Parenting requires, above all else, emotional resilience. I’m no expert, but nearly 22 years of experience has turned me into what my oldest son calls a “veteran mom.” I am by no means a perfect parent and am slow to give anyone advice. However, I do know I’ve always done my best, and I’m happy to share things I’ve learned along the way with other parents.

My four children are very different; what works with one doesn’t always work with the others. I think of them as my teachers, always keeping me on my toes and challenging me to do better. Some relationships are easier to navigate than others and that’s fine. Each is a work in progress, constantly changing.

There are times when I question everything and blame myself for things which aren’t really in my control. As parents, we try to guide our children, but ultimately their lives are their own. They will make mistakes just like we did, even though we might try to steer them down a different path. One of the hardest parts about watching my teenagers take steps towards independence is seeing when they make bad choices. When I was young I thought I could follow the advice in parenting books and have the perfect outcome, but there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to human beings.

One of my children is particularly rebellious and very expressive. I wasn’t as difficult as a teen, but we do share certain attributes. I’m grateful that the internet wasn’t around back then so my teenage angst was contained within my private journals. This child of mine writes raps, where I am often misrepresented, and publishes them online. In the beginning I found it humiliating, the things he’d say about me. I cried, I questioned why. How could someone I’d loved and cared for so well feel justified in maligning my character? He has gained quite a big following among his peers, which is sometimes embarrassing for other family members, seeing that we live in a small community. His siblings and I don’t appreciate the way our family is portrayed in his music. While he might admire and want to emulate Eminem, my son’s upbringing is a far cry from Slim Shady’s. I wonder if he will one day regret the hurtful things he has written and made public?

Admittedly, this is my least favorite phase of parenting. I miss the days when my daughter would draw pictures for me entitled “Best Mom Ever.” Now I’m “annoying” or “embarrassing” on any given day. This parenting gig often feels thankless, and I sometimes wish I had thicker skin.

What helps you overcome the challenges of parenting teens? This morning I found myself returning to Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book). I’d like to share some of its insights with you, and how the principles could be adapted to parenting teenagers.

Be Impeccable with Your Word {1}

The first agreement is the most important. It’s also the hardest to practice! To be impeccable is to be in accordance with the highest standards; faultless. To be without sin. Basically, what we say matters. It matters a lot! To quote Ruiz:

Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything.

The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think and thereby to create the events in your life… The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell. The other edge is the impeccability of the word, which will only create beauty, love, and heaven on earth.

Why not share this piece of wisdom with the teenagers in your life? I often hear my daughters and her friends gossiping about other girls. It is a shame to see them in competition, criticizing each other rather than lifting one another up. I know grown women are the same sometimes, and I need to be more careful about some of the comments I make. After all, what we model as parents speaks louder than what we say.

Ruiz compares gossip to viruses- each spreads quickly and harms others. He says one reason we gossip is “to gain the support of others for your point of view.” We do this in an attempt to “make our opinion right.” He goes on to point out that our opinions are nothing but a point of view- not necessarily true or grounded in reality. The first step towards cleansing relationships with oneself and with others is to stop the spread of “emotional poison” through negative thoughts and communication. He advises us to share love instead, to use the word to spread positivity. Next time you look in the mirror and find fault, try giving yourself a compliment instead. As for that moody teenager, look beyond the eye rolling and tell her/ him how much you care.

Don’t Take Anything Personally {2}

This is my favorite agreement when it comes to dealing with difficult teens (and the one I’m most likely to forget)! If you are like me, you feel responsible for everything. This is especially true with parenting. According to Ruiz, nothing other people do is because of you. Let that sink in.

Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…

If someone gives you an opinion and says, “Hey, you look so fat,” don’t take it personally, because the truth is that this person is dealing with his or her own feelings, beliefs, and opinions. That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours.

You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell. Immunity to poison in the middle of hell is the gift of this agreement.

There will be times when your teenager reacts negatively to you or to the to boundaries you set. There will be days when your teen’s behavior doesn’t make sense, when you’re on the receiving end of his or her anger for no apparent reason. It can be upsetting and seem unfair. During those moments try to recall the second agreement. It might be hormones, a passing mood, or an incident at school causing your teen to feel out of sorts. Keep the lines of communication open and try not to become disheartened if your teen lashes out from time to time. Ultimately what they say and do is a reflection of what’s going on internally, not a reflection of you.

Don’t Make Assumptions {3}

The third agreement focuses on creating clarity. We often make assumptions based on our own expectations and beliefs. If we haven’t communicated properly, this could lead to conflict and misunderstandings. Sometimes we make assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions. Ruiz encourages us to seek the truth in any given situation. He says to “find your voice to ask for what you want.”

With clear communication, all of your relationships will change, not only with your partner, but with everyone else. You won’t need to make assumptions because everything becomes so clear. This is what I want; this is what you want. If we communicate in this way, our word becomes impeccable. If all humans could communicate in this way, with impeccability of the word, there would be no wars, no violence, no misunderstandings. All human problems would be resolved if we could just have good, clear communication.

This, then, is the Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions. Just saying this sounds easy, but I understand that it is difficult to do. It is difficult because we so often do exactly the opposite. We have all these habits and routines that we are not even aware of. Becoming aware of these habits and understanding the importance of this agreement is the first step. But understanding its importance is not enough. Information or an idea is merely the seed in your mind. What will really make the difference is action. Taking the action over and over again strengthens your will, nurtures the seed, and establishes a solid foundation for the new habit to grow.

Some teenagers are secretive, lock themselves in their rooms, and say very little. It can be easy for worried parents to assume the worst when their sullen teens retreat into themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If your teen opens up, try to listen without judgment. Likewise, communicate your own expectations clearly.

Always Do Your Best {4}

The fourth agreement is self explanatory. It refers to practicing the first three agreements to the best of your ability.

Keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all of the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick, or sober as opposed to drunk. Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.

In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. Your best will also change over time. As you build the habit of the four new agreements, your best will become better than it used to be.

What I like about this agreement is that it acknowledges that no matter how good our intentions, sometimes we will slip up. Although our “best” fluctuates, it isn’t a reason to give up when we make mistakes. There are times when I’ve said something I regret and later beat myself up over it. Has that ever happened to you?

One technique I learned at a teen parenting class 10 years ago is to “Press Pause.” If you are in the midst of a heated conversation with your teenager and can see it is escalating, try saying this phrase. Everyone has to stop talking and walk away. Once you’ve both calmed down, you can return to the conversation.

Despite this technique there might be times you regret something you’ve said, such as comparing your child to their friend or making some other criticism. Parents aren’t perfect. Apologize, let it go, and mind yourself. Get some rest and keep trying your best. No one said this would be easy, but your teenagers are worth the effort and so are you!

I’ve found that practicing The Four Agreements is transformative. I read it for the first time when my husband and I were separating. It was a very difficult time of my life. I never could have imagined that a decade later I’d be living the life I am now. I have an amazing, loving partner, a career that I love, good health, security, and children I adore. We have had some very tough times and we still have stuff to work through. I do know that having tools such as these agreements makes the journey smoother.

I would highly recommend buying or borrowing The Four Agreements from your local library. With only 138 short pages it doesn’t take long to read. The book is suitable for anyone seeking personal freedom and wellness, not just parents. I even gave a copy to my oldest son when he was a teen. I’d love to hear your thoughts about putting these concepts into practice. Have you noticed any changes in your life as a result?

Photo Credit: Louis Hansel

3 thoughts on “How to Apply Toltec Wisdom to Parenting Teens

  1. Whew, parallel universe.
    My 15 yr old daughter is the most expensive, not oft-satisfied and the mother daughter relationship…well sometimes I must admit, I tell myself I will deal with it another day as I don’t need any more cortisol-induced belly fat. I wrote a post which I have not yet published and this was the battle raging in my mind but I went off on a different direction, somewhat.
    My 22 yr old son was not ever a difficult child and barely cried even when hungry as a baby, so I learned to anticipate his cues.
    My last Snookums at 7 yrs is quite a thoughtful and complimentary child. My daughter… life can feel like constant competition/battleground, perhaps only in her teenage mind.
    But I have been assured that the tides change and so I await that season with bated breath.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you. It can be so stressful! Isn’t it amazing how one family can have so many different characters? Enjoy your little one. I know my toddler puts a smile on my face even when the others are driving me a little crazy.

      I hesitated to write about my teenagers but then I figured other parents would relate. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that in both our cases the middle children are challenging? That said, my oldest wasn’t easy either, although his issues were different than his brother’s. (Thankfully my younger two are cooperative for the most part). It’s such a relief when they become adults and gain enough maturity to understand where their parents are coming from. On difficult days I just have to remind myself that all this will pass. Like you said the tides will change. In the meantime be good to yourself.😊 Thanks for stopping by and having a chat.


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