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Benefits of Sharing Feelings: After a Hard Day, This Is How She Treats Me

TEEN

It’s been a long day at school. I start off my morning by sleeping in past my alarm. There’s no time to eat breakfast, and I forget my lunch.

It’s safe to say things don’t improve throughout the day. I am looking forward to going home and just relaxing. Yet I’ve barely parked the car in the driveway—and before I even close my door, my mom has begun her daily interrogation routine.

Teen Stress Is Everywhere

She always asks the same questions. How was your day? Did you learn anything new? Why didn’t you clean the kitchen this morning? I always give the same answers. Fine. No. I thought it was clean. And yet, she always asks.

No sooner has my final answer left my lips when the commands begin. Take in the groceries! Let out the dogs! Don’t walk into the house with your shoes on! Go vacuum the driveway! (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Of course, I comply sweetly and without complaint (even with the most bewildering requests) so as to avoid the wrath of my mother, and then I attempt to slip away unnoticed. But I hear my presence being beckoned once again. Always one more chore.

Sometimes I just can’t wait for college.

Sarah Smith is the spectacular third child of Jennifer and is ready to embark on a worldwide yak-hunting tour after high school graduation. Or she may just go on to school to be an engineer.


MOM

It’s been a long day at work, with plenty of stresses and concerns. The phone rang nonstop, I had to deal with an unhappy customer, deliveries were late, and bad weather was interfering with our work schedule.

The kids left the kitchen a mess when they hurried out the door that morning, leaving scrambled egg remains drying on the counter, dirty dishes in the sink, and milk souring in smudged glasses on the counter.

I haven’t even begun dinner preparations and am already planning which child has to go where after school.

Parent Stress Is Everywhere

Now I hear the slam of a car door in the driveway, announcing loudly that the teens are home from school.

I happily greet them with a big smile on my face, hugging bodies laden with monstrously heavy backpacks. Imagine my shock when I am met with surly faces and monotone answers to my sweet queries about their days and subtle requests for help with bringing in the groceries.

When I try (oh-so-gently) to pry information out of these humans that I gave birth to, the coldness could freeze boiling water! At the teensiest request for a little assistance, the children act like they are being forced into heavy labor.

I roll my eyes and do it myself.

Jennifer Polk is the weary mother of four challenging children. Sarah is her third. Jennifer is an engineer and owns a business in South Carolina.


EXPERT

Teens and parents cohabitate, but they are often on very different planes. Jennifer and Sarah’s struggle is a common one. With a few adjustments, this situation could be greatly improved.

Share feelings. Parents and teens each have their own stresses, but neither Sarah nor Jennifer seems to be able to empathize with the other. Each should have five uninterrupted minutes to explain how she is feeling.

The Benefit Of Sharing Our Feelings

They can speak about what they need from the other without saying what the other doesn’t do. For example, Sarah can say, “When I get home from school, I need a little time alone to decompress.” Jennifer is more likely to hear and understand this than if Sarah said, “You never leave me alone. You are always nagging about something.”

Understand teen development. Sometimes, without a more appropriate way to gain independence, teens lean toward the rude and obnoxious. Realizing that this is developmentally appropriate can help Jennifer not to take it personally.

Consider parents’ feelings. Similarly, it would benefit Sarah to learn that how she interacts with her mother directly impacts the way her mother responds to her. If Sarah brushes her mother off and doesn’t do what is asked, it only makes sense that Jennifer will become aggravated and intrusive.

Set clear expectations. Jennifer can set clear expectations and communicate those expectations—preferably in writing—and then enforce consequences consistently. She will then avoid feeling like a nag or just doing it herself, and this will be better for both mom and daughter.

Lastly, it would be helpful for mom to avoid reinforcing some of her kids’ unpleasant behaviors. This can be done by ignoring the whining, complaining, and provoking behaviors that teens use regularly to avoid having to participate in family activities or do chores. Instead, Jennifer could focus her energy on rewarding her kids when they listen, follow through, or are pleasant.

Catherine Pearlman

Catherine Pearlman is the author of  Ignore It: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction. Catherine is a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of The Family Coach.