I'm Struggling To Connect With My Teen, But This Is What I'm Trying To Remember
My 13-year-old daughter literally cringes when I touch her. Any attempt at showing affection to my once cuddly and affectionate daughter is now met with resistance. You know, the I’m-a-teen-and-I’m-way-too-old-for-this attitude that consumes our children sometime between the ages of 11 and 16.
When I fall victim to this melancholy temperament, I’m quickly driven into a mental frenzy, trying to determine what I did wrong to deserve this. Is she still upset that I said Piper couldn’t sleep over this weekend? Is it punishment for the divorce that was finalized six years ago? Did I forget to say “I love you” this morning or did I say it too loudly as she left for school?
As a self-admitted control freak, I take the obvious next step to getting my desired outcome of capturing a small hint of the younger, softer version of my daughter: I try too hard. I ask too many questions and the tension grows.
“Who did you sit with at lunch today?” I don’t really know what else to say to get the conversation started.
“I don’t know, Mom,” she replies.
“Well, did you sit with Megan?”
“Mom! Why do you care?” Her agitation grows.
She’s on to me. I’m trying too hard. Reel it in, Mom, reel it in. New approach: bribery.
“Do you need something new to wear to the dance this weekend?” Bribery always works.
“No, I have something.”
“Who wants to go get ice cream?” I ask, thinking if I excite her two younger siblings with promises of hot fudge sundaes, she may lighten up too. She agrees. Ice cream it is.
I turn the music up and think how lucky she is to have a mom who listens to Selena, Taylor, and even DJ Khaled. Does she know what other moms listen to? She doesn’t have a clue just how cool I am. I sing loudly, dance as I drive, and think about what a cool mom I am. I may be 40 in age, but I’m only 27 in spirit.
“OMG Mom, that guy is watching you dance. Stoooop,” she says at the first red light.
Hey, I’m trying here! Doesn’t she realize that everything I’ve done since I picked her up at school was an effort to feel like her mom again? The mom who she would crawl into bed with every night at four years old? The mom she used to dance with in the living room? The mom she used to ask for help with homework? What has happened and how can I stop this? I want my daughter back, now!
I often view the symptoms of adolescence as evidence that I’m doing something wrong. I think I can control my daughter’s actions and reactions. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that the more I try to control her, the farther away I push her. Teens are unpredictable. One minute, they are chatty and happy and full of laughter, and the next they’re sulky, withdrawn, and lethargic. Overnight, our precious and dependent children transform into mini-adults, struggling to become independent thinkers who desperately want to rely less and less on Mom and Dad.
My daughter is coming of age. This is a crucial time in her life and, though I may not recognize the 13-year-old whose shorts are getting shorter and legs are getting longer, I realize that I must let go and embrace these transformative years. They are, after all, practice for adulthood.
When a simple conversation feels more like pulling teeth, remember that this is not personal. It’s more likely that your teen feels safe with you, and she’s testing the boundaries of independence while asserting her individuality more. It’s not about your parenting skills or lack thereof, it’s not about the clothes you wear or the dance moves you bust out in the living room. It’s simply a symptom of adolescence. This is a good thing. When the going gets tough, remember these tenets:
This is temporary
This will not last forever. Your teen will mature into an independent adult. It’s inevitable. One day, you will look back and laugh at the moodier days and how it all went down. So when it feels like the storm is too big to battle, hold strong, Mom and Dad, for this too shall pass.
You are enough
It’s very intimidating to witness your child morph into a teen and young adult before your very eyes. It can feel like the entire relationship has changed. It’s okay to feel lost at times. Do not overthink it. Do not force conversations. Quiet air is okay. Distance is okay. Just be you. Discipline and love with consistence. Tell your corny jokes even if she rolls her eyes. All she wants you to be is the person she loves: you! She may not say it or show it, but she loves you unconditionally for you. Do not believe anything less.
She wants to be loved
She may cringe when you hug her or never be the first to say “I love you” anymore, but don’t stop on your end. Say “I love you” just as much as you always have, more if you’re brave. Find new and creative ways to show affection if hugs don’t do it anymore. Put post-it notes with words of encouragement on her mirror. Text her jokes or riddles from work. Let her pick the menu for dinner.
Find ways to express your love that don’t require a formal acceptance from her. It’s tempting to back off when your attempts at affection are met with resistance, but challenge yourself to find new methods of expressing your love. Respect her boundaries, but never stop showing her you love her just as she is, moodiness and all.
Put your fear aside
Underneath my parental anxiety is fear — fear of losing the relationship as I know it, fear of losing her unconditional love, and fear of failure. Fear is a liar. You will not lose your teen or her love. As she matures and learns life’s lessons, your relationship is sure to go through its own transformation, but trust the process. Trust that the love and bond you share will survive whatever is to come. Believe with conviction that you are a great parent. Recognize your underlying fears and put them aside. Offer your daughter the space and unconditional love she needs to become her adult self.
Your teen is on a journey to independence. You are her coach, mentor, and number-one fan. Love her with all you have and trust your parental instincts. The bumpiest journeys offer the best lessons, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.