Zen and parenthood
I was bullied during my sophomore year of high school by this really popular girl and her friends. She used to talk to me a lot in class, so I asked her to a dance. She said no, and then went on Twitter and told everyone, making fun of me the whole time. This guy at school who liked her, and his friends, made my life miserable. I hated life and wanted to kill myself—or them. But I saw a counselor, got past it, changed schools and everything got better. My problem is my parents: They ask me about school every day, and when I say things are fine—which is true—they won’t stop asking me stupid questions. When I get mad, they push back, saying they’re just worried. If I don’t respond, they get mad and we have a huge fight. What can I do? My life is great now, except for my parents.
Here’s a little secret that might help: Parenting is closer to a trade than a profession. Adults learn how to be parents by engaging in the experience of parenting, but they aren’t experts going in. Parents might try to mimic or avoid attitudes and behaviors that their own parents engaged in, but ultimately it’s a hands-on job. Mistakes and ill-informed arguments are common. Reading books on parenting helps to build knowledge, but knowledge informs the intellect. It doesn’t necessarily inspire wise parenting. The key is for parents to be self-aware regarding their own emotional triggers, and to have the self-discipline to respond instead of overreacting. That’s incredibly challenging, of course, and that’s why good parenting is truly a spiritual practice.
The deeper problem in your situation is that your parents are absent. Worrying attaches them to the past (they witnessed your suffering) and the future (they are afraid your suffering will return). So they are not present in the “now.” Your parents are probably scared that you sent signals about being bullied and about the stress and despondency that accompanied being bullied, and they missed those signals. They are afraid that they might miss your signals again and lose you. So, they interrupt your contentment with questions intended to avoid repeating the past. Unfortunately, in doing so, they inadvertently revive the past. Your parents are creating drama, and that’s not cool, but they’re not doing it to annoy you. They’re just scared, and haven’t dealt with those feelings.
Part of the challenge of being a teenager is learning how to be an adult, and then practicing what you’ve learned. With that in mind, I’m assigning you “homework”: The next time your parents ask a question that you consider stupid, don’t answer in anger. Take a breath, count to 10 and notice what’s happening inside your head and heart. Then, ask a question in response: “It sounds like you’re afraid that what happened in the past might happen again, is that true?” In other words, your task now is to not get triggered into having an argument. Be respectful in tone and word choice, but stand up for yourself: “I know I went through a dark time last year. But I’m not stuck there today. I will let you know if I need help.” Got it? Be clear, direct and have a backbone. You might also suggest that your parents see a counselor to process the fears they are dragging into the household each day.