When our daughter Heather was a teenager it seemed as though I couldn't say anything to her without it ending in a skirmish. Whether it was asking her to set the table, discussing her favorite television show, or conversing about our upcoming vacation plans. I am NOT exaggerating! This seemed to go on for weeks and finally one day, I'd had enough! After another verbal bout with her at dinner, I asked my husband Don if we could go on a walk together around the block. He agreed and we were off.
As soon as we got a little distance from our house, I said to him in a frustrated tone:
"I don't understand this! No matter what we talk about it always ends up the same with Heather. I just don't know what's going on, but I'm sick of it!" I declared. Don said in a gentle voice, "Honey, do you want to know?" At that moment, I was desperate so I said "yes."
"Honey, when you start a conversation with her, everything is fine, but then you get a condescending tone in your voice and she reacts to it."
I said angrily defiant, "Fine! I'll never speak to her again!" We continued our walk in silence until about half-way around our large cul-de-sac I said to my husband, "I know you must be right, but I don't know when I do that. I can't hear it in my voice." I then asked Don for his help. The rest of the walk home we worked out some signals that he would employ to help me when I was going down the road of condescension with Heather. As soon as he heard it from across the room he would take both hands, stretch them out in front of him and make a motion downward as if to say "calm it down." Or, at times he took one hand and waved it across the middle of his neck communicating "cut it out". At other times, he'd make the "T" for time-out sign with his hands or make a motion across his lips signalling me to "zip it!"
I wish I could tell you I learned quickly. I didn't. It took about six months of consistent signalling before I could hear my patronizing tone and make a change. Sometimes I slipped into old patterns and would catch myself just before the conversation deteriorated. Old patterns die a slow death.
Are you stuck in a similar rut with your teenager? Or do you find yourself threatening your ten year old with the same consequences over and over to no avail? Are you tired of having the same regrets over your interactions with your children? It may be time to ask for some help. You can solicit help from good friends who are beyond your parenting stage, from one of your parents, your spouse, or if needed, it might be helpful to take a parenting class or make a counseling appointment with a professional.
None of us are perfect parents. Just ask my husband. And remember, God is the Only Perfect Parent and He offers us grace, understanding, and the power to change as we humbly ask for help.