By Tim Sanford
Part of the Defining Successful Parenting Series
Your job description is doable.
You can validate and you can nurture.
That’s not to say, of course, that people and events won’t conspire to make your job harder. Here are some factors that can make it tough to validate, nurture and keep your fingers off the “control” button.
1. The judgment of other parents.
It’s easy to talk about other parents, evaluating their parenting based on how their teenagers are choosing and behaving. Since moms are often more closely tied to raising children than dads are, they’re especially susceptible to this kind of talking, comparing, and evaluating.
Some parents even do this comparing in the “fellowship” halls of their own churches. Is that fellowship? Is it encouraging and uplifting?
I don’t think so.
The sad news is that it’s so common. Have you been on the receiving end? Did you respond by trying harder to control your teen’s behavior in order to silence the critics?
One lesson I’ve learned as a parent is to guard my mouth and not talk in an “evaluating” manner about another mom or dad. I’ve also learned to guard my heart when I hear others talking about me in that way.
Sure, it’s easier said than done. But nobody said parenting was easy — just doable.
2. Catching up.
When a child hasn’t been sufficiently validated or nurtured, he or she can be thrown into an unconscious emotional “survival mode.”
This can put a record like the following on his or her mental turntable: “The only person in this whole world I can trust to look out for me is me. So I will do whatever I think I have to do to get my needs met.”
If you think I’m talking only about a child adopted from an orphanage overseas, think again. Not getting enough validation or nurture can and does happen in our society, even among upper-middle-class, churchgoing, intact families.
These kids can be found on a continuum ranging from mild to extreme. Those on the mild end of the scale are often underdiagnosed and labeled as strong-willed, having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, perfectionistic, “control freaks,” lazy, underachievers, or just plain selfish.
While these may be partly accurate assessments, they don’t tell the whole story. Attempts to help the teen “get his act together” will be met with limited success, because only surface issues are being addressed and not the underlying attachment and bonding problems.
Young people on the extreme end of this scale get noticed more quickly. Their negative behaviors usually are diagnosed as — among other things — oppositional defiant disorder, rebellion, antisocial behavior, or conduct disorder. Even if these diagnoses are correct, they still don’t address the deeper issue of what’s needed when validation or nurture is lacking.
Whether symptoms are mild or wild, the damage can be deep and severe. Professional therapy with a counselor familiar with bonding and attachment issues is in order.
3. Single parenthood.
If you’re a single parent, you may be facing a real battle.
Is that an understatement, or what?
I’ve said that dads are supposed to validate and moms are to nurture. Where does that leave you?
Mentors and other healthy role models can be very helpful, though most single parents I talk with say it’s not easy to find such people for their teenagers. And finding them may not be enough. You and your teen may need to wear a path to a counselor’s office — being sure to find a professional who has a working understanding of bonding and attachment issues with teenagers.
Melinda had been a single parent to her son for more than nine years when I met the two of them. Andy was now 13. During our first session I asked why they were talking to a therapist like me, since there seemed to be no real issues at hand.
Melinda explained that she just wanted a “checkup” for Andy and herself, to make sure they were both ready for the changes the teenage years would bring.
As the sessions progressed, it became apparent to me that this single mom had gotten it right. Yes, Andy was an “easy child” as far as personality goes. But Melinda had been purposeful in her parenting, and had kept Andy around spiritually solid men in the church through various activities. She’d given Andy enough nurturing and had done her best to see that he’d gotten as much validation as possible. The situation wasn’t perfect, but for Andy it was enough.
There are many stories like Angie’s — and many like Andy’s, too.
If you’re a single mom, you can nurture and validate your teen. If you’re a single dad, you can nurture as well as validate.