A new perspective in grief

Typically, the beginning of a new year has always prompted in me a fresh resolve to begin or recommit to a resolution that fell by the wayside long ago; usually a casualty of the inevitable hurly burly of life and the big beautiful mess that it so often is. The turning over of a brand new calendar page will evoke in me an optimism for the year that lies ahead. I am an optimist at heart and therefore am hopeful that a new year will be a little better. Summer has naturally been a time to take stock and plan for the year ahead.  However, this year I’ve approached things very differently. The events of the past 18 months have left on me a big heart wound. Last year was filled with so much sadness and grief, one does not simply turn the page and move on as if all that was in the past has no lasting impact on the present. While the end of a year naturally brings to a conclusion some things, feelings and emotions are a little more elusive to box up. Rather than resolving to do and be someth

Emotional Equality

Last week I attended a seminar entitled “Surviving the Rollercoaster of Adolescence”; a talk given by Chris Hudson founder of Understanding Teenagers. While I can truthfully say that I have already encountered and survived the steep climb and the initial stomach-lurching plunge of the rollercoaster that is likened to living with emotional teens, and have definitely encountered a few curves and turns that have left me breathless and white-knuckled; I believe there are a few more corkscrew loops that are yet to be travelled before I can safely say that I have survived the ride _ hence my interest in wanting to hear his thoughts.

As I think about rollercoasters, I can’t help but recall our families recent trip to Movie World. A day with teenagers in a theme park is very much like living a day packed with emotion; thrills and fears, excitement and exhaustion. One extreme had me being an excitable encourager, saying things like,“Give it a go… I think you’ll find it fun! It’s not as scary as it looks…trust me” (said to those who didn’t fancy risking any rides). The other extreme was more along the lines of me, the terrified one, being coaxed onto rides that looked frightful. “Come on Mum, it’s not that scary. Don’t be a chicken…it’s awesome!” (Nothing like your sons taunts to motivate you to show them your grit.) Needless to say, at the end of the day, I survived the rides, made some good memories but was utterly exhausted.

One of the things that makes the teen years so challenging is the unpredictability of your teens mood, and also the enormous shift in how they relate to you. On their journey to independence, it is natural and important for them to push against their parents in an effort to find their own sense of self. (A deeply confusing place to be in for both parent and child.) And while it’s easy to blame hormones for all the problems, there are other factors that contribute to them being emotionally changeable. Things like: the amount of sleep they get, personal insecurities, and social issues they face…and a whole stack of homework pressure.

One of the hardest things I’ve found about this life stage has been knowing how to navigate my way through, without turning into an emotional wreck myself or becoming just as volatile and cranky as them. At times, I’ve been so fearful of getting my head chewed off just because I smiled at them, or being diminished to ‘worst mother ever’ because I dared to enforce a boundary. Angry, hurtful words are hard to hear and even harder to let go of or not take personally. Equally hard, has been to watch a teen struggle _ with peer acceptance, anxiety, and the challenge of growing up. When they retreat into their shell and lock you out, the feeling of helplessness can be a heavy burden.

So when Chris began to talk about having emotional equality in your home, my ears pricked up. He encouraged us to think differently about how to view emotions. Instead of labelling some emotions as right and others wrong; happiness to be seen as normal and anger to be something avoided, a light switched on for me. So many times I’ve made the mistake of trying desperately to cheer up a depressed soul or avoided addressing issues for fear of ‘poking the bear’. “Emotions just are,” he said. And then, encouraged us to have a mantra for your family like: “In this house all emotions are okay.” Some are easier to live with, but they are still just emotions.

I like to think of emotions as being a little window into someones heart. A little gauge to what’s going on inside. It can be a prompt to ask them how they are. And rather than be fearful of all negative emotions, especially anger, but to find a way together to helpfully express those emotions without dismissing them or escalating them can be such a positive help to a hurting teen. Validating their feelings goes a long way in building an open relationship with them. Saying things like, “I can see this is really hard for you” rather than, “It’s okay.” Showing your teens that you are willing to sit with and accept uncomfortable feelings, just as naturally as you embrace feeling good, is a valuable lesson; for both yourself and your teen.

Rollercoasters are the perfect description for being a parent of teenagers. However, if you are someone yet to enter this life stage, take heart. I think waiting in line and watching others ahead of you being thrown around at top speed and possibly screaming can heighten your anticipation of impending doom and fuel you with dread the longer you watch and wait. Once on the ride, you’re on the ride. Safely strapped in, potentially terrified, but come what may, you’ll make it through the track.


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