Do you ever look at pictures of your kids when they were little and feel a pit in your stomach? Have you noticed an increase in irritability, conflict or general sense of emptiness? This is the state I find myself in at times lately. You see, my kids are 19 and 16. Over the years, I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with them. Has it been perfect? By no means. We have had our share of challenges to work through, however, the closeness and bond we share is healthy.
In recent years, as with most teens their focus has been redirected from mom and dad to peers, a normal developmental stage in the growth of children. Knowing this does not change the fact there is an emotional impact. My intent in writing this is not to discuss what's normal and healthy in a child's stage of life, but rather to consider the emotional impact and journey that many of us parents need to consider. Our children do not love us any less, but they do find us a bit less interesting. The questions go from "what are we going to do this weekend Dad?" To "can I have the car key's please"? How we handle this new stage of family life and parent-child relationship will determine the degree of potential conflict in your home as well as the inner turmoil you may experience. I want to offer a few suggestions that have been working for me:
Don't take it personal
Your teen is not pulling away to intentionally hurt you or send the message that she no longer loves you. If you find yourself getting angry when he/she chooses an event with friends over time with you it may be an indication that you are personalizing. This choice is normal, just as it was likely for you at their age. Certainly, spending too much time with peers things could become out of balance, however, if this is not the case, remind yourself of the times they are engaged with you and use this to balance out your thoughts and emotions.
You are not alone! At this moment, there are parents with teens in your circle of friends and acquaintances that are going through similar struggles. Reach out to those you trust and respect. Compare notes, encourage each other, share what works and what does not. Oftentimes we are too close to the situation to see things clearly. You may be reacting on emotion rather than principles that should guide your responses. Others, may be able to offer perspective and an objective point of view. Seek out a mentor, many have navigated the waters you are treading and can be a storehouse of wisdom. If needed, connect with a counselor that can walk with you through this stage of life.
Tune into your emotions
Are you aware of what is going on in your inner world of emotions? When you are not in tune with what is going on internally, you run the risk of acting out. Some bite their fingernails, others drink or over eat, some displace their emotional stuff into behaviors like yelling or driving recklessly. Unaddressed emotions that stem from loss and change may result in deep sadness or depression. I sometimes find myself dealing with sadness related to my kids growing up. When I am able to identify and verbalize it is related to the stage in family life and the loss I feel, I feel better. There is something freeing and healing about identifying what is going on and to then be heard, understood and empathized with. When you can better understand your own emotions and deal with them in a healthy way, you stand a chance to not negatively impact those around you.
Keep and eye toward the future
Will it be like this from now on? This is a question that I have been asked and ponder myself. The answer is both yes and no. The relationship between parents and children will change. The natural developmental structure of parent-child relationship is a dynamic relationship that morphs. It does not mean that you will never share closeness again. If you do all you can do to keep the relational doors open, your kids will likely return before long with a renewed desire for relationship.