God said, "I've taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people . . .I've heard their cries for deliverance . . .; I know all about their pain. I'm sending you to bring my people out of Egypt."
Moses answered God, "But why me? What makes you think I could [do this]? They won't trust me. They won't listen to a word I say. I don't talk well. I've never been good with words. I stutter and stammer. Oh, please! Send somebody else!"
"Moses! Moses!" God said, "Remove your sandals from your feet. You are standing on holy ground."
~Exodus 3:3-4:10, The MSG
Parents of teenagers understand Moses' fears, excuses, and doubts. When our teenagers are afflicted by the ever-present temptations to drink, smoke, and use drugs, we're not sure that we are the ones to help them make different choices. When our daughter comes home, goes straight to her room, turns on her CD player, and won't talk to anyone, our thoughts go to finding an expert to "save" her or to locking her in her room until she turns 21. When our son brings home a report card lined with D's and F's, we feel hopeless to find the "magic words" that will motivate him to try harder. We stutter and stammer.
A mother of one of my adolescent clients experienced all three of the scenarios in the paragraph above. She expressed her feelings of powerlessness in parenting: "How do I help her?" I can ground her. I can lecture her. I can pretend this isn't happening. I can cry, rant, and rave. Believe me, I've even thought about running away myself. But I can't help her. I don't know how."
This mother didn't know it, but she had quickly outlined the parenting roles we are most comfortable with. Depending on our personality types and the models of parenting we've observed and experienced, we tend to fall into predictable styles of parenting, especially when the going gets tough. We do what we have always done, what our parents did, or what we think the parents around us are doing.
In this series of three articles, we are going to look at four different "styles" of parenting. These styles are simply postures in parenting. Posture is what makes certain activities possible. When I stand, I can walk or run. When I sit, I can lean back or relax. When I lie down, I can rest or sleep. Your posture in response to your teenager's struggles has specific results for both you and your daughter. There is no one right posture in parenting. However, your posture during the trials and tests of adolescence determines whether you become your child's sergeant, victim, observer, enemy - or ally. Remember that your son or daughter desperately needs an ally.
And I believe you are the ally your child needs. Why you? You are the one God gave to your children. You know them. You know what foods your son likes and how he likes the pillows arranged on his bed. You watched your daughter discover ladybugs and chocolate pudding. You read her Good Night, Moon and took her to buy her first bra. You've prayed about your son's grade in Algebra and reminded him to wear his retainer. You told them about Jesus.
Your parent's intuition nudged you to encourage your son to take piano lessons and your daughter to be careful with the new girl who moved in down the street. You know your children. You've taught them. You've loved them. Deep in your heart you believe that ought to count for something. It does. All of your knowledge, teaching, and love have been leading to this moment in time when your children need you more than ever.
Your son or daughter may not think they need you. Your task is to know - heart and soul - that you are the one to help them confront the temptations of teenage life and make choices that will further define who they are now and who they are becoming.
Before we look at each "parenting posture", take the following quiz to get an idea of your predominant parenting style. Knowing your style and its strengths and weaknesses can help you evaluate what type of relationship you're creating with your teenager, what are its strengths and weaknesses, and what changes you could make to form a stronger hand-in-hand alliance.
YOUR PARENTING STYLE
1. When my daughter gets in trouble, I:
b. feel anxious
c. walk away
d. try to fix it
2. When my son is sad, I:
b. feel afraid
c. walk away
d. become tearful
3. When my teenager's friends make me uneasy, I:
a. condemn/criticize them
b. feel afraid
c. don't comment
d. encourage him/her to find different friends
4. When my child is happy, I:
a. feel successful
b. feel happy
c. feel distant
d. feel responsible
5. If my son smokes, I:
a. will forbid him from ever doing it again
b. wonder what I did wrong
c. let him make his own choices
d. remind him of what all of our friends and family will think of him
6. When my daughter feels lonely and as if she doesn't belong, I:
a. tell her to have friends she has to be a friend
b. worry about what's wrong with her
c. tell her that having friends is not the most important thing in the world
d. feel responsible
7. When my teenager withdraws from me, I:
a. suspect he/she is doing something they shouldn't be, punish them, and make them spend time with me.
b. feel as if I've done something wrong
c. let him/her be by themselves
d. try to do all their favorite things so they'll want to be with me
8. If my daughter comes home with alcohol on her breath, I:
a. ground her immediately and lecture her on the dangers of drinking
b. don't say anything because I don't want her to get mad at me
c. tell her how stupid drinking is
d. stay with her and come up with a plan to keep her from drinking again
9. When my son won't talk about his feelings, I:
a. scold him
b. am intimidated by his silence
c. leave him alone
d. try to articulate his feelings for him
10. When my child's grades start slipping, I:
a. lecture/punish/structure new rules
b. feel like a bad parent
c. let them work it out
d. start doing the work for them
11. If my teenager tries drugs, I:
a. take away all privileges/punish
b. am completely panicked and don't know what to do
c. send them away to a home for troubled teenagers
d. keep them with me at all times
If most of your answers were "a", your parenting style is from above. If most of your answers were "b", your parenting style is from beneath. If you mostly answered "c", your parenting style is from a distance. If most of your answers were "d", you tend to be a hovering parent.
As we look at the four parenting styles in this series, we will uncover what keeps you from being the most powerful ally possible to your teenagers and look together at some ways to begin to form an alliance. As you prepare to become your son or daughter's ally, know that like the stuttering, stammering Moses, you are on holy ground.
You can read more about hand-in-hand mothering in Sharon's new book: Mom, I hate my life! published by Shaw Books.
Sharon A. Hersh is a licensed professional counselor, author, and speaker. She is the author of 3 parenting books: Mom, I hate my life!; Mom, I feel fat! and Mothering Without Guilt (a Mom's Ordinary Day Bible Study by Zondervan). She is also the author of Bravehearts: Unlocking the Courage to Love With Abandon. Sharon is a frequent speaker for retreats and conferences. She lives with her two teenagers in Lone Tree, Colorado.