The Set of the Jaw
The most important offensive stance a parent can assume is “the set of the jaw.” It’s a way of holding your head, focusing your eyes, and stiffening your chin line so that your children recognize, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are dealing with someone who knows exactly what they want and has already decided how they are going to get it. It’s the stance that says to the child, “I will not take no for an answer and any further rebellion on your part is not going to be good for you.”
If you don’t know how to produce that look at a moment’s notice, you need to learn. If will be infinitely valuable as you navigate through the teen years. The sooner you get started, the easier it will be.
Teens have no sympathy for adults who don’t know what they’re doing. If you cry, it may make them feel bad but it won’t be enough to change their plans – they want what they want, when they want it, and no amount of crying, begging, bartering or pleading on your part is going to change their mind.
What they desperately need are immovable, definable boundaries PLUS someone with enough backbone to enforce the limitations that have been set. It makes them feel safe and it makes them feel loved. It will also make your day much less stressful. So, the next time you find yourself arguing with your thirteen-year-old, set your jaw and take control.
When my oldest son was just entering teen-dom, we walked into church together one evening still discussing an issue he refused to drop. We had been going at it most of the afternoon. He moved over to his circle of friends while I plopped down on a pew and turned to the person behind me, a friend who happened to have three college age sons of her own. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with him,” I said.
I expected her to be completely sympathetic since everything about my persona at that moment screamed “Comfort me!” She looked at me intently and said, very slowly, enunciating each word with great emphasis, “Don’t EVER let him know that.”
I was surprised but, as her voice commanded, I sat up straight, put my shoulders back and took control of myself. I set my jaw. I caught my son’s eye and motioned for him to come and sit down. When he got there, with my jaw still firm and an I-won’t take-no-for-an-answer demeanor, I pointed to the spot next to me and said, “Sit.” He sat. And he never said another word about the issue of the afternoon.
Teen-agers are reincarnated toddlers. They don’t wear diapers and instead of screaming, they talk you to death. Set your jaw. It’s just as absurd to argue with a 15-year-old as it is with a 3-year-old! I’m not suggesting you don’t listen to them when they have a reasonable request and consider their feelings even if what they want is unreasonable, but there are some things that do not warrant discussion.
Set boundaries, then stick by your convictions. An emotional child and an emotional parent is a prescription for disaster on every level. You be what you are, the adult, the one who remains calm.
You won’t always have the upper hand with your teenagers—there will be many, many times when you have absolutely no clue what to do next. But, you’ll be in a much better position to influence them if you emanate an attitude of strength rather than weakness. There are some battles you just can’t afford to lose. Set your jaw!
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