This post: Who Knew My Teen Pulling Away Would Hurt My Heart This Much
I heard parents with older kids talk about it. I listened to my older sister vent about how much she missed her kids even though they slept right down the hall from her. I even read a few articles here and there about how parents should expect and even embrace this transition in their teen’s life because it’s normal and needed and necessary.
I mean, I knew it was coming… eventually.
I knew my kids would one day pull away, that they wouldn’t need me quite as much as they once did and that my opinions and thoughts wouldn’t hold quite the same powerful credence as they once did. I knew that they’d gravitate to their friends one day, that I’d likely become “uncool” in their eyes and that their idea of fun definitely wouldn’t include hanging out with me.
I just didn’t know it would happen this soon…
Who Knew My Teen Pulling Away Would Hurt My Heart This Much
My son started to pull away when he was 13. The harsh reality is, I thought I had more time…
More time to hear about his day when he walked in the door after school – how annoying his teacher was, how much homework he had, and what drama happened with his friends that day (as opposed to getting “Fine” as a response when I asked about his day.)
More time to really enjoy his company now that he was getting older – going to lunch, hanging out, watching movies together, or even silly things like running a few errands together on a Saturday afternoon.
More time to sneak in a kiss on the cheek or put my arm around him in public without him freaking out that I was showing any form of affection.
More time to enjoy his even-keeled demeanor before the raging, unpredictable hormones kicked in sending me sailing into oblivion not knowing if it was safe to say good morning or if I should just back away slowly.
More time to enjoy talking to him (when he made actual eye contact with me) instead of him communicating via text from another room in the house.
More time before he escaped to his bedroom for hours and me not knowing if I’m doing something wrong, wondering if he was okay and hoping that he would come out and actually enjoy spending time with the family like he once did.
More time to teach, guide, and inspire him without being accused of lecturing, nagging, or pounding him with information overload.
More time to enjoy his full vocabulary instead of hearing a revolving nine words, “Nah,” “I dunno,” “Yep,” “Whatever,” and “There’s nothing to eat.”
More time to wrap my arms around him and love him the way I had grown so accustomed since the day I first held him in my arms.
The fact is, I missed my son. I missed him a lot. What made it even harder is not knowing how long his “offish” behavior would last, how far he would pull away, and if he would ever come back to me.
As a mom who made it to the other side with my son, (he’s an absolute joy to be with and actually wants to be with me now), I’ve realized that my teen pulling away probably hit me a lot harder than it should have partly because I just wasn’t prepared, but also because I took it all far too personally.
I had forgotten that it was my job as a parent to prepare him for this transition in his life, not fight him every step of the way. Everything I had done to teach him up until then – from teaching him how to tie his shoes to teaching him how to drive – was all leading up to this critical time in his life.
I was viewing his absolute need to pull away as a rejection. I was getting angry and sensitive. I was letting him down at his most vulnerable stage in life… learning how to navigate life without me.
Yes… it hurt like hell when he pulled away, but I learned that this was when my son needed me the most. Even if my heart was hurting, I had to push my feelings aside and be there for him.
Here are a few mistakes you might want to avoid when your teen starts to pull away…
1. Holding On Too Tight
Your teen is itching for more autonomy. If you don’t give it to them (in age-appropriate increments, of course) they’ll take it with or without your approval. Loosen the reins a bit and let them prove to you that they’re ready. (Be prepared to tighten or loosen your grip accordingly.) Being over-protective and suffocating them with rules and boundaries has a way of backfiring with teens.
2. Not Holding on Tight Enough
They may be growing up and gaining independence, but they are still kids and they’re relying on you to protect them (even if they don’t realize it yet). From keeping tabs on who they’re hanging with and monitoring their technology use to putting driving rules in place and holding them accountable for their actions, teenagers need boundaries not only to stay safe but to thrive.
3. Taking Their Need for Independence Personally
Don’t worry. Your teen still loves you and wants you in their life. Just in a different way. They need this time to spread their wings and fly and this is your time to support them on their flight, not fight them. Stop questioning and worrying why your teen is pulling away and remind yourself (often) that this is all part of the growing up process. It’s not personal.
4. Missing Out on Special Moments
When my boy pulled away, I longed for the days when we would hang out for hours. But I learned that with teens, it’s more about grabbing special moments throughout the day.
A chat in their bedroom late at night, a quick conversation before they head off to school, an errand in the car when you get them all to yourself. Mostly, it’s about making yourself available when they come to you because those are the precious moments when they chose to be with you.
5. Treating Them Like the Child They’re Leaving Behind
Your teen wants (and needs) to be treated like the adult they’re becoming, not the child they’re leaving behind. Let them weigh in on the decisions. Let them choose the vacation spot this year. Let them manage aspects of their own life instead of you calling all the shots. Stop nagging and lecturing and treating them like a child and they might just surprise you… you might find that they’re far more mature and responsible than you ever imagined.
6. Thinking They Don’t Need You
They may look all grown up with their size 11 shoes, big hands, deep voices, and “I’m all grown up, I don’t need you,” attitude, but they still have SO much learning, maturing, and growing up to do. Things they can’t learn in school, from the internet or from their friends. They need YOU. Don’t throw up your hands and say, “My job is done here,” don’t leave them to fend for themselves and don’t put your relationship on auto-pilot. Stay involved, be their biggest supporter, keep slipping in those hugs, help them learn from their mistakes, and guide them through it all.
Raising our teenagers to be strong, capable, and independent requires courage on our part.
We have to be willing to step out of the arena, stop shielding them from every hardship and criticism, and allow them the freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes. The more we protect them and the more we cling to the child they’re leaving behind, the less likely they are to realize what they’re fully capable of and become who they’re meant to be.
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