Friday, 21 March 2014

Lean on Your Tribe

Consider this... a member of your family is having a stressful time with one of their kids. They approach you and ask for some help.

What would you do?

You’ve got your answer? Good. Hold that thought. See if you can find some of your own stories in what’s to follow.

With my seventeen year-old son’s permission I can share that my wife Lisa and I have not had the easiest time guiding our youngest through his adolescent years. His challenges would all be considered what you would say are some of the things a mum, dad and teenager can encounter in this time of life.  Tough but - when all is said and done – pretty normal challenges. He’s pushed boundaries, I’ve picked the wrong fights. In a few years time we’ll probably look back and laugh at how stubborn we both have been.

There are signs that we are emerging through the other side of an, at times, ugly journey. How ugly? Do you remember how Tim Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne finally escaped from Shawshank prison?

His friend Red (the Morgan Freeman character), in that timeless narration voiceover said...

“Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to. Five hundred yards... that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.”

What do you think? Is that sewer pipe not a brilliant metaphor for parents guiding a teenager through a difficult adolescence?

We might be getting to the end of the pipe, touch wood. A few weekends ago, at 1am on a Sunday morning, I found myself sitting in my car in a suburban street performing the designated driver duties. Lisa was still awake, so she came along for the ride and made the ubiquitous phone call (we don’t knock on the door any more do we?).

A handful of young folk were starting to appear in the street.

We have a phrase for how we like to find the young bloke when he emerges from a party – in good order. This morning he was in good order. He appeared with a mate and his girlfriend. Jack asks if we can give his friends a lift back home. As we drive off, the banter starts. The young lady is very chatty and I can’t remember what I said but she remarked to Jack that he had the coolest parents ever. We had to laugh. This would not be Jack’s usual opinion (well certainly not the way he sees his dad). We’ve laughed again today – enjoying some opportunities to say to Jack that we are really happy with how he’s going at the moment... in Year 12, chipping away at the homework and balancing the social life with his biggest year at school yet.

Half way through last year we certainly felt stuck somewhere in the middle of that metaphoric pipe.

It seemed like every week we were hitting problems. Boundary crossed. Consequence. Another boundary crossed – another tougher consequence. From both sides, it felt like all we were doing was upping the ante. I started to feel bereft and said to Lisa... “Do you feel like we are running out of ideas?” Lisa agreed. There will be parents now reading this who know that feeling.

As that feeling of helplessness began to overwhelm, one idea made a welcome visit.

I remembered that Jack was pushing boundaries in a way that my youngest brother Greg had done when he was growing up. I left home just before his teenage years... travelled around the country and the world. So we came in and out of each others lives. I do remember though that he gave mum and dad a bit of heartache. Being eleven years older than Greg, I have always looked at him as my little brother. He had got married the year before and was about three weeks away from becoming a dad. I shared with Lisa the idea... to ask Greg to possibly help us with Jack – could he come and simply have a chat with him.

I called Greg, it was the weekend, could he spare some time – because of what I remember he was like as a teenager – to come and have a chat with Jack some time soon. Greg lives on the other side of town.

Do you know what happened? Greg was at our door within half an hour. He took Jack out for lunch. Yum Cha in fact (which I remarked to Lisa was a pretty mixed up consequence – but he was Greg’s project now). Greg visited the next weekend and this time was equipped with some goal setting materials he had been given in a course he had done at work. He invited Jack to work through the process with him... each of them working on their own goals but at the same time, together, so that they could encourage each other. I can’t recall how many times Jack has been lectured by yours truly about the need to have goals. Of course that message is going to be better received by Jack’s much cooler, younger uncle than the broken record messages of his old man.

We had a family birthday gathering a few weeks ago, just before Jack started his last year of high school. Greg presented him with a letter. I don’t know what was in it but Jack, as you’ve been informed has made a brilliant start to the year.

It had never occurred to me until then to ask someone for help. In fact, the realisation came that this was the first time I had asked Greg for something that in anyway credited him as being an adult. My ‘little’ brother has been an adult for at least 18 years now. In the middle of a very busy, exciting time in his life (he now has a baby son, Isaac) Greg responded to a request from his brother to help his nephew.

What did you say in answer to that question at the start of this story... if a member of your family or a close friend asked you for help, what would you say? My guess is that most of us would respond like my brother did.

Why is it that I only thought to ask Greg for help when he was what felt like the last idea left?

We live in a world where we often feel we’ve got to solve stuff ourselves. If Greg needs a chop out with Isaac in 15 years or so, I’m there. Or, maybe better still, his big cousin Jack will step in.

What’s the big take away from this story? When you are doing it tough with your teenager... indeed when you encounter any challenge raising your kids... Lean on Your Tribe.

They are waiting to be asked.

You’d help them in similar circumstances wouldn’t you? Yes?

Then ask. 

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