When Your Tween Or Teen No Longer Wants You Around

by Shonne Fegan-Ehrhardt
A teen girl sitting on the floor of her room, leaning on a bed, looking at the opened laptop
martin-dm / Getty

I’ve seen this popular Facebook post going around about being a lonely mom of older kids. I get that, as my kids are at the point where they don’t need or want a babysitter but still need someone around to touch base with and check in. I’ve worked in a flexible, consultant role for all of my kids’ childhoods and this usually worked out well – until summer hits. While I had at points 3, 4 and finally 6 hours of uninterrupted time to work during the school day, summer throws this all out of whack. Luckily, we live in a community where the kids have places to ride their bikes and other parents around during the day, so letting them “free range” a bit in the summer is okay with me.

Now, we are back to school and the adjustment gets tough. I’m not talking about getting up early and having to go to school; I’m referring to me being more present during their after school time. While in the summer, we had no natural break to my work day, the school year gives me a time clock where I can usually end my working mom shift around 3 p.m. to start my full-time job of carpooling, game attending or homework shuffling. (I call it shuffling because it can feel like I’m moving papers around in an effort to be helpful but not hovering, to guide but not force. THIS is fun!).

The entire family has always responded to my moods — if I set a course for adventure – they can get excited about it. If I am hard core about chores or being respectful to each other, they scurry quietly away and hope this will pass. As I feel my anxiety creep up, they feel it too. And it isn’t the happiest place on earth right now.

I have two kids in high school sports – fall sports, which means the calendar is filling up and we have schedules downloaded and pictures purchased. While not a Type A personality (I often wish I had some of these tendencies) I am looking forward to the routine and schedule and I think my kids secretly are too. Then why have both of my high schoolers told me in separate and independent conversations in the last few days “You don’t need to come to my games this year”? One especially heartfelt moment was when I was told, “In fact, I don’t even notice when you and dad are there.”

I know they are moving towards independence and this is our goal — God knows we don’t want them living with us forever. But, this sudden push out of the parenting nest feels hurtful. Most parents today make their kids’ activities their social network. We have our baseball friends or the cheer moms that we socialize with, given the vast number of hours a week or month we spend together on the sidelines. We also have invested not only a fair amount of money but also our time in getting to know the system, the sport (in my case, the rules of soccer aren’t intuitive so it’s been a steep learning curve), the tryout process, the coaches, etc. When my kids told me bluntly they were done with my involvement, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

First, I compared myself to other parents as a check in to see if I was the uber-involved mom who needed to take a step back? I think I’m pretty much in the middle. I attend their games and cheer them on, but I’m not emailing coaches, demanding playing time, or baking sidelines treats.

Then I thought about the emotions involved on both ends. I was hurt and felt like it was a personal attack on me and my place in their lives. But was it really? I think they are wanting more freedom and this is one place they can exercise it.

Lastly, I thought about their motivation – why did they want me to check out and were they asking for less involvement or stopping cold turkey? I didn’t see other kids pulling away from their parents in this way, but this isn’t really the thing Facebook posts are made of, is it? When I acted like I felt hurt and rejected, my son said “I told you didn’t have to go because I didn’t think you wanted to.” Maybe a quick-thinking cover, but maybe there is some truth to it.

What I want my kids to know is this:

I know that sometimes you wish you had different parents. Lord knows my sister and I both wish we had a different dad when he showed up to pick us up at high school football game in sweatpants and slippers and a cardigan sweater with elbow patches and wooden buttons!

I know sometimes you guys wish you we could be like somebody else’s parents, those that you perceive are cooler or less strict or not around as much. I hope you know that parenting is a choice, meaning we choose to be as involved as we are because we love you and we are proud of you. Other parents make other choices that work for them.

You’ll find that life is full of choices. Especially as you guys get older and are away from home and meeting lots of different people that come from different backgrounds. And this is the best thing about leaving home, spreading your wings and being forced to decide for yourself what works for you. What works for us is to see you at your soccer game Tuesday night.

Please know, as your parents, we love you and it’s OK to sometimes not want to follow our rules or want us around, but know that we will always be here for you. You can always call us — even if you think you’re getting in trouble, we want the best for you. And that’s what I mean when I’m cheering you on the sidelines, or driving you in our carpool or occasionally complaining about something related to one of your sports. Life is not perfect, we are not perfect, and we don’t expect perfection from you.

We’ve worked very hard to parent purposefully, to meet each of your individual needs and to try to be there in the way you need us. Yes, this has meant giving up lots of Friday nights and weekends to attend games that may or may not be interesting at all.

But we want to be there; we have fun watching you. And, honestly, you tell us less and less every year and this is another way for us to connect, to see you interact with your friends and team mates. In our family, the clock is ticking and this feels like my senior year too. The first of many lasts and the first of many firsts await us. Take us along for the ride, because I know, you’re going to need us.