By: Kristal Clark
Do you ever feel yourself entering a battleground with your teen? Knowing that you are doing all the wrong things, but unable to stop yourself in the moment? This past week, I entered this realm with my daughter, who is not only a teen girl experiencing hormones, but also a teen who experiences a variety of challenges, including OCD and a mood disorder.
This particular day was my teen’s turn to perform the most hated chore in the house….the dreaded dishes. Regardless of how few there may be, EVERYBODY seems to hate washing the dishes.
Our exchange started off smoothly:
"Hey, it’s your turn for dishes. Let’s get that done so we can enjoy the rest of the day”
“I don’t want to do the dishes”
“I get it. I really do. But we all take a turn, and today is yours.”
After a few eye rolls and some mumbling about how everyone else has a dishwasher, she decided to get it over with. Upon opening the towel drawer, she became upset
“There are NO drying towels in here!”
“Oh. Well…I have some hand towels you can use for drying.”
“I’M NOT DOING THIS!”
She abruptly stormed into her room, slamming the door behind her. At this point, I had two options: I could take the bait and further engage, or I could give her some time and space and come back to it.
On this day, I took the bait and entered the battlefield.
“Hey, you can’t slam the door, and you really need to do the dishes. It’s your day.”
“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS ON ME?!?! I SHOULDN’T EVEN HAVE TO DO THE DISHES AND I’M NOT DOING IT!”
I was in a power struggle with someone who had lost her ability to regulate and think clearly.
Her anger escalated rapidly until we were both exhausted.
Fast forward four hours. Instead of walking into her room without permission, I knocked and asked if she was up for talking. I started the conversation by taking responsibility for my part
“Listen, I’m sorry I lost my patience earlier. That’s not who I want to be or what I want to model for you”
This simple apology allowed her to let her defenses down and talk to me. She explained to me that she MUST wash the dishes in a certain order, using certain towels. She panicked when she realized that those towels were not clean, and her anxiety peaked because she couldn’t do what her brain considered to be essential. She lost control of her emotions because her rapidly changing moods are compounded by stress and anxiety. My escalating frustration further increased her anxiety-induced anger. After explaining it all to me, we washed some towels and she did the dishes later that day.
If I had chosen to give her some time and space, we could have had this conversation four hours sooner. We could have come up with a plan together. We could have practiced coping skills when OCD and mood dysregulation coincide. But I wasn’t on my A game that day, and that’s ok. Instead, we practiced apologies and restoration.
It’s ok to not always get it right
It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and in over your head
It’s ok for you or your teen to say “I need time and space” and walk away for a bit
It’s ok to apologize to your child.
Our teens will continue to make mistakes. So will we. When things get rough, take a break and, when you are ready, come back to your child and focus on repairing your connection before insisting on correction. You are not alone. We’ve got this!
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