Teachers keep on teaching

My daughter is 13, with all that entails. This forces me to try and remember what is was like to be 13, to feel 13. Sometimes that works, most times not.
It’s amusing to be on the older end of the generation gap, to scoff at most of her music choices (but take joy in her liking The Who and The Beatles). I’ve come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t find much humor in old Warner Brothers cartoons or Monty Python episodes (it will be awhile before I try to get her to appreciate the Marx Brothers). I have yelled at her for being so unrelentingly silly around the house, then privately wondered when, exactly, did I become so less silly.
But one of the biggest issues has been her anger, specifically when it is aimed at her younger brother, who is nine.
Now, I’m not so old that I can’t remember my chronic dissatisfaction with most things when I was a teenager.

My daughter is 13, with all that entails. This forces me to try and remember what is was like to be 13, to feel 13. Sometimes that works, most times not.

It’s amusing to be on the older end of the generation gap, to scoff at most of her music choices (but take joy in her liking The Who and The Beatles). I’ve come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t find much humor in old Warner Brothers cartoons or Monty Python episodes (it will be awhile before I try to get her to appreciate the Marx Brothers). I have yelled at her for being so unrelentingly silly around the house, then privately wondered when, exactly, did I lose my own silliness.

But one of the biggest issues has been her anger, specifically when it is aimed at her younger brother, who is nine.

Now, I’m not so old that I can’t remember my chronic dissatisfaction with most things when I was a teenager. And I know very well that younger siblings can be annoying. But she seems to be annoyed by every little thing he does and takes delight in needling him about everything, to the point that we can see it taking its toll on his demeanor. When we’re alone, he asks why she doesn’t like him. It breaks my heart.

My wife and I have tried many things to try and change our daughter’s behavior, from reasoning to punishment, with only fleeting success. Finally, last night, I reached my saturation point (which, my wife can tell you, takes a lot of doing).  I then resolved to do what I had avoided at all cost: to start treating her the way she treats her brother, starting immediately.

Not exactly the mature response, but nothing seemed to get through to her. I felt out of options; I really wanted her to know how it felt to have someone you love be that mean to you.

I went over in my mind how things were going to change between us, and the more I thought, the sicker I felt. I didn’t sleep well that night.

I awoke still intent on carrying out this questionable lesson. Then I received an e-mail from my Zen teacher this morning, informing me that John Daido Loori, Roshi — the abbott and founder of Zen Mountain Monastery and author of so many books that have been part of my Zen training — was near death after a long bout with lung cancer. And all at once my attitude toward my daughter changed, not so much because Daido Roshi’s condition made my problems seem trivial by comparison, but because the totality of what I had learned from him came flooding back in feeling more than thoughts, and I knew that giving in to my own anger was not going to help my daughter, my son, my wife or me.

I woke my daughter, hugged her and apologized for my angry behavior the night before, but made it clear we still had things to work on together.

I continue to be grateful to Daido Roshi.

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4 thoughts on “Teachers keep on teaching

  1. My daughter is 19, my son 16. My heart goes out to you and to them as they struggle to make sense of the world. My parenting strategy has been “feather touch” — to consider what it is I most want to say, and how I want to approach it, and find the right moment, then say it only once, as lightly as possible. Usually this works; if it doesn’t, well, I had my say without driving them crazy!

  2. For years my younger daughter felt her older sibling didn’t love her. Now, the tables have turned and the older feels a bit extraneous to the younger. Then there are moments when they are best friends. Ultimately, I feel they will be there for each other for life and when the chips are down, they count on each other. A mother’s joy most comes when you see them being joyful together.

    Currently, we all find my younger daughter, soon to be 19, difficult and moody. Then, my elder advised us on how best to handle her. “Treat her like the cat,” she said. When pushed, she noted: “Let her come to you. When she rubs up, you know she’s open to attention. All other times, leave her to her independence.” I’m sure it’s good advice for a dealing with a 13-year old as well!

  3. Rhona, your eldest is very wise. And with two cats in our house, she makes all the sense in the world.

    I know my kids will be there for each when they’re older, and I know sibling tensions are part of the territory. I just want to take some of the edge off and try to get my daughter to better understand the domino effect of her behavior.

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