Hard Earth? Till your Family’s Soil!
When we till or cultivate the soil in our gardens, we break up the dry crusty hard earth on the top so that air, nutrients, and water, can get to the roots. Only at this point, can new life sprout through the earths surface (ref).
Similarly, in order to care for our “family garden,” we must break up the “hard crusty earth” mindsets that can make it difficult to nurture our roots or the foundation of our family. More specifically, we can transform the hard earth by infusing it with things like air (awareness of our stories) and water (compassion). We can also use powerful “family tilling tools” like ‘thoughtful but firm boundaries,’ to turn the hard earth into nutrient rich soil full of connection and mutual respect.
The Power of Earth
Metaphorically, Western culture often associates Earth with firmness, groundedness, and solid foundations. It also brings to mind images involving nurturing, personal evolution and growth. From a metaphysical or spiritual perspective, earth represents the physical body, basic needs, stability, and protection.
Why’dya Wait So Long!
This is final article in the Teen Defiance Series. When I get questions from parents about teens, they often want to know, “how do I get my teen to listen!?!?!” What they’re usually asking for are limits, boundaries, and consequences that WORK! Well, all of those tools can be found right here in the Earth element; so why didn’t I begin with earth?
In the long term, setting firm boundaries for teens without connection, self-awareness, mutual motivation, and inner guidance is about as effective as trying to grow a plant without water (connection), air (self-awareness), sunlight (mutual motivation) or gardening guidance (5th element).
If you’ve not read the previous articles, make time to do so and implement those first. I’ve included the links at the end of this article. They will help you build the foundation necessary to get the results you want with your teen.
Is Empathy My Only Tool for Dealing with Teen Defiance?
When I talk to parents about the importance of using empathy and connection to connect to their teens, the question I often receive is:
“so, am I supposed to throw all the limits out the window and raise my kid with smiles and empathy alone?”
If that works, go for it! But the truth is sometimes we have to communicate boundaries (another ‘earth’ word) so our teens know how far to go and where to stop. I know there is much debate about this but I personally believe that it’s our children’s job to push and test boundaries and our job to hold them. This not only teaches them to respect limits and expectations, but it also teaches them how to set and hold their own personal limits and expectations. With that said, we don’t want to sacrifice all the ‘connection goodness’ we’ve built up. We can set and hold boundaries in ways that maintain and even strengthen our connection with our kiddos.
In this post, we’re going to explore how we can use four powerful tools to transform your teen’s hard earth into nutrient rich soil.
Hard Earth + Hard Earth = (you guessed it!) Harder Earth
When our teens take a Hard Earth stance, a “dry crust” seems to cover their emotions and sometimes even their logic. Our tendency, as parents, is often to meet their “dry crusty” earth with some “dry crusty” earth of our own. We say (or yell) things like:
“BECAUSE I SAID SO!”
“BECAUSE I’M THE PARENT AND YOU’RE THE CHILD, THAT’S WHY!”
While these phrases may get the immediate job done, “because I said so” isn’t as effective in the long term. Why? Because overall, those phrases doesn’t teach anything. Our teens are likely about to embark into the world by themselves. Helping him to understand the reasons behind basic expectations and how to navigate community principles will be important as he gets roommates, a partner, a boss, or college professors that won’t give a who-shot-John about how “powerful” he does or doesn’t feel. The four following strategies can help–
When we consciously tend to our relationships, they’re less likely to develop that dry crusty layer of hard earth on the top. There are four tools we can use to help tend to or till our family’s earth regularly so we have less work to do when those frustrating moments kick in:
Family expectations are clearly communicated behaviors that help the entire family thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Expectations work best when they are clearly communicated, logical, and followed by everyone (included parents). Discuss and set expectations during calm moments. Allow everyone to express their opinion about new expectations. When possible, get agreements from everyone on the expectation. All kids are more likely to follow an expectation when they had input in creating it. With that said, don’t be afraid to communicate that while their opinions are important and respected, you are the executive branch and will sometimes make the ultimate decisions. When you do pull rank, give a 1-2 sentence explanation as to why you’ve decided this way. You’d be surprised how often ‘defiance’ is really the result of a lack of understanding. Lastly, the more often you share power and allow them to contribute to the family expectations, the less push back you’ll get when you utilize your executive power. This approach moves us into the next tilling tool, boundaries.
NAME THE BOUNDARIES:
In our home, we allow the kids to negotiate with us on certain topics BUT everything is not up for a debate. Getting clear on what decisions are set and which you’re willing to bend on before the issue arises helps to avoid arguments later. For instance, “the car needs to be home by 10 pm” may be a firm boundary that is non-negotiable. So if your teen calls at 9:30 pm and asks if he can stretch until 10:30, saying, “I get that you’re having fun and your curfew is a non-negotiable boundary. It’s time to get on the road” is appropriate. Boundaries don’t always feel good to set or follow but they ultimately are very kind because they make for fewer ‘surprise rules’ later.
One of the most powerful tilling tools you can bring into your family are routines. Nature follows a pretty strict routine. Summer then fall then winter then spring. Pretty much happens the same way every year…lol. Because of this dependable cycle, we know what to plant when and it makes our lives much easier.
A routine is a response to a time of day, a directive, or an action. More specifically, we routinely brush our teeth in the morning (time of day). We routinely come to the table when called for dinner (directive). We routinely wash our hands after going to the bathroom (an action). When we’ve set clear routines in our home (even better, write em down so everyone can see!), we’ve taken half the work out of our gardening process. If our teens fall off the routine wagon, we simply point to the routine chart and ask, “what’s written next?” or “how can I help you complete that?” Making sure the routines are logical is important too. For instance, being asked to brush your teeth after dinner and before dessert is not logical so you’ll likely not do it. But brushing after dessert makes perfect sense. Asking your teen to take out the trash on their way to the bus stop makes logical sense as opposed to asking them to take it out right after they’ve come in from a long day of school.
NAME THE NEEDS:
Naming needs is the shovel of family tilling tools. They invite us to dig deep. I mean, let’s face it, an hour long yelling match about taking out the trash is NOT about the trash. Naming Needs helps us get to the root of the issue. After reading a previous post, Jen wrote that her son defies their instructions because he feels as if he’s “giving in” or losing his “power” when he doesn’t want to do something. Comments like this can feel infuriating and confusing to parents. Instead of pulling out the proverbial fiery blow torch, we can wait for things to calm and bring some air into the earth of this situation by getting curious about his needs and the story he’s telling himself in his head.
For instance, Jen can ask questions like, “tell us what ‘more power’ in the family looks like for you” or “we want to understand more about your sense of ‘giving in.’ Tell us more.” Allow him to express his needs and perspective as much as possible. You can download and give him a needs chart if he can’t come up with any. Then express your needs and feelings and explore ways to get everyone’s needs met or at least validated. Finish off by setting expectations and agreements (keep reading) on how the family plan will be carried out. When teens are included in the agreement setting process, they are invested and are more likely to honor them.
“Because I said so” is just easier. What else can I say in the moment?
Just because “because I said so” is not my favorite choice for teaching, I do advocate for some phrases that are short, kind, and leave room for basic education and understanding. However, if you find yourself using these A LOT, that may be a sign that expectations and boundaries need to be clarified during a calm moment–
- “We expect you to take out the trash because you’re a productive member of this family.”
- “What was our agreement?”
- “In the [Willis family] we [clean up after ourselves].”
- “Hmmm, what I think I’m hearing you say is that you shouldn’t have to contribute to the upkeep of this house but saying that out loud just doesn’t sound quite right, right? So take a moment to think about how this should go from your perspective, come back and let’s talk.”
Name the Need:
- “I hear what you’re saying, but that doesn’t meet my need for [insert your need here] and this really needs to get done. What time can I expect this to be completed? Before your homework or after?”
- “hey, I see you’re busy. Remember it’s your turn to [do the dishes]. How much time do you need to wrap up here?”
- “You asked and I answered.” (for those pesky, “but whyyyy?” responses)
- “This is a non-negotiable.”
Implementing one or more of these Elemental Living strategies will eventually lead to fewer power struggles because everyone will feel heard, understood, and respected. However, know that you can’t quick turn a cruise ship. Your family has been used to this way of operating and it may take a few times for everyone to get used to the change. In other words, you may not see changes overnight but don’t give up! This Elemental Living Earth approach does a few things:
1) teaches your child to respectfully speak for his needs AND understand the needs of others;
2) teaches your child to problem solve, set and respect agreements he makes;
3) allows you to assert your kind and firm “nutrient rich soil” boundaries;
4) maintains the family connection through it all.
Try This! Pick one of these Tilling Tools you’ll agree to try to decrease the Hard Earth moments in your home.
Bonus point! Schedule a family meeting. Invite everyone to bring a list of what they believe some of the family expectations are. Notice commonalities and differences. Explore how simple or difficult it was for everyone to think of the expectations (it may surprise you that they aren’t as clear as you may think).
Double Bonus point! Make a list of your non-negotiables as parents. These are things that you’re not willing to budge on unless there is a clear and present issue that pretty much requires it. Share these non-negotiables with your teen and allow other issues to be open to discussion. This helps your teen to see you’re not completely unreasonable and that you’re willing to power share.
If you found this series helpful and the answer to all your teen defiance prayers, YAY! That was truly my hope. Sometimes we just need a few tips to guide us in the right direction.
If, on the other hand, you’re thinking, “I can see the power in these strategies and really want them to work in my home but it’s not happening!”
Or maybe your child is not a teen yet and you want to learn ways to start implementing the Elemental Living Approach early.
Then sign up for a call with me and let’s chat about how I can help.
Seriously, why plod along alone when you can sail along with help?
And as always, ya know I love hearin’ from ya!