Teenagers, puppies and Transactional Analysis

It is a gloomy day in the middle of winter, we are living on onions, potatoes and endless brown sloppy bread from the supermarket. It says ‘Still fresh‘ on the bag. With five teenagers and the dog who just delivered 6 healthy puppies our home feels like a supply hub. Teenagers storm in, trailing their bikes, bags, enormous shoes with mud, coats, hats and chocolate wrappers behind them, littering like the puppies and always looking for food.

To see the world in black and white, to endless dramatise things that are going wrong. As a parent you listen to all the lamenting and try not to get sucked into the drama of it all. To be able to see only a small piece of a big canvas, and forgetting that the big canvas is there and that you only experience a tiny part of it, that is so human and so part of growing up and being at the beginning of widening your circles. When you cannot shift your particular attitude or beliefs regarding something, you will have difficulty widening your perspective. How to grow up to be a rational sensible human who is able to take in the whole canvas?

Transactional analysis is a model that is particularly appropriate to study individuals in the context of their close relationships. The functional model is represented by three ego-states: the child, adult and parent. These three ego-states converse with one another in transactions (hence the name). This is so internally, but also between individuals or even groups. Each ego-state is defined by a combination of feelings and experiences which consistently occur together, these can be positive or negative. The parental ego-state are behaviours, thoughts and feelings introjected (swallowing it whole) from parents or parental figures. They are roughly divided in the nurturing parent (positive and negative aspects) and the controlling parent (positive and negative aspects). The child ego-state comprises of behaviors, thoughts and feelings replayed from childhood; we can distinguish the adapted child, the little professor (intuitive), and the free child and again, all can have a negative as well as positive aspect. The adult ego-state represents our rational, reality testing self and includes behaviors, thoughts and feelings; direct responses to the here and now.

The adapted child ego-state can have a rebellious force, as a person can either adapt to the demands and circumstances, or rebel against it. The natural child has more of an internal compass and feels free and supported in its ventures. Most likely the teenager who is displaying a lot of natural child ego-state has been supported by nurturing parents where the child could feel at ease knowing its parents (or carers) were there to help and acknowledge who he or she is or is becoming.

For a step or blended family, life and the interactions between the members of the newly formed unity is not always easy. Parental styles can be quite different and therefore both parents have different ideas and expectations of their child. One parent could be more of a controlling parent, who likes the children to jump through certain hoops thinking that it will help them manage in school and later in the wider world. Children have to follow the parent to a certain extent… does that prepare them for the future? When we look at the transactional model again, controlling parenting can incur the adapting or rebellious tendencies of the teenager. 

A nurturing parent on the other hand can be very enthusiastic about anything his/her child does. The nurturing parent follows the child. These children could therefore be much less adapted, but their curiosity and confidence are less confined. They are occupied with their own interests, they do not seem to doubt themselves; they seem to be relaxed with who they are. 

If a child is used to a certain parental style, it elicits that style in their step parent. Before we became a blended family my partner’s children were already subjected to a nurturing and mainly following parenting style, while my children were much more regulated, had lesser say and were treated in a more disciplined way. My children seem therefore to have more difficulties saying what they hope for and know less clearly what they want to do with their life. They feel they have to get a good job and earn sufficient money, but do they know who they are, or do they know what is expected of them. 

The road to becoming an adult is one with trial and error and a lot of teenage angst! I wonder whether children who have been less mirrored and more governed will have a more difficult time becoming adults; they have to figure out who they are and what they like, they have a tendency to rebel or adapt rather than be free. The puppies are now providing the teenagers with a new and different perspective altogether, they all noted how the mother dog was at the brink of exhaustion looking after the sextuplets, they were worried about her food and water intake and her mental health. I got a bearhug from my teenage son, saying ‘all mothers deserve a lot of love’; a glimpse of the bigger picture shown in that interaction.

Coastal tribulation

The practice of being fully present (an expression used in the art of meditation), feeling your heart and greeting the next moment with an open mind, can be done at any time. You can do this before the children come running down the stairs, before a complex situation at work, when difficult emotions as fear or grief arises or just when doing the dishes. Being fully present is not always easy. It is about being aware of your senses, your heart, and your body at any particular moment, without worrying or hoping for the next. It is a moment you check in with yourself, with how you are feeling, how your body feels and accept what is going on.

You can place a hand on your heart and feel its warmth. Connecting with love and acceptance. That is not always easy either. We find it difficult at times to be kind to ourselves. We might think of ourselves as being not-ok and to place a hand over our heart might initially generate strong emotions. When that happens it can be helpful to have a sort of understanding what these emotions are, so that when we practice being fully present; being with our emotions, senses, thoughts and open heart, we do not have to run away or distract ourselves.

When I struggle in the day to be fully present, when I think I have too many woes and worries, when I have trouble not anticipating the next moment. On such a day I might go to the beach. Walking on the beach gives me that feeling of insignificance. It helps me therefore to lessen the constant stream of worries and plans and anticipations in my head, to create a bit more distance between the unnecessary chatter in my head, the models I have created and create perpetually. Keeping some distance from the thoughts in my head help me to stop identifying with the models of the world, myself, and the future which are so persistent in my head.

It is then that I already have become aware of my senses …..the air, the slightly salty taste, the sound of the waves, the texture of the sand on the beach, the sky and the openness towards the horizon and before I know it I have not anticipated the next moment…..and there I am…… being in my body, sensing… and the moment just as it is.





The peace of wild things  by  Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.

Creative Commons “Share alike” 2.0 license, see creativecommons.org