By: Carol Maxym, Ph.D.
It’s not just luck that in the many years I’ve worked with teens and parents in turmoil, that I have met so many extraordinary, wonderful people, both young and old. The parents I’ve had the privilege to work with are good, dedicated, loving caretakers of good kids, but, like their kids, they have lost their way and are searching to find it again.
Overwhelmed by too much advice from friends, family, professionals, magazines, and talk shows and justifiably terrified by the everyday dangers of life in the teen world, mothers buy more books, read more articles, and make appointments with numerous professionals only to become more confused and as a result, increasingly desperate. I don’t blame them. As one mother said to me, “I’ve bought and read all the books and done what they told me, but nothing changes.” Of course not, because the advice you’ve been receiving from all those sources is based on the erroneous assumption that the problems start and stop with you and your kids while failing to recognize that the problems are deep and systemic, and come from and go to the heart of our modern culture.
Having given up most of the time-honored structures of family and community life, having collapsed the once strong identity of the school system, and having presented kids with more choices and more power than most adults have had at any time in memorable past, it’s no wonder that we are nation of families in crisis. These problems combined with fewer teachings about moral, civic, and ethical values, we are faced with the challenge of navigating a complex world as we search to reclaim the past in order to create a functional and sustainable future.
Mothering is often looked as being a loving guide and role model for a cherished being. However, it can’t be simplified into a couple of quick fixes such as briefly talking to your child, taking one or more perspectives, and seeking more “help.” Mothers don’t have the luxury of being fictional June Cleavers or Carol Bradys. The problems you face are real and complicated.
I hope you’ll find it refreshing as you read these blogs that I’m not tantalizing you with simple explanations and quick, but temporary fixes that both you and I know don’t help in the long-run. Instead, I provide scripts for better conversations with your kids, because, as you know, your kids won’t always follow the script and then you’ll end up at square one all over again. Nor will you find the all too familiar psycho-babble jargon that, like all jargon, has lost all meaning. I don’t lay on the guilt or create the family fight by naively asking you to “cancel your meeting to spend more time with your kids,” because I understand that you can’t always cancel that meeting, and it wouldn’t solve your problems anyway.
Instead, speaking to you as I do to my clients, the topics will be about quality not quantity, about the mother-child connection, not being your child’s best friend. Let’s think about the post-post-modern mothering litany of all the things that kids and moms are supposedly entitled to and explore new ways to think through problems, then find real solutions to the problems you really have, not ones that—and very fortunately—you more than likely don’t really have.
Although national in scope, the crisis becomes very personal when it affects your family, and so the solutions must be centered on your family and in the community in which you live in, and in the nation beyond. To solve problems, it’s necessary to understand them in all their breadth and scope, including their sources.
Nowadays, there are so many lists about how to keep your child 100% safe and give him or her each and every possible opportunity. It becomes a sort of modern myth that you can do that—even though you cannot. But myths, using the word more literally than figuratively, reveal profound psychological truths that describe our deepest relationships to what matters most in our lives. They are expressed in terms we understand from our own life experiences. Our modern myths connect us first to the essence of consumerism and the banality of our lives, then nostalgically to the more profound parts of ourselves as individuals and people living in the present, but hoping for a brighter future.
Recently when I was speaking with one of my clients, I laughed when he called me “Warrior Woman.” Then I remembered I had heard that phrase used before to describe me, and I realized there is truth in it. My cause… kids, parents, and a better future for us all. Sometimes I joke that the main reason I work with teens and parents in turmoil is to protect my Social Security; after all, if today’s kids don’t find the peace and courage to focus their energy on creating a future for themselves, who is going to work to support us all in retirement? But even more importantly, who will shepherd this amazing experiment in democracy that we have shared and loved through the first half of the 21st century, if not our kids?
With all my heart I fear what will happen to the kids, the parents, and to our culture if we do not step in now and call a stop to the destructive and self-destructive nonsense that plagues our everyday lives. When is there a day when there is no news story about a teen or about teenage problems? This must stop. It can stop. No part of the crisis in your living room or the world beyond it is inevitable or has to be a permanent state of being.