The short and long game to connect to your son
When my son was 13, he started to push back.
It was with his mum first, just being a bit short, trying to challenge with his voice, then being stubborn and resistant. I noticed it in our dealings too – he would pause, then look at me and say, ‘dad, you know we don’t have to agree on everything.’
While at first this was ok – in fact, I started to think about how it was great he was claiming his independence – the resistance seemed to grow.
More things became an issue and I felt myself in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable role: the role of how I had perceived my own Dad. I had to be the disciplinarian, having to be a lot firmer and emphasise rules. It’s uncomfortable to admit this, but I resented my son for forcing me into this role.
Conversely, I knew that I needed to find a way to relate to him. I didn’t want his new steps to adulthood to be characterised by combative arguments and heavy consequences. I fiercely wanted to maintain our loving, gentle and connected relationship. I didn’t really know how to balance it all out.
Know the game
Psychologist and author, Dr Michael Reichert provides a really great way of thinking about how to manage this tension for us as parents (as either mums or dads). He describes how there is a short game and a long game.
In the short game, you do need to be firm – push back, maintain standards especially on points that break values or are not consistent with the young man you know your son to be. This is done through authentic conversations, characterised by honest dialogue.
But in terms of the long game (and that’s the one we focus on ultimately) we understand that this is a phase our son is going through. We still ‘call out’ the goodness of who he is.
Dr Reichert actually believes that we don’t really need to teach boys to be good men, rather we need to make sure that we protect their connection to their own hearts. I really love that idea: as parents, we are not really capable of suppressing all our emotions and that is unhealthy for us to attempt to do so.
The idea of the long game is that we are building the ‘heart connection’ with the young man, we protect it in fact, much as we have done all our parenting lives. Hence, this is something that you already know so much about.
Dr Ray Swann is Deputy Headmaster and Head of Crowther at Brighton Grammar School. He is a father of two teenage children. The Crowther Centre is the School’s research Hub which drives the wellbeing programs for students and parents. He also hosts the Understanding Boys podcast series. Listen to his interview with Dr Michael Reichert
Dr Ray Swann is Deputy Headmaster/Head of Crowther Centre at Brighton Grammar School, an all-boys school in Melbourne. His professional background includes consulting, research, lecturing and coaching. This article is about Parenting
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