[Although this article was originally written for my parents of teens clients, the message is equally applicable to just about any caring relationship, so if you don’t have kids, just substitute a relationship that applies to you, like your partner, your employees, your clients, etc.]
Endurance is the Key to Winning The Parents Game
I recently read a very short yet very important book , “The Dip,” by Seth Goden. Although it is written mainly for business people, the concept totally applies to parenting of teenagers. Seth postulates that in most enterprises there is a period of time before winning or success happens when it seems like nothing is happening and that future effort to achieve success would be in vain. He labels that period, “the dip.” He contrasts that with other similar feeling situations, “The Cliff,” where the enterprise is about to crash and burn and “The Cul-de-Sac,” a dead-end situation that no additional effort will ever produce results. He explains that in the latter two conditions, quitting is the appropriate action to take because it frees people to then go and find a winnable game to play. In contrast, for truly winnable games in business and life, there is a period where we do the footwork and pay the dues until success and winning happens. That period can be lengthy.
Since all three of the situations feel the same when we are in them, the skill comes in being able to determine which is which. When it is determined that we are truly in a Dip, that’s when perseverance and endurance becomes the critical skills to prevent quitting before the miracle. He quotes a famous marathon runner who sets in his mind the conditions that must happen before he will quit a race. The runner does this because otherwise by the 23rd mile, all the regularly occurring things like thirst, fatigue, muscle aches and the like will be used by his mind to manufacture a plausible reason to quit. Using that as an example, the author says that conditions where quitting ought to be the option of choice need to be set before the endeavour starts. If and when it is time to quit, the quit need to be premeditated and planned out. Quitting should never happen at times of high emotion because rational courses of action are never made well at those times.
Although Mr. Godin did not have parenting of teenagers in mind, his theory totally applies to this very serious enterprise or game, as I like to call it, of raising teenagers. I firmly believe most parents who failed at raising their teens quit prematurely. These parents misread all the negative things that teens do to themselves and their parents, such as repeatedly getting in trouble, ignoring parental advise, ignoring their parents and worse, as being evidence that there was no chance of a successful ending or win. They felt like they were in a “Cul-de-Sac” and they quit! Parenting of teens is a perfectly winnable game when the entire teenage years and experience is understood to be a colossal, long term Dip. The win comes when they finally make it through the Dip and emerge as wonderful, responsible adults.
When I say long term, I mean it. The currently agreed upon definition of the length of adolescence by the youth worker community is thirteen to twenty four years old. My own son emerged at almost twenty-eight and many of the young people I have been working with in my youth programs since they were middle teens have taken as long.
I am firmly convinced that the main key ingredient of successful parenting of teens is the understanding that we will be there for them for the duration. Period! This is probably the one area of life where quitting is not an option. That said, there are times and situations where it might appear to your teens that you have quit because you have refused to have anything to do with them while they are participating in some outrageous act of irresponsibility. If you are doing so because you feel that is the best strategy or tactic to either get their attention or to let them have a necessary negative lesson, you are not quitting parenting. On the contrary, you are being a great, concerned parent.
There are times when we, at parents, have to retreat and allow our kids to fall on their faces and experience the feedback that they are on the wrong road. Until they have that experience, they are not teachable. As parents all we can do is to allow the process to happen and pray that their negative experiences will teach the lesson without any lasting long term negative consequences. This is probably the worst time, emotionally, for parents and the most critical time for their kids. It is the time that many parents let those emotions run their actions and make one of two bad decisions. They either go and rescue their kids before the lessons are learned or they quit being parents. The first decision robs their teens from really experiencing the results of their actions so they never get the message that change is necessary in the way they think and do things in their lives. Without getting that message, they will never ask their parents for the guidance on how to change. I hope it is obvious how this decision is disastrous to the teen and to the parenting process.The second decision, that of quitting being a parent is even worse because that means that the teens are never going to be able to receive the parental support and guidance that they will eventually seek and need.
When working with teens on their own and when parenting my family, I thought of myself as a patient opportunist. I needed to patiently wait for those windows of opportunity, those teachable moments, when there was a request for coaching or teaching. That’s what parenting of teens is all about. There are times when those windows of opportunity might be years apart. We only fail as parents if we are not around to be parents when those windows appear.
There is an old saying that when one is knee-deep in alligators, it is very difficult to remember that the original mission was to drain the swamp. All the trials and tribulations of adolescents are just alligators. The mission is to parent them through The Dip, that minefield called adolescents and onto a wonderful adulthood. The key to persevering through this long Dip is to keep that mission always in mind, especially when all you are seeing are alligators.
©2019, rev. 2020, Jason Wittman, MPS
[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the “About the Author and the copyright information are included.] *About The Author* Jason Wittman, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. His practice, http://Stage2Recovery.com focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions, to work and live at their exquisite best. He is an expert on teaching and coaching the “getting-on-living,” self-esteem building and spirituality parts of recovery. He has his master’s degree from Cornell University in counseling-psychology and is certified as a drug & alcohol counselor, a clinical hypnotherapist and a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or