Wanting to Be Seen and Heard
“How can I ask my parents for support?!” is a super common question in my office. Often, when you ask this, what you are saying is that you want to be seen and heard. Like, REALLY seen and heard. You want to be received without judgment. Furthermore, you don’t want to be brushed off, yelled at, written off, talked over, underestimated, laughed at, and so on.
Have you been there? If yes, you are very much in good company.
Those responses– the brushing you off or yelling– those are not about you. Those are about what’s going on with your parents and maybe even patterning from their own young adulthood. AND it can feel really hurtful or diminishing to be on the receiving end of those kinds of responses. As teens and young adults, you are exploring (whether consciously or not) what kind of relationship you want with your parent/s. You are learning what it means to be someone’s child AND an individual. So, if you want your parent’s support to feel or look different than it has been, that is 100% valid.
In this article, I hope to share ideas that you can use when approaching your parent/s for support. It is my hope that these strategies help you feel ready and empowered to speak your truth. That said, please remember that you cannot control your parent’s reactions. Thus, you’ll have to go into these conversations remembering that you can only do what you can do.
(This disclaimer is inspired by and borrowed from Patrick Turbiville.) This article is intended to speak to a wide range of young people; however, some may find that they don’t identify with it. One reason this blog might not reflect the experience of some teens and young adults is that it explores somewhat typical challenges faced by young people and their parents. It’s an unfortunate truth that young people of all backgrounds may experience abuse by their parents.
If this describes you, then it won’t make much sense (and may even harm you) to try to develop empathy for a parent whose harsher moments include physical or emotional abuse. If this describes you, please talk about it with an adult you trust. This can be a teacher, coach, counselor, or relative (but it doesn’t have to be–trust your instincts). Doing so may be difficult but could also help to get you on a path toward feeling safer, more confident, and more hopeful about the future.
The Need to Speak Your Truth
During your life as a young person, there are so many transitions and changes and new experiences, and sometimes, you need or want to reach out to your parents. This might be about your college-decision, the job you’ve applied for, a conflict with a friend, curiosities you have about drinking, academic struggles, wanting to find a new doctor, and so on.
Humans need support. It is brave to ask for help, and to express your truth. Whenever you feel ready to reach out for support, these are 5 strategies that you can explore and practice, if you feel called. As you read, I encourage you to notice if any other ideas come to mind because you know yourself and your family best.
5 Ways to Speak Your Truth with Your Parents
- Invite them to have a chat. Life can be busy and everybody has their own preferences and schedules. AND time together, time in conversation is important. It can feel nice for some young people to invite their parent/s to coffee, take a hike, eat a meal, or take a drive together. The idea here is to create a container in which your parent/s can give you the attention and time you deserve.
- Lead with your needs. Start by explaining what you need from the moment. If you just need to rant, you might say, “I really just need to vent.” Perhaps there’s a problem you need help solving; you might say, “I’m looking for ideas to get through this issue.” Or maybe you are looking for a reminder that you are strong, that you’ve got this– “I really need some reassurance today.” In order to name your needs, you have to slow down and check in with yourself. This means you AND your parent/s are entering the interaction with some clarity about what you hope to leave with.
- Express your limitations. If you suspect your parent/s might ask a ton of questions or want the conversation to go on until it’s fully resolved, you might like to explain your boundaries. If you know you don’t have the capacity to wade through tons of back and forths, say so. For example, you could say, “I don’t have a ton of energy today, so we can follow up another time.” Or perhaps you say, “This has been overwhelming for me, so I’d like to keep this conversation under 30 minutes.” Setting boundaries can help you maintain the feeling of choice throughout the conversation.
- Ask about their experience IF IT FEELS HELPFUL. If you feel curious about how your parent/s faced, you might ask, “What do you wish you knew when you were my age?” Or if it might feel helpful to know that your parent/s can relate, you could ask something like “How did you handle situations like this?” If you already hear a lot of this from your parents, perhaps you skip this strategy and try the opposite: “I appreciate your experiences, but I need the focus to be on me today.”
- Consider accountability. If you think it would be beneficial for you to follow up with your parents (or vice versa), talk about how you can make this happen together. Consider when and how and communicate your preferences. Do you need a few days or a week? Would you like to approach them first? And/or would you like for them to approach you if you haven’t checked in by a certain day? This strategy can be particularly helpful if you need time to process or if you sense that external support will help you keep the ball rolling.
Remembering Your Support System
As you take on new and different conversations with your parent/s, you may notice that there are some conversations you’d rather have with a coach or a mentor or a friend. And that’s okay. I encourage you to take some time to explore your support system, which can include people, places, and things. These strategies can be helpful with ANYONE in your support system.