One of my closest mommy friends has been having problems dealing with her emotions for the past year. Her problems lie with the fact that she takes in her daughter's problems too much. And so when we talk with each other, she shares her frustrations about her daughter's friends with me, and I listen to her. I give my opinion when she asks for it. But deep inside me, I'm thankful that I don't have to go though what she's going through... I don't think I can handle it.
Just recently a New York Times article showed up on my FB newsfeed. It was such an apt explanation of what my friend was feeling. The author explains this common dynamic of parent-teen relationships. Essentially, teens emotionally dump a problem on a parent. The parent will then react to the drama even after the teen has recovered from it.
For the most part I am a newbie as far a teen dramas are concerned because my oldest daughter hardly ever has one. J's personality is one that is almost always predictably happy. She hardly has enemies, and seldom hates on people. She is not one to hold a grudge and she is capable of easily moving on to other things, she gets over everything after a day or two... like nothing even happened in the first place. I think her tolerance + soft-heartedness make her well-loved by her friends.
But then, just last December, she found herself in a drama which saw her unwillingly placed in the middle of the conflict. What was a simple disagreement that could’ve been fixed in a matter of days quickly escalated into a conflict which drew in bystanders (i.e well-meaning friends who wanted to help). Things got blown out of proportion, and the conflict dragged on into almost a month-long drama.
My daughter would update me about the recent developments in her “problem.” I know my daughter is really patient and very tolerant (sometimes to a fault) so if she gets hurt and affected, then I am pretty sure that someone made a really big mess.
I have always said that I love it that my girls are so open with me, they are comfortable telling me almost everything. I believe because I have invested heavily in having an open relationship with them since they were very young, they have grown up knowing that while I am firm when they need to be disciplined, I am also open to compromises. There are times when their thoughts and opinions differ from mine, but when they have a valid point and a reasonable explanation, then their dad and I are also agreeable to changing our stance.
Most of the time this openness is a gift because they don't see the need to lie to me. But sometimes, this openness also backfires. There are times when I have to listen to my daughters rant about someone who offended them. Naturally as their mom, I take offense when they get hurt, or when I feel like they are getting the short end of the friendship stick.
I take on her pain as if it were my own after she "dumps" her emotions on me… I think that days after she has gotten over it, I still felt emotionally vulnerable; but I think that every mother feels a certain degree of vulnerability whenever their kids are involved, if only because we have no control over the cause of their emotional highs and lows.
Thankfully, my daughter's drama is over. The friendship is restored. All's well that ends well. Here’s my take-away on how parents can be present for their kids without taking in their pain:
1. Don't be emotional about it.
I learned from my daughter that teens easily get over dramas. When my daughter share her problems with me, I should stay calm, quiet and definitely NOT be emotional about the problem. As my 15 year old said, she wants to connect with me BUT she doesn’t want me to connect with her problem. May ganon ba, mga mommies?
I asked J after her drama died down what made her share her problem with me. She answered that she values my opinion that is why she shares her thoughts with me. She doesn’t really mind when I get happy when she’s happy. But she does mind when I make HER bad news MY bad news. She doesn’t want me to bombard her with my own emotions because it makes her more confused with her feelings.
The realization: As a mom, I should just be a safe place for them. Kalma lang. A listening ear only, and NOT a mouthpiece. My advice is welcome, but my emotions are not.
2. Keep your judgment to yourself.
I learned that when teens are upset with their friends, they sometimes just need to vent. Just like we adults do. They want to be able to say the nasty thoughts running in their head out loud. It doesn’t mean that they mean every word they say.
Having said that, resist the urge to agree with their opinion of their friends when they are angry. Like when they say someone is a loser, do not say, “I definitely think so, too. (which I may or may not have done. Haha!) Simply acknowledge those intense feelings without judging their friends. BUT, you can always agree with them SILENTLY in your head.
Sometimes, I physically have to put a finger over my mouth to stop myself from saying anything. Worse case, I physically move myself and go to another part of the house. Mahirap mag-pigil ha!!!
Before her drama died down, I think I must've been more upset with what her friend did than she was. Can you just imagine my surprise when she just casually mentions that she and this friend sorted things out already and are back to being good friends? No words. There are no words I can use to express my feelings. None.
The realization: I am guilty of overreacting many times, and might have said some words that have added fuel to their emotional fire. I have learned that my daughters can become even more upset when I respond with my biased judgment, because they are hoping that I can be an adult and help them simmer down their own feelings of anger. But sometimes, it's hard to adult din.
I love my daughters and I trust them. And because I love them, anyone who they deem worthy of their time is someone I'm willing to give a second chance.
3. Believe them when they say “Chill! I got this!”
I think the most important thing our teens need to hear from us is that we believe they are capable of handling their own problems. And even if sometimes we don't really believe they can, keri lang din!
I used to think that when they share their problems with me, they want me to give them a solution. But my daughter has since signified that she just wants me to listen to her AND KEEP QUIET. She is telling me because she wants me to know what’s going on in her life. She wants me to give my advice when she asks for it, but for the most part she doesn’t want to feel obligated to follow my advice. As I've said mahirap maging nanay.
What I learned is that when I want to give my unsolicited advice, I phrase my words into questions that make her think. In that way, they don't sound intrusive. The questions force her to think, but it doesn't force my opinion on her.
The realization: Kids need the experiences of making their own independent choices (WITHIN BOUNDARIES, of course!) and sometimes if the consequences are negative, that can be just as important a learning experience as a positive outcome, perhaps even more so.
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I believe that giving our kids the freedom to make their own choices is only applicable as long as those choices are made within boundaries. Like in my case, as long as the issue on hand only involves minor friendship drama, then we can sit back and let them take control. If their decisions are potentially going in an unhealthy direction, then I obviously have to step in and steer them back on track.
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Ultimately, I ask them to pray and ask God to give them discernment and clarity of mind to help them know if it is more beneficial to clarify and speak up or remain silent and walk away.
If their friend is at fault, pray that the Lord will provide them with the necessary words when they talk it out with their friend.
You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
The ultimate sign that we've succeeded as parents is when we can make ourselves irrelevant to our children's lives. After all, we won't be alive forever, di ba? We need to slowly learn to let go and prepare our kids to make the decisions on their own: in school, with friends, in relationships. They may fail many times before they get things right. But if we allow them a looser leash on independence while they are still adolescents, they will be more emotionally adept to handle these things as adults.
Friendship drama in our teens lives can be a very real monster for them and for us parents! Let us use drama as a way to teach our teenagers how to handle difficult situations in a graceful manner. That the way they handle conflict can be used to be a blessing to others, even for the people they are in conflict with.
Photography by Stanley Ong
Taken in 2014 during our first all-girls out-of-town overnight trip