Just Say NO

Kelly Sundayby Kelly Sunday

Somehow, when the kids were toddlers, it didn’t seem to matter when you, as parents laughed at their misbehavior. The years go by in a blink.  You now have an adolescent in your house.  Not only do you now have a stranger constantly asking you for money but you also have a stranger in your bed.  Who is this person that I married and why does he keep taking their side?

Your teenager is sleeping what seems to you as excessively.  By the way, researchers agree that this is quite normal and actually needed for the growth of neural pathways.  I like to think that it is also the time in which their attitudes grow, as well!  Not only are they sleeping a lot but they appear oblivious and detached to everything going on around them.  So we think.  They are looking for limits and they are looking to see who is going to set them and how they will be delivered!

Parenting is a challenge on its best day.  Co-parenting is the ultimate challenge!  If there is so much as a waiver, they smell fear, see dissension and attack.  Splitting or playing one parent off of the other is a tactical adolescent maneuver.  It is a tactic used to meet a greater need (power, belonging, security) even if what we see is the need for a new I-Tune card or a ride to a football game.

Why is it so difficult to agree with one another all of a sudden?   It is not just your teenager that you are in combat with now.  You never really recognized that you felt so differently from your spouse about dating, cell phones, grades, work ethics, eating habits, sportsmanship, church, clothing designers, etc.  Your teenager isn’t really interested in how you grew up or how high the snow was that you were forced to walk through on the way to school.   They want an answer; they want what they want and they want it now!  They NEED a unified decision and an answer even if that answer is “No.”  An unwaivering, firm, and clear “NO” is easier said than delivered.  The hurdle that we have to cross is to accept our own adolescent years and recognize that we cannot master the losses, mistakes or successes of our past by making our children into a new US.  There is a drive in humans to master experiences in which one perceived him/herself to be inadequate, powerless, helpless, or a failure.  Where else is that drive more  expressed and revealed, then in parenting?  You watch your teenagers’ mood swings daily.  One minute devastated due to an argument with a friend and the other on top of the world because of a game win.  You see their pain.  Sometimes you even feel their pain.  It is THEIR pain, however, and it is okay for them to experience it while you are offering collective support from a distance.

As we, women, look at our children through our own individual lenses, we need to consider the different the experiences of our spouse.  There are obvious gender differences.  How did my husband manage hurt feelings, losses on the field, family disappointments, accomplishments, not getting into the college he wanted or periodic breakups with girlfriends?  The list is endless.  I really did think we were the same person, compatible, educated and therefore, unified in how we would deliver another bright promising teenager to the doorsteps of Harvard, well okay, maybe not there.

It was not until I accepted that there is no way possible for us to have had the same experiences, nonetheless, processed and managed them the same way, that it finally made sense.  It doesn’t matter what parents agree or disagree about as long as they choose their position as a unified front.  Once you agree on the mission, how to get there becomes even easier.  For example, we are parents first and friends later.  We are the guardrails that keep are kids moving safely on their journey and when they hit a bump, we are there standing on either side for support, reassurance, and guidance.  We will supply the boundaries so that they can make their own decisions in a dependable and safe environment.

I contend that most parents will have similar goals and aspirations for their children.  Sometimes this gets complicated by divorce, remarriages, or blended families but aren’t the goals the same?   We want healthy kids.  We want educated kids.  We want kids who are kind to others.  We want kids who are happy.  Parents can continue to learn new things about each other as they navigate through this journey.  You can agree to disagree behind the scenes, away from your teenager.  You can say, “Wow, you feel strongly about this one, honey, we’ll do this one your way.  Remember, the next time it is my way!”  Most importantly, don’t let your teen’s moodiness, behaviors, and splitting distract you from the job at hand.  Sometimes being able to stand behind a “no” is the best gift you can give your child!



Kelly has been working in the mental health field for over twenty years.  In addition to her therapeutic practice work at Bethlehem Counseling Associates, Kelly is enjoying her work as a relationship coach for Mastermatchmakers of VH1’s Tough Love and Tough Love Couples.