Seated at our kitchen table with my hands wrapped around my hot cinnamon tea, I heard my boys starting their day upstairs. I knew my moments of quiet solitude would soon evaporate. As they came down the stairs my younger son chirped his usual, ‘good morning!’ With my oldest, the tone was different.
As he trudged into the kitchen he barely acknowledged me. His greeting was more like a growl. A brief thought of ‘well, this is what thirteen looks like,’ flashed through my head.
The previous night, to compensate for a later bedtime, I determined he should set his alarm for later than normal. It was only by twenty minutes but this frustrated my son to no end. Being routine-oriented, he woke up naturally at his regular time, then proceeded to fume until his alarm went off.
The details of his frustration are not as important as to how I attempted to get us through the conflict. Once his younger brother was off to school, I sat down with him and went through a list:
Before I talked about why he was mad, I addressed what he was feeling. I said, “I know you are angry with me and that is okay. I am okay with you being mad at me. I can handle it. Being mad is a normal part of any relationship.” I wanted him to feel comfortable expressing his authentic feelings. I think this helped.
Mirror the Other Person and Take Ownership
Typically, teenage boys are not known for their expressive articulation of feelings. The good news is, as a parent, we can piece together what they are unable to say. This is not ideal, as you would love for them to say it, but it helps spark resolution. In this situation I said the following:
“Last night we both lost track of time and therefore, bedtime got pushed back.
That is on me.
You were frustrated when I ignored your request to keep your wake-up time the same. I understand that you are generally a responsible kid who likes to get up at a certain time. I respect this. I truly appreciate your positive attitude in the morning.
I will do my best to listen to you if something like this happens again.”
By taking responsibility for where I could do better, this softened his anger. He liked hearing his feelings were valid. Complimenting his strengths certainly did not hurt.
Work Toward Preventing the Same Mistakes
Once the air had cleared, I expressed how we would handle bedtime and wake-up time in the future. I said I would be more mindful of watching the clock. If bedtime slipped past us again, he could keep his usual alarm time. If this got to be a pattern or it began to negatively impact his morning attitude, then we would have to make changes. Until that point, he would choose his alarm time. By giving him ownership in the process, I knew it mattered to him.
It took time before he was ready to fully forgive me. I hoped by going through this with a minor issue, it gives us a framework for when more complicated issues arise.
While I did not enjoy him being mad at me, I am glad I gave him the space to do so.
This made the resolution that much sweeter.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent