When I reflect upon my life, my most difficult years were in middle school and early high school. As my own daughter is in the beginning of this time of life, I feel challenged as a parent to support and strengthen this important time of development.
I recently listened to a podcast by Jack Kornfield on Zencast. The topic was on respect and dignity. I listened while I was walking in the forest. At one moment was struck about how the stories were speaking to me directly on how best to parent the tween/teen years. I realized that much of what my daughter needs from me is respectful attention. She just wants respect and dignity. I don’t always show it. I don’t take the time. It brought tears to me eyes.
Jack often tells a story a young boy at dinner in a restaurant (I don’t recall if it was in the above teachings or not). The waitress comes around and takes everyone’s order. When she comes to the boy, he says he will have a hotdog. His mother interrupts and says, “No, he will have the roast beef.”
The waitress continues to take the rest of the table’s orders, then turns to the boy and asks if would like ketchup or mustard with his hot dog.
The boy turns to his family and says, “She thinks I am real.”
How often do we not let our children make decisions for themselves? There are times as parents we must put limits are enforce certain rules and behavior (you must brush your teeth!); however, oncee I listened to this story, I was observant of how we do this in our own home. Simple things like asking repeatedly, “Do you want some smoothie?” when our son has answered no. We know he likes smoothie. We know he often changes his mind and wants some after it is made, but by repeatedly asking him, we are not respecting his autonomy. What’s the harm in accepting his first answer, making extra smoothie, and allowing him to change his mind?
With a tween or teenager, the same applies. I realized my daughter doesn’t just want attention from me, but she wants respectful attention. It’s not just about smoothies. She wants to know I am listening to her. Just asking her openly what she wants or expects from me at a certain moment lets her know I am listening without trying to solve or impart my point of view.
Jack does tell another story in the above podcast that illustrated this point beautifully. It is a story that may ring a bell, as I think it what Shrek was based on. It is the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. This Arthurian legend revealed long ago what women really want or desire. I would suggest the same holds true for our children transitioning towards adulthood.
The answer, as revealed in Stories to Grow By, is
“Sir,” said Lady Ragnell, “now thou shalt know what women desire above all else. Some men say we desire to be beautiful, or that we desire attentions from many men, or that we desire to be well wed. Thus, these men do not know the truth. What we desire above all else is to have sovereignty, to rule our lives as we see fit, to not be beholden to another. Go forth, Sir King, for now thy life is assured.”
Of course, we cannot allow our children to be totally sovereign, but much of the arguing and negative behavior we experience is from our lack of respect of how they “see fit”. If we truly listen, we can still gently guide with respect so our children still feel “real”.
The answer is to what women really want is only revealed because the king promises his nephew Sir Gawain in marriage to a foul, “loathsome” lady, the one who gave the answer to the king. Upon the night of the wedding, Sir Gawain tries to leave the bed chamber, but his new wife will not have it. Upon their first kiss, she changes into a beautiful woman…the kind every knight would wish to marry….but of course, there is a catch.
Sir Gawain must make a choice. The spell has been partially broken, but he must decide whether he wants his new wife to be beautiful during the day or beautiful at night. It’s a tough choice. To me it symbolizes so much. Would you choose to have the beautiful wife during the day when others would see her, or is it more important to have the beauty cherished to yourself in the evenings?
In the end, Sir Gawain chooses neither. He tells his bride to pick what she would prefer. He gives her autonomy and respect. The spell is broken. She is beautiful all the time. It was the right answer.
What does this story have to do with raising teenagers consciously? Is this what our older children really want?
What if you were faced with the same choice for your teenager? Not so much about physical beauty, but what if you could have the perfect child during the day when he/she is at school and in the community or the perfect child at home?
Again, the choices are wrong. Our children need just what every woman wants.
What we desire above all else is to have sovereignty, to rule our lives as we see fit
Clearly, this is not entirely possible. We don’t want our children getting face tattoos and piercings! Yet there are many places where we can give them autonomy where we are used to taking it away when they were toddlers.
The teen years are a beautiful time of transition. May we support our children on their journey of free will to find their path in life!
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