Taking a Break from Active Parenting

Posted by on October 16, 2023

“Nagging” is something I hear about in my practice from time to time. And, full disclosure, it’s something I hear about in my house as well. I’ve started referring to nagging as “active parenting.” It feels more gentle somehow, and more intentional. When teens complain to parents about active parenting they are often referring to the things we do to keep them safe from harm, so it’s easy to dismiss their criticism without considering it. We know that active parenting is part of our job description, and we employ it to keep our kids out of danger and on the right track for healthy development. But our kids have a point. When we stay in our active parenting roles without taking breaks, it can undermine closeness and comfort in our relationships with our teens. 

Consider this analogy of a workplace relationship. Imagine that you have a boss who you feel safe with, at a company where you enjoy working. Consider those small conversations you have with your boss about your respective families, or a restaurant you went to on the weekend, or the shoes you’re wearing that are killing your feet. Now imagine that every time you had these little conversations with your boss, she or he used it as an opportunity to actively manage your performance. What if you complained about your shoes and your boss answered by reprimanding you for spending money on them? What if you shared your experience at a new restaurant and your boss cautioned you about dining out too often in today’s economy? After a while, you might shut down or avoid these conversations. The workday would be less enjoyable without these breaks from the formal boss-employee relationship dynamic. Those moments of interpersonal connection in the workplace soften the workload and make us feel liked and appreciated. These brief connections make the relationship feel more human and less contractual. 

Taking a break from active parenting mode is important in families too. These breaks facilitate connection, and they remind us that family life includes moments when we get to enjoy each other’s company. But staying in active parenting mode is a hard habit for us parents to break. Making space for connection without direction requires a bit of effort on our part. Next time your teen shares something with you that sets you up with an opportunity to connect, slow the conversation down and consider it. If your teen comes home and says, “My chemistry teacher hates me,” consider putting aside your active parenting voice that wants to turn the conversation into a parenting moment about chemistry grades. Consider that your teen might have a point, even if their language is extreme. Stay curious. And, if you can’t find the right words at the moment, you can always reach for that universal (but slightly coarse) phrase that makes us all feel validated on tough days: “That sucks.”

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