PST #43: Parenting Purgatory


When we are going through hell with our teens, it feels like we are stuck in parenting purgatory. And the most common parenting advice of “It’s just a phase. Don’t worry, they’ll come back” doesn’t help.

Because when they say that it’s just a phase, they’re right. All of parenting is. Just because you’re in the “teenage” phase, though, doesn’t mean you should give up and just be miserable all the time.

And when you take their advice to just “wait it out” you miss out on a golden opportunity to teach your kids valuable life lessons during this important stage, have fun as a family, and build lifelong memories.

Parenting purgatory is caused by 3 simple thought errors that we have the power to change.

In this episode, I will show you the 3 main thought errors that make parenting teenagers so hard and give you a research backed process to change them so you can feel better now.

Need help banishing these troublesome thoughts? I’ve got your back.

Click here to schedule a free call. We will talk about what’s going on in your family, what you wish was going on, and how to get there.

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Common parenting to avoid that wastes time + feels terrible. [1:28]
  • 3 main thought errors that make the teen years feel like purgatory. [2:50]
  • Relationship between the strength of your beliefs and the amount of your suffering. [5:48]
  • How to change from feeling pessimistic to optimistic about parenting your teens. [6:25]

Get a full episode transcript:

Read Full Transcript

I've been called relentlessly optimistic. and I'm going to be honest this is something that I work at. it doesn't come naturally to me.

Optimism for me is a habit. a mental habit.

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact what motivated me to learn all of the tools that I practice and share with clients and share with you all, was how terrible it felt to be constantly thinking “oh what fresh hell is this?”

My son would do something. The neighbor would do something. the school would do something.

Some days it felt like I was just hunkering down and waiting for this time to pass.
In fact that's the advice that a lot of people give teenagers.
“don't worry they'll come back”
“It's just a phase”

Almost like they're telling you to just self-medicate with Chardonnay and cupcakes and wait. But I think that advice kind of sucks. Because it waste of the time that you have with them. And it feels terrible.

I felt like I was in purgatory. And it felt like it was going to last forever. So I started reading books and I stumbled across this book by Martin Seligman. He is the originator of the positive psychology department at U Penn.

The book was Learned Optimism and in the book he extols all the reasons why an optimistic growth mindset is useful for the living the life that you want to live. Including having the family you want to have. one of the things that really stuck with me was that idea that pessimists are pessimists for three main reasons.

The believe their current state is

Let me tell you what that means….

Permanent is the belief that how things are now is how things will always be. The despair you feel right now about how snarky your kid is, the belief that he’s always going to be that snarky. Or the belief that they're never going to be able to hold a job because they can't seem to get up for school on time. the idea that how things are now is how things will always be.

personal is the belief that you have control over everything. that if your child is having a problem it must be something that you did or didn't do. That there is something wrong with you if your child struggles in some area.

pervasive is the belief that you can't be happy and other areas of your life if things aren't going well with your kids. Or the belief that if you are bad one area that you're bad and other areas as well. like that it doesn't count that you're great at planning special events for your kids because you can't seem to get them to eat a vegetable. Or if something bad happens in one area of your life it applies to all areas. This one Makes me think of that Jackie Kennedy quote “if you bungle raising your children, I don't think that whatever else you do matters very much.”

I scored pretty well in the permanent & pervasive areas. I did believe that things would eventually get better and I knew that fighting with my son didn’t mean that I was a bad engineer or cook. But for me the struggle was that I made his challenges my challenges. I made his challenges personal. Like if I’d done something different, he wouldn’t have to struggle.

And I share this because I think it's important to note that even if you're just off in one area you can be pretty miserable.

And the degree to which you believe your current In the degree to which you believe that your current situation is permanent. That it will never get better and may even get worse. the good days are over. that it's never going to change.

the degree to which you believe that is the degree to which you are miserable.

The degree to which you think your kids struggles are your fault. Or that even if they aren’t your fault that there is something you should be doing so that your child didn’t have to suffer. But you don’t know what it is. I used to believe that with all the resources I had... all the access to good medical care, supportive friends, good family, I had time, my kid went to a good school. I really believed with all of those advantages that if my child was still struggling it was because I was missing something.

and then I would read an article about someone who got their kid into an advanced chemistry program in high school where they studied at Columbia part-time and it totally changed everything for them. and I just kept looking for that thing for my kid. and the more I put pressure on myself to fix things, the worst things got.

And now I understand that was because I mistakenly believed that his problems were my problems to solve. I made it mean that I was doing a bad job as a mom. I believed... I made it personal that he was struggling.

and if this is you, and you used to work in the corporate world, and you are trying to apply all of your career brilliance to raising your family, just know this is a very well intended thought error. Your kids struggles are not the report card of your parenting.
Especially through the teen years you are starting to separate out their problems from your problems. Their math grade is not your problem to solve. You are there to support them but not to solve it. Their friend drama is not your problem to solve. Even their feelings about YOU are theirs. It’s not up to you to not irritate them. (that is a fool’s mission for sure.)

So it’s worth noticing if one of these seems more prevalent to you than the others. Notice when you are feeling pessimistic... are you thinking it’s permanent, pervasive or personal?

Know that parenting purgatory is caused by your thoughts that this situation is gonna last forever. Ruining everything. Or All your fault.

Catch yourself When you think one of those things and then play with thinking the opposite.

This is gonna last forever - This is just a phase.

It’s all my fault - Stuff like this happens. All parents go through times like this.

This ruins everything - Let’s put this in perspective. a fight doesn’t “ruin the morning” unless you let it.

Find the opposite thought that feels better and then look for evidence that this is true. Because our brain will find evidence to support whatever thought we tell it.

I should have been able to stop this - or - shit happens. Either way your brain can prove it true. One isn’t interently true and the other a fairy tale. They are both true. But one feels better and makes you a better parent. The other makes you feel like giving up or hunkering down with a pint of coconut almond from msu dairy.

The degree to which you experience parenting purgatory is the degree to which you believe one of those three thought errors. I should be able to fix it / it’s all my fault, this ruins everything, or this is never gonna end.

You get to pick.

Look, my mom’s assisted living community told her that she was the unhappiest woman she’d ever met. My mom agreed with her. That is the legacy I was raised with. If I can learn the mental habit of optimism you can too.

And it’s totally worth it. I promise.

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