“They always come back.”
This was a simple sentence from a friend, a father of four adults, in a conversation about my 12-year-old son.
It was not that long ago I would have done anything for a few minutes of breathing room from my kids. It’s quite the opposite these days, and it’s been interesting to observe the stark change, especially with our tween Beckett.
It’s tough dealing with this alienation. I try not to take it personal when he doesn’t want to go out and sled in the snow, play basketball in the driveway or go for a bike ride unless friends are involved. I even tried the other night to challenge him in a video game I knew he would crush me in. He’s borderline rude about his disinterest in us right now. He always replies with, “I’m good, it’s good.” He just wants to do his own thing, either by himself or with his friends.
This is life in our journey. I am learning to give him the space while also remembering it’s important to remain engaged, especially during the trying times of a pandemic. I am embracing my newfound free time. Pam and I are tackling home projects, all the while peaking in his room and perfecting our eavesdropping skills.
It’s a balancing act to remain involved and engaged in his life, while also giving him space to enjoy what he likes right now.
Along with this general aloofness towards us, one of the more interesting changes of late has been he keeps his feelings to himself. For most of his life, he has always worn his emotions on his sleeve. He was an open book. If he was not verbalizing what was on his mind, his body language revealed. He’s now become a tough read.
During a recent situation when he was hiding his emotions, though clearly upset about something, I reminded him he can talk to us about anything. We can empathize with many things going on his life, I reminded him, because we were also his age at one time. He makes it clear to us times were different when we were growing up. While that’s true, he needs to know we can still help in most situations. He never did talk about what was bothering him, but we were able over time to discern.
In this particular case, I am not positive we could have helped him a lot, but I reminded him just having a shoulder to lean on or a hug can help at times. My main point is always to make sure he’s not isolating himself. It’s not healthy for anyone to keep everything bottled up inside.
My friend who gave me the advice earlier assured me this is all normal transgressions with kids and puberty and learning their way. He encouraged me to keep engaged and advised don’t be afraid to give the kid what he craves. He’s looking for some space physically and emotionally from his parents. It’s a challenge to accept, but he said it all comes full circle and is part of raising independent humans. The goal after all is to raise kids to send them out into the world to be successful rather than nesting at home. This is just natural maturation.
As I am prone to do, I looked online and found several articles justifying what my buddy said. Some excerpts from an article on empowerparents.com:
When your child starts ignoring you or pushing you away, try not to take it personally. Remind yourself that this is a stage they’re going through, and it’s up to you to deal with it in a mature way. If it’s hurtful when your child is embarrassed by you, come up with a slogan you can tell yourself in the moment like, ‘This is normal; it’s part of adolescence and it’s what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s not about me.’ When your child is pushing you away, try to remain rational and focus on what needs to be done. If you get emotional, it just makes that push-pull worse, until it turns into a tug-of-war.
… When kids are in adolescence, their peers become more of the draw than their parents. Sometimes, in order to establish those connections with their friends, they reject their parents a little (or a lot!) and the relationship turns into a push-pull — the more you try to pull them toward you, the more they push you away. This is confusing for parents, because the messages you’re getting from your child are, ‘Take me to the basketball game, but don’t be seen with me.’ The underlying feeling is this: ‘I really need you, but it’s tough for me to admit it, so I’m going to act like I don’t like you — especially when I’m around my friends.’ Some days it can feel like a test — your teen is testing you to make sure you’re still there, but he also wants to be able to push you away when she needs space. … I also think it’s important to look for the humor in the situation to get past the bad feelings you may have.
And it’s also good to try and remember what it felt like when you were that age. You probably didn’t want to be seen with your parents either, and felt like your friends knew everything and your mom and dad were out of touch.
While your relationship will never be the same as it was when your child was small, it will eventually get better — usually when your child is older and they get more of a sense of themselves. He needs to know that you’re okay with him becoming more independent. If you can let go of some of the expectations of closeness and of your child being there for you, he won’t need to push you away as hard.