Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Welcome to the hard half of parenting

Why adolescents don't appreciate their parents.

It's hard for adolescents to appreciate all their parents do.

Mother's Day and Father's Day are fast approaching. The frequency of the observance is about right. One day out of 365 we take the time to pause, remember, and recognize what most of us otherwise take for granted or simply forget, the value of the parenting we have received.

Adolescence can be a reminder how most parents feel unappreciated most of the time, tending to the needs of a young person who doesn't want such tending to. "Leave me alone!" "I don't want to talk about it!" "You never let me do anything!" "You're always on my case!" "Why do I have to!" "I'll do it later!"

In the adolescent's defense, it's truly hard to value parents when their demands and restraints keep getting in the way of all the freedom one wants at a more independent-minded age. This is why adolescence is the hard half of parenting. Responsible adults must take unpopular stands against what the adolescent wants for his or her best interests, and parents do not get gratitude for their efforts.

In fact, because they are frequently ignored, discounted, tolerated, criticized, resented, and resisted by their adolescent, parents often feel treated as people to put up with, not care-givers who are sacrificing self-interest on a daily basis to help their son or daughter grow.As a school counselor friend put it: "The challenge with adolescents is how to be the best possible parent to a child who believes I am the worst possible parent." Well stated.

What recently brought this neglect to mind was the complaint of one hard working mother of two adolescents. "Most of the time I feel like I'm invisible for all I do!" Except, that's really not a problem. It's a reality. Most parents labor in obscurity because invisibility of effort is simply an unrewarding condition of parental life.

Years ago, I once put this in writing for a group of parents. "Thankless parenting," I called it.

"All parents labor in obscurity,
The work they do too ordinary
To be recognized by the society
That depends for future citizens
Upon the preparation
Parents give.

The endless daily tasks
Are too many to enumerate,
Too small to notice and too transitory
To be remembered by the beloved beneficiaries,
Grown children unable to recount one enth of all the effort
Made on their behalf when parents set themselves aside,
Home from the job still working to provide,
Did it all when all their energy was spent,
Responding to an infant's crying need,
Sacrificing to fulfill a child's heart's desire,
Rushing to meet an adolescent's dire emergency.

Just suppose on graduation into adulthood,
Grown children got a printout listing
Every act of care taking
Received since birth,
A million pages
Itemizing each parenting decision,
Necessary and discretionary service,
And painful problem solving deliberation,
The more mundane the better:
‘Nineteen eighty-one,
On the fourteenth of May
I kept you home with a fever,
And wiped your nose eleven times today.'

Surprised,
The young adult
Politely scans the document
Promising to look it over later,
But never does since daily parenting
Makes for such dull reading,
Wondering:
‘Who would want to know all this?'

No one.

That's why parents labor in obscurity."

Except, if their children want to honor one day a year what they mostly can't remember -- all the work and self-sacrifice made by parents on their behalf. Then they might think to say: "Thanks for all the acts of care, great and mostly small, that you have made to help me grow."

And if it still feels unfair, you may want to reflect on another hard condition that comes with most parenting, of your parents' efforts for you as much as your efforts for children of your own.

Writer Darrell Sifford put this painful truth this way. "Children always mean more to parents than parents mean to children...As much as I loved my mother and father, I don't think it approached their love for me." (The Only Child, 1989, p.170.) How could it be otherwise? After all, no child invests in parents as much as parents invest in their child.

For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, " SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE" (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com

Next week's entry: Lazy adolescents..

Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Austin, Texas. His most recent books are: The Connected Father, The Future of Your Only Child, and Stop Screaming.

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