Living with constant Criticism
Episode #137 – Living with a teen who is constantly criticizing me.
Question(s) of the Day:
I understand it’s normal for teenagers to think they know everything and that their parents are old fashioned and out of touch with reality, but living with constant criticism is something I didn’t sign up for.No matter what I do, my teenager has something negative to say about it. If I use the wrong pronoun for his friend, I’m lectured about how he is a THEY. I get scolded if I make hamburgers for dinner because cows are the second biggest producers of carbon emissions. It’s not like I’m condemning his values, I’m doing my best to be open minded and stay up to speed with social changes, but I can’t buy a new pair of jeans without being reminded about the devastating effects fast fashion is having on the planet.
Do you have any suggestions for surviving the next few years with a “woke” kid who makes me feel like everything I do is wrong? I have tried to explain that criticizing is not the way to effect change but it seems to fall on deaf ears.
My daughter is a delightful human, as far as teenagers go, but she is constantly scrutinizing, and criticizing, my appearance. She complains about my clothing choices, my lack of makeup, and my wrinkles. She wants me to style my long hair with a middle part like hers, and carry a fanny pack diagonally across my body like she does.
Part of me thinks it’s sweet that she wants me to be on trend like she is, but the other part of me gets annoyed with the constant criticism of how I look. Why can’t she just appreciate me as I am?
Parent Educator Answer: What to do with a teen who is constantly criticizing you?
Julie can offer her son some alternative comments like:
“May I offer you a greener alternative to buying your jeans at Old Navy?”
“My friend, Jordan, identifies as they/them.”
“Would you like to go thrifting with me this weekend?”
“Would you be willing to extend ‘meatless mondays’ to three days per week if I cook?”
Write these prompts on cards so he has them on hand. Right now, his way of influencing others makes people defensive. When he learns how to voice his values through polite questions and corrections, he has a better likelihood of impacting the social changes he would like to see in the world.
Your son is focused on all that you aren’t doing perfectly. What if you taught him to focus on the positive changes he sees you making. Have him brag about things he is doing that he is proud of. Whenever he points out your flaws, ask him about a positive change he has made lately. Tell him how much it inspires you when he eats vegan or shops at GoodWill. Point out all the ways his positive role modeling impacts others. Soon he will see that the best way to influence people is to be happy about the positive choices you are making.
For Genevieve’s daughter, she can offer alternatives like:
“Would you like me to try out some new makeup on you, Mom?”
“I think your hair looks cute with a middle part.”
“How about you put these boots on with that outfit?”
“Do you want to look cool by wearing this backpack instead of your old purse?”
When my kids were little, I couldn’t stand to see them with smudges on their faces. It was like this impulse came over me to wipe off the food or buggers or gunk and restore them to their beautiful selves. (I TRIED not to be the mom that licked her finger before cleaning off their face but I did it a couple of times at least).
I realized how much I enjoyed seeing my kids look beautifully put together. If their hair was wonky, it was a distraction. I would reach out to smooth it down. I found it hard to concentrate on what they were saying to me because I was focused on what I wanted to fix. I didn’t want to be like this, so I worked to override that critical brain, but I also started putting in more effort to my appearance when I visited my parents, just in case they felt the same way.
If your daughter is stuck in critically analyzing your appearance, ask her to give two compliments for every modification. Ask her to focus on what’s great about your personality, your ideas, your actions, to get her brain unstuck from what you look like. You can also ask her what her favorite outfit is or what makeup/hairstyle she’s been enjoying lately.
Fear and love exist in two different parts of the brain. You can teach your kids to shift out of their critical brain when you ask them to focus on what they love.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in our way from being able to teach our kids alternative means of communication? Being constantly criticized!
Living with constant criticism
When someone is constantly criticizing others for not “being or doing enough”, it is a sign that they have the same voice for themselves. When we criticize, we are in the fearful part of our brain.
I’m going to guess that Julie’s son is worried that he isn’t doing enough for the planet and he wants mom to do better, so he can feel better.
My hunch is that Genevieve’s daughter is worried about her own appearance, sees her mom as a reflection of her, and therefore wants to “fix” her mom so she can feel safe and relaxed.
It’s the same things parents do to their kids:
- We want our teens to do well in school so we can feel like successful parents.
- We ask our kids to be kind hearted and respectful of others, so we feel like we’ve done a good job raising them.
- We try to change our external world, so we can feel better on the inside.
We see our kids as a reflection of us, and it sounds like these teens see you as a reflection of them. But before we re-direct, we gotta connect.
We WANT to love our kids and ENJOY being around them, but it’s hard when they criticize our every move! Our brains naturally mirror the emotions of the people around us. When we see someone sad, we feel sad. When someone is relaxed and at peace, it’s easier for us to drop into a peaceful state.
When your child is critical, it’s really easy for parents to feel inadequate and criticize back.
A natural response is to “criticize them for criticizing” but it doesn’t help us feel loving towards our kids.
I believe the first step in living with constant criticism is to find compassion and gratitude.
Living with constant criticism
It sounds like Julie’s son is struggling with the daunting task of saving the planet. He has high empathy and high awareness. He knows what changes need to happen in a short period of time in order to prevent the mass extinction of the human race, but understands how limited his power is. This is a scary and powerless situation to be in so he’s trying to have an impact in the one area where he feels safe to express himself, at home with mom. Perhaps criticizing mom is helping him build the strength and courage he needs to spread his important message to others? When he criticizes you, and you still love him, it gives him confidence to speak his values to others, hoping to still be accepted and loved.
It could be that Genevieve’s daughter has picked up on the cultural messaging that how one looks really matters and is scared that she isn’t up to snuff. Our youth and beauty obsessed culture is a hard one to ignore and has done a lot of damage. But it’s also possible that your daughter’s passion and purpose is to beautify and prettify. People who have an eye for color, design, style and form are valuable. You can show your daughter that happiness and beauty do not go together. When she sees you happy and comfortable in your skin, no matter what you look like, you are helping her see that one can exist without the other. Redirect her desires to prettify by asking her help with home design, cake decorating, or holiday decor. Remind her that there are people out there who WANT her fashion and beauty advice and are willing to pay for it.
Even though you aren’t enjoying the way the message is being communicated, you can be grateful that your teens are open hearted and wanting their moms to learn about what is important to them, and the next generation. These teens don’t want you to leave you in the dust like an out of touch, “Karen”.
Finding ways to think about your teen’s criticism that helps you feel compassionate and grateful, will help you TEACH him better ways to get his point across.
Supermom Kryptonite – Being told what to do
Nobody likes being told what to do. It’s an ineffective way to get someone to change behavior yet we do it all the time: “Eat your vegetables, clean your room, put away the ipad, take out the garbage.”
But one of our main jobs as parents is to get our kids to do stuff they don’t want to do! What is a helpful way to influence our children’s behavior?
Social researchers were trying to figure out how to get picky eaters to try new foods. They found some things like expose them to the new food 15 times and have them help prepare the food that’s being served.
The #1 most successful way to get picky kids (older than 5 years of age) to try new foods is to sit them next to a teenager who is happily eating this new food while ignoring the kid.
When the same gender teenager happily devoured broccoli, while sitting next to the young kid and being watched, that child suddenly felt an innate desire to try broccoli for the first time.
Watching people happily enjoying something that you haven’t seen before is a powerful way to motivate people to try something new. Julie can use this research to convince her son that positive role modeling is a powerful way to influence others.
If you want your teen to positively express their values is a way that isn’t annoying, you can model that. Even with teenagers, imitation is the number one way children learn.
Power Boost – Trophy Recycling Service
I’ve picked up this new hobby, de-cluttering, and it has made me aware of how much easier it is to buy than give things away. Material goods are so cheap and easy to access, very few people are interested in taking on my clutter. I hate throwing things in landfills that could be repurposed but I’m not crafty enough to repurpose things myself.
This is why I was so pleased to find a trophy recycling service! Total Awards and Promotions in Wisconsin will repurpose your old trophies and donate rebuilt trophies to non-profits nationwide.
If your house is like mine and filled with old trophies that the kids don’t want anymore, you can ship up to 25 of them to Total Awards instead of cluttering the planet with them. I don’t mind contributing to an organization trying to do good for planet as well as donating awards to non-profits!
If you know other places that reuse and repurpose, please share that information in the Supermom is Getting Tired Facebook Group. Next up is my wedding gown and some barely worn track cleats and snow shoes.
Quote of the Day:
“The chief symptom of adolescence is a state of expectation, a tendency towards creative work, and a need for the strengthening of self-confidence. Suddenly, the child becomes very sensitive to the rudeness and humiliations which he had previously suffered with patient indifference.”