Every morning I’d wait in the kitchen with nervous anticipation, like hanging on for enough oxygen to take a breath. I was waiting for my son to come down the hall from his room and see his face. That’s all I needed; I could tell.
My whole day was dictated by my teenager’s mood.
On his bad days, we referred to him as ‘the eyebrow’, a furrowed shelf shading his green/grey eyes that made it clear he was angry, upset, struggling and not available for conversation (AKA steer clear!). It was heartbreaking to watch his own brain attack the kind and sensitive person I knew was in there somewhere.
What’s worse, he and I triggered each other. As an empath and highly sensitive person (HSP), I could sense the weight of his inner turmoil and felt horribly out of control as a master rescuer. That triggered my anxiety and I’d get sharp and impatient with frustration. No matter how much I loved him, some days I couldn’t be around him.
The good days were precious.
They would show up without notice, outnumbered by the struggle days, like the dream that feels so real you don’t want to wake up. His eyes were bright, his posture taller and he even smiled. Seeing him free from his mental prison was liberating, even if it was fleeting.
Those were the days I walked 2 inches off the ground, did my best coaching, offering smiles and kind words freely as if my cup was overflowing with so much to give.
I wasn’t me; I was a reflection of him.
By age 8, Kyle was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (high performance and social anxiety) with a good dose of OCD. Puberty was like throwing gasoline on a ‘barely in control’ fire and my rescuing habits were frantically trying to douse the flames in a toxic dance of codependence.
Don’t dish out advice you’re not already using.
As a coach, I would often hear myself say things to clients that resonated in my heart. A common theme was learning to develop self-care routines to lower stress and health risks, and create a happier, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. That message wasn’t lost on me. I was encouraging parents to ‘own their power’ and allow individuation, the natural process of adolescents becoming more emotionally independent that feels like pulling away and rejection. It’s an opportunity to remember who you are beyond your title of ‘mom’ or ‘dad’, just as your teen is figuring out who they are beyond being your son or daughter.
I was the thermostat rather than the thermometer.
I was reflecting Kyle’s mental state rather than setting my own and it was exhausting, let alone making both our lives harder. He could feel my expectations and disappointment which added to his struggle.
I deserved to be happy and set a better example of being whole and healed. Not to spite him but to set an emotional boundary that helped us both. Only then could I truly support Kyle, I just needed to give myself permission.
As parents, you spend so much time trying to figure out behavioral boundaries; what they are and what they aren’t, how to set them up and hold them, it’s easy to overlook healthy emotional boundaries. I didn’t even know what those were until I went back to school to be a coach 14 years ago.
Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs. – Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
My deep desire to help my son had taken me pretty far down that rabbit hole. So now what? Getting honest with myself about what I could control and what I couldn’t, and what was mine to own and what wasn’t was a mind-blowing and empowering process where I came face to face with my ego and my inner two-year-old all at the same time.
“What do you mean I can’t control his feelings? Or show love by taking responsibility for his feelings? So now I’m just a cold-hearted and uncaring mom because I’m only taking care of me?”
So many lies and stories I’d been telling myself to make my own situation unsustainable, unrealistic, stressful, frustrating, and exhausting! When this meme showed up in my social feed a few years ago I just sat as stared as it perfectly illustrated my new truth. A way forward with healthy emotional boundaries I could also model for my teens.
Do I still have an inner rescuer who loves control, ready to jump in at any moment? Hell yes!
Except now I use these reminders to keep her as my ally fighting for good:
- When I notice her presence, I assure her she’s safe, valued, and appreciated having me as her cause and no one else.
- I acknowledge how hard it is for me to see people I love struggle because I easily pick up on their feelings.
- I remember that healthy love is holding others as capable to be in their struggle and support doesn’t mean doing it for them.
- I remember how smothered and insulted I’ve felt (especially as a teen) when someone tried to rescue me.
- I recall the incredible insight, learning, resilience, and courage I’ve built from going through challenges of being loved, not rescued.
You may not have had healthy emotional boundaries in your home and unfortunately, these aren’t taught in school which set us up for more hurt and pain than we’d like. The good news is, you can start now and model emotional boundaries for your teens so they don’t have to learn the way you did.
The truth is, parenting IS hard, and your teen didn’t come with an instruction manual. If you want to have a respectful, healthy relationship with your teen click below to learn my 3 pillars for creating an honest, connected relationship that lasts a lifetime, WITHOUT having to be a perfect parent.