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  • Matthew Gallagher

Not while you’re living under my roof…

I will always remember a piece of wisdom from my first year of teaching illustrating the importance of choosing battles. After concluding an argument with a 9th grader, the seasoned paraeducator in my classroom gently admonished me with the following: “never wrestle with a pig because the pig loves it and you both get dirty.” I should clarify, she was consistently kind and compassionate and not comparing the child to a farm animal. Rather, she was observing the futility of my effort in a battle I could not win. 

Parents face similar no-win situations every day with the additional challenge of adjusting to a moving target as our children grow up. On a macro level most of us recognize that we would not parent a five-year-old the way we parent a 15-year-old, but our unconscious emotional reactions do not operate with that big picture objectivity. Instead we react in the moment to whatever emotion was triggered by our child’s behavior. Often we exercise control to avoid consequences we fear for them, ourselves, or both. As conflict escalates in mutual outrage we begin making threats that our emotionally sober mind never intends to enforce. Parents deserve empathy in this challenge because we naturally want to maintain autonomy in our own home and we are certainly responsible for and to our children.

Reminding ourselves of our adolescent child’s need for independence can offer a helpful perspective in choosing battles. Whether or not our child truly enjoys arguments, their need for autonomy drives them as much as our sense of principles as a parent. We also experience inevitable tension as young adults begin living out there developing beliefs often contrasting those of the parents. Arguing a contradictory position is a way of acting out the feelings of independence we naturally seek in adolescence, which sometimes looks like impulsive defiance. Parents of adolescents can help themselves by choosing battles more selectively and viewing themselves as coaches rather than remote control operators. This concept is not intended to undermine the authority of parents, but will hopefully prompt evaluation of motives between supporting our children and controlling them. Using this metaphor parents can remind themselves that coaches don’t go out on the field and have to trust players have to learn from their own errors.

Matthew Gallagher, LCPC

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