Family Happiness with Healthy Teen Development

When children enter the teen years, we can easily feel adrift, “out of our element”, especially if we understand normal child development better than teen development. Through coaching, Kay carefully helped Diane apply a model she knew about child development, to help her better understand and appreciate her fifteen-year-old. It is a powerful story, demonstrating how important brain-compatible parenting is during adolescence.

As I often do with my clients, I invited Diane to send me a photo of her family. It is always interesting to see what each client chooses—sometimes a formal family portrait or a few candid snapshots. Over the years, the photos have rarely arrived electronically, but more often padded in envelopes, showing evidence of great care. When the envelopes arrive, I am always excited to catch a glimpse of the relationships within the family, and to connect the faces with the voices that I intently listen to during weekly coaching phone calls.

When Diane contacted me, she expressed a desire to improve her relationship with her 15-year-old stepdaughter, Emma. Over the years the family had been to all kinds of counselors, and Diane said, “I am just so tired of being the family nag.” When Diane read about parent coaching in a leading women’s magazine, she said that she finally felt hopeful that there might be another way.

Diane described Emma as moody and sometimes withdrawn, behaviors that Diane did not recall exhibiting during her own teen years. She expressed that Emma’s personality and outlook on life were the polar opposite of hers. To complicate things, most of Diane’s parenting revolved around her three preschool-aged children, and she recognized that both she and Emma had largely just coexisted in the house for eight years. Diane felt frustrated parenting a teen one moment and a two-year-old the next, leaving her to wonder if she was really any good at parenting at all. At one point Diane said, “I didn’t sign-up for this life.”

When Diane’s envelope containing her family photo arrived, I was excited to open it, since we had already had a few coaching calls. As I slid out the photo I saw that the family portrait only captured five people in it: Diane, her husband, and their three biological children. In that moment I felt struck by Emma’s absence.

During our weekly calls Diane spoke about feeling more competent in parenting her three younger children than in parenting Emma. I asked why she thought this, and she said, “...because my parenting has evolved with their growth, and I have a good understanding of their development. I’ve also read about the ages and stages, and I have lots of opportunity to connect with other moms who have young children.”

So then I asked Diane if she could think of ways to apply a similar model to enhance her understanding of Emma’s development. Diane shared how she was aware that there were books on parenting teens, and that perhaps she could attend more of Emma’s school events, providing her with an opportunity to meet other parents of teens. It was through acknowledging one successful pattern in her parenting that Diane then saw opportunities to make a shift toward parenting Emma with greater understanding and support.

Our coaching connection continued to evolve, and Diane began to visualize and articulate the relationship she sought to have with Emma. She said, “I just don’t want to be a nag all the time, and I want to have one of those good mother-daughter relationships, where we could do something together.” It was nice to hear that Diane saw the value of connecting with Emma and that she recognized that doing something together would lay the foundation for adding shared memories and some fun to their relationship. I asked Diane, “What might this look and feel like?” Diane listed some of Emma’s interests and it was clear that she and Emma, even in all their differences, actually had a couple of common interests. Taking time to do something fun with Emma also meant that Diane would be creating an opportunity for her husband to have more time with their younger children.

In the following weeks, Diane strengthened her vision of her relationship with Emma. She asked, “But what if the vision doesn’t come true?” and I replied, “Dream big, because even if your vision doesn’t occur to the extent you imagined, it will still be an injection of something positive in your family system.” So Diane’s vision consisted of going to the local craft shop, once or twice a month, to participate in a craft activity with Emma, riding at the stable once a month together and then also connecting with her husband to create a “family night” at home. She also wanted to create opportunities for Emma to interact with the younger children, and “family night” seemed like a good way to do this.

To Diane’s surprise, just after three weeks of instituting family night, she overheard Emma talking with a friend and explaining that she couldn’t come over, because Thursday was their “tradition” of family night. Family night had a ripple effect in Diane’s household as her husband, who had a home-based business, realized he had been working too much. Diane’s dream was becoming her reality, and the negativity that had been her primary focal point was shifting toward positive parenting experiences and enhanced ways to connect and build shared memories, especially with Emma.

Recognizing that Diane was juggling a lot with work and family, I invited Diane to monitor when she felt she parented best. I also asked her when she felt the most joy in her parenting. It was during these conversations that Diane said, “I never realized that I had so many options for how I parent; we were really stuck in a rut here.”

On their own accord, Diane and her husband decided to write some parenting goals, recognizing that it had been unrealistic to think that they could “do it all.” I suggested that Diane and her husband create a positive feedback loop within the family, making it a point to verbally acknowledge when they were aware that things were going well. With each weekly call, Diane’s positive energy around her family increased, and it was clear that she and her husband were now successfully creating a different family feel and focus.

Shortly after our final call, I received an envelope from Diane. It had all the telltale signs of being a photograph, and I was excited to see what she had sent. As I opened the flap, I saw that there were several photos enclosed, one of the entire family including Emma, and then a candid shot of Emma and Diane throwing pots at their local craft studio. They were side-by-side, their eyes brightly shining, and laughter abundant. I knew in that moment that Diane’s parenting vision was now her reality.

Kay Gruder, M. Ed.
Woodstock, CT

Parent Success Stories