Welcome to of Therapy from the Sidelines.
As you know, this blog will focus on various mental health issues based on questions posed by you. You can email me on my Contactslink above or reach out via Instagram or YouTube at jenniferswanphd. On the About Jenniferlink above, I describe various realms of topics/issues and populations that I have focused on in my career. If you pose a question that I feel I cannot address, I will let you know. Please remember, any content on this site or my others are for information and educational purposes only – please see my full disclaimer on the bottom of the front page of this site.
So, let’s jump in! I had someone send me a question via Instagram a few days ago:
Dear Jennifer, I have a fifteen-year old daughter who suddenly wants nothing to do with me. I used to be that “cool mom” and we were best friends. I feel devastated but also think this is probably healthy on some level. I am struggling to figure out what to do with my sadness and how to balance that with letting her go. Any suggestions? Sincerely, R.
It is never easy when our kiddos ‘drop our hands’ and we suddenly go from feeling admired, needed and “cool” to feeling lame, unwanted and disconnected. The best description I heard of how to manage this very common and healthy phenomenon that exists with our pre-teen and teenage kids, was by the Principal of my niece’s high school at parent orientation. She explained to us that our kids, if they hadn’t already, would soon be transforming from “puppies” to “cats”. As “puppies” our kids adore us, can’t wait to see us, need and share affection and attention and think we are amazing, fun and cool. Then suddenly we wake up one day and our adorable, loving, dependent puppy has morphed into a “cat” –moody, a bit unpredictable and often prickly when approached. They are distant and seem to care less when we come or go – but mostly seem to want us to go. The Principal reminded us that if we could just hold tight, allow for the boundaries to exist, let them have their moods, let them have their space, and not be injured and interpret their pushing us away as a slight, in time we would wake up one day to find our prickly, seemingly feral cat has returned to us as a loyal, affectionate dog.
I thought this was a great metaphor, great advice and spot on! Now letting our kids have their moods does not mean we accept disrespectful behavior. And giving them their space does not mean we don’t ask questions, don’t remain appropriately involved, and don’t have expectations of them as it relates to family, school, responsibilities, etc. It does mean that you have to get comfortable being the bad guy or the not so cool Mom for a while. And it’s important to note that I used the word “seems” above when I spoke about needing or wanting us. Because they DO need us, albeit in a slightly different way. I think about adolescence as our second rapprochement in development. In psychology, rapprochement is understood as critical moments where our kids seem to “break away” from us, only to return. And as they navigate this breaking away and returning dynamic, maturity and healthy development occurs. For example, as your kiddo was just starting to walk and they left the room they would often tend to look back a lot as if to say “Mom? Dad? Aunt? Grandpa? Is anyone noticing?” Our role is to let them wander but to remain attentive with our gaze on them. This allows the child the confidence to take the next steps, round the corners of life and know that they will not lose the gaze of the parent/guardian. In adolescence, I see this as the same thing only they can now speak and their toddling into the next room often looks like slamming doors, huffing, rolling of eyes and demanding their privacy. Fun times! But again, just like with our little ones – our role as parents is to allow them the space and yet remain attentive and available when they come down and decide to sit with us, decide they will join in on the family game night, or suddenly start spontaneously sharing something with us about school, their friends or a romantic interest.
Again, don’t try to be the cool parent by lifting all of the perceived weight off their shoulders. I will create an entire post on the problems I have encountered when parents of teens remove responsibility, expectation, and consequences. I’ve had parents drink with their teens and party with them in an attempt to appear “cool” and to bridge the distance they struggle to temporarily navigate. Again, I will expand on this in a different post as I could write on this topic for hours.
R, you may need to find a space to talk about your grief. This is something that isn’t discussed enough in parenting – the grief that occurs while our children are growing up and hitting various new developmental milestones. We don’t tend to code it or describe it as grief, and yet it is quite normal to feel a sadness, a loss as our kiddos grow up.
Who doesn’t miss their little one grabbing for their hand, snuggling up next to them or squealing when they returned home from a trip??
As our kids that were our little shadows and sidekicks titrate into a developmental place where they find us boring, outdated and burdensome – well, it’s hard. Sometimes incredibly hard! That’s okay. We are the grown-ups and we can manage our grief and allow them the opportunities to develop. We have been gifted these precious souls to GUIDE them. In being a healthy guide, we need to be able to tolerate our own discomfort in giving them the space they often DEMAND so they can try on various self-states, navigate their social world, make mistakes and grow some scar tissue.
So, please know your puppy-turned bristling cat will return to you one day as a loving, loyal dog. In the meantime, relying on or developing your own thick skin is the name of the game. Be consistent and clear with your expectations as well as the repercussions for unacceptable behavior. Work to stay on your own side of the street and be sure to find a few other parents that you can vent and process with along the way.
I find teenagers (when I am not responsible for one) to be fascinating creatures. They are truly caterpillars turning into butterflies and they need a safe environment to make the transition. However, we also need to step back and let them navigate and push through the ups and downs of adolescence in order to gain resilience, confidence and that scar tissue/thick skin. We are their guides, not their fixers, do-ers, problem solvers, or punching bags. Balance, consistency, patience, and humor are key! You’ve got this, R!