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  • Writer's pictureH.D. Lee

My Adolescents, My Growth Opportunity

Updated: Apr 29



Some of you are aware that I have two children who are now firmly in the no-man’s-land between childhood and adulthood: adolescence. This is a dreaded period for many parents for various reasons, among them are the loss of control and the uninvited change in one’s relationship ! 


This month, I’d like to share some of my experiences as a parent. This will be useful for you whether you are a parent or not, because navigating a changing relationship with our loved ones, as well as our self is relevant as a personal development topic.


The culture shock of waking up to the unearthing of a new personality cannot be understated as I contemplate on the supersonic changes I’ve seen unfold in my children over the past eighteen months. Gone is the sweet, loving, and bouncing-off-the roof joyful child. The sulking, emotionally unpredictable, and stone faced teenager stands in the place where my daughters used to be. This is the joys of parenthood, which is a powerful vehicle for experiencing the ups and downs of life, and that which often presents itself as unwelcome change.


As much as I have encouraged my daughters’ burgeoning independence and exploration beyond the cozy family nest, it has been difficult for me to make the transition into the parent I know I must become in this next phase of my children’s development. This is because the process of letting go of how I am used to parenting them takes conscious effort. To be conscious is to be aware of the totality of the range of emotions and thoughts within ourselves, to the extent that is possible, of course. This conscious awareness then, would also necessarily shine a light on the less agreeable things inside ourselves, such as anger, resentment, or a sense of loneliness.


Unconscious attachments which I created and the specific ways I played the role of father were revealed in the form of psychological pain as my children gradually distanced themselves from me. This is no small thing if you have experienced them (i.e psychological pain) before. Letting go, in any case, is one of life’s main lessons. We are all learning this lesson over and over again, and the degree of difficulty always increases as we master the “lower” level lessons.



The truth is when I peered into the presence of what had been bothering me for months, I found beauty at the bottom of it. What I do mean by this? Well, during this process of psychological separation, though it was true I was begrudging regarding no longer being referred to as the authority for all things big and small, there was a deeper reason for which I was regularly feeling sadness and grief. A physical felt sense and this inner knowing was easily accessible when I was open to it, and they told me that I’ve been attached to the beauty of the memories and experience of what it meant to be a parent to small children. The sights, sounds, and memories of the beautiful days long gone had been burnished into my consciousness.


As I felt into my sadness and grief, I also sensed the presence of anger, which was surprising for me. A bit of introspection and self-inquiry revealed this sense of having been abandoned or betrayed or snubbed all rolled into one. Inquiring into this anger further, I was able to unpack things further. I found, for example, that I was unhappy that I could no longer command my children’s attention and obedience the way I used to with a simple request.

 

What does a father do when he has been gifted with the beauty of the experience of raising his children but who now has to let that go in order to learn the lesson of the day? Well, father Time in his infinite patience gave me plenty of opportunities to reflect, introspect, and learn from my grieving and my mistakes. This takes time, because the direction that life is moving us towards is not always the direction we would like to go in, at least not in our “right” minds. It takes going through the stages of “it should not be like that !” to “so this is what it is…?” to “how do I best work with it?”.  


A more detailed rendition of this psychological progression might start with a person’s shock of a new disgusting reality, and then move into her denial of the situation, and then go on to her fighting against the flow, to her begrudging acceptance of defeat, and finally, to a grateful heart filled with some wisdom of how to “grow with the flow”.



Is it possible to move through a similar situation in a more graceful manner? What else can I share with you if you just happen to be going through a similar situation? Well, one of the things I did was to recognize the help I already had. Mentors and trusted friends around me were generally ready to lend their perspective and insights. All I needed to do was to be open to help and ask for it. Choosing the right mentor and friend to speak to, however, does take discernment on your part. Be open and seek out the wisdom of those who may not necessarily see things your way. Seek out especially those who would dare to ask you to look at yourself and ask you to change.

In terms of personal responsibility, which is what I advocate, the most useful thing I did was to see how I needed to adjust as a parent. Our relationship with our children, as in our relationship with our intimate other, will generally awaken unworked and unhealed parts of ourselves. Due to my interest, passion, and work in the personal development domain, I had already invested a fair amount of effort to understand the human psyche in general, and my own in particular. Regardless, I believe it is beneficial for everyone to invest regular time and energy to understanding themselves. We can make an enormous impact on the way we experience life when we begin to understand our own mind and its relationship to the world.


For parents of teens: It has further helped me to learn that the developmental needs of a teen is to spread her wings through self-directed exploration in terms of how she uses her time, identity building via immersion in mainstream culture and interaction with their peers, and timely support for her to confront, negotiate, and resolve difficult emotions and situations. This is how they develop a sense of self-worth, resilience, and experience new aspects of their self.


In parallel, the developmental tasks of the parent in this stage include learning to grant their adolescent children more autonomy and responsibility in a meaningful manner, while clarifying, evolving and reinforcing the values they have without recoiling from the inevitable confrontation with their adolescent children. These interpersonal conflicts, conducted in a healthy and sane manner, are meant to catalyze the formation of the adolescent’s character development and her worldview.


Of course, the work for the parent, as it would be for any individual in any stage of his development once a sense of self has been fully formed, is the work of increasing the circumference and the range of his own self-awareness. Self-awareness is the beginning, middle, and end of one’s change for the better.


This article was published originally as the April 2024 "Life is Change" article.

Photograph credits:

Top: "Mother protecting child" By Jian Hui Liao

Middle: “Moon in the day sky” by Chiara Sosiophotograph

Bottom: “Free solo Alex Honnold rock climbing" by National Geographic

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