of parents accepting their teenagers for who they are, it does not mean giving free rein to their every whim and desire. Acceptance does not equate to a permissiveness or lack of boundaries. Instead, it involves understanding, valuing, and appreciating your teenager’s individuality, including their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and challenges.
Parental acceptance fosters an environment where open communication, trust, and mutual respect thrive. It doesn’t mean relinquishing your role as mentor, coach, and influencer in their lives. Instead, it encourages balanced guidance that allows room for growth, exploration, and decision-making within reasonable limits that will serve them well on their journey to adulthood.
Letting Go – Grieving the Loss of Your Ideal Child
Acknowledging that the journey to acceptance is not without challenges is necessary. For countless parents, before reaching a state of acceptance, they must navigate the process of letting go. A crucial element of the “getting good with what you’ve got” mindset involves experiencing grief – grieving the loss of the idealized image a parent holds for their teenager. Every parent, knowingly or unknowingly, develops a vision of their ideal child. This grieving process doesn’t pertain to mourning the physical loss of a child, but rather the emotional shift from the projected ideal to the reality of their teenager.
This conceived vision, taking root long before a child is born, is a fusion of a parent’s dreams, aspirations, expectations, and hopes for their child. As teenagers explore their identity, they inevitably deviate from this picture-perfect construct. This divergence creates a gap, a mismatch between the authentic essence of the teenager and the idealized vision.
For many parents, this experience can be heartbreaking. They often grapple with disillusionment, sorrow, frustration, and confusion as they witness their teenagers behave differently from their imaginings. Regrettably, parents usually respond by attempting to shape their teenagers into a mold they don’t fit. This is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The focus shifts from their teenager’s positive attributes and strengths to their perceived shortcomings, in contrast to the original vision. Consequently, stress, strain, and discord pervade the relationship.
Grieving this loss is pivotal for several reasons. Primarily, it empowers parents to recognize and process their emotions, facilitating the transition from disappointment and resistance to understanding and acceptance. This process can prove challenging, demanding parents relinquish their preconceived notions and embrace their teenager as an individual on their life journey.
Moreover, grieving the divergence from the idealized teenager nurtures an authentic and supportive relationship. By embracing their teenager for who they genuinely are, rather than who they are assumed they should be, parents foster an environment conducive to open dialogue, trust, and unconditional love, which strengthens the relationship.
Ultimately, grieving this loss of the envisioned child enables parents to embrace the present moment and seize the opportunities arising from their teenager’s unique individuality. This opens the door to fresh possibilities, unchartered paths, and novel experiences that might not have been part of the original plan but have the potential to foster personal growth for both the teenager and the parents.
Develop a Gameplan for Dealing with the Realities of Your Teenager
“Getting good with what you’ve got” in parenting refers to accepting your teenager’s reality and the circumstances you find yourself in as a parent. It means not spending your time and energy focusing on the child you wish you had. It means focusing your time and energy on the teenager you have. There is a big difference between the two. Whether your teenager is neurodivergent, has a cognitive delay, a physical impairment, struggles with mental health-related issues such as anxiety or depression, alcohol or drug addiction, has ADHD, or is oppositional and defiant, comes out as gay or is struggling with their sexual identity, it is essential to come to grips with these aspects of their identity and come up with a game plan for how you will parent your teenager.
The following steps provide a framework for you to do this.
Step1: Identify the divergence point
Step 2: Reflect on expectations
Step 3: Embrace your teenager’s individuality and uniqueness
Step 4: Identify what knowledge you need to obtain and skills to develop
Step 5: Foster open communication
Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…
Allow yourself to grieve if you need to. Find a trusted support person to help you with this. That could be your partner, a trusted friend, a therapist, a coach, or a pastor. Using the framework provided, create your gameplan for how you will get good with the teenager you have.