My Jenny has changed…
She was such an obedient girl when she was young, and we used to do many things together – shopping, eating…..but things changed when she started secondary school. Now in sec 2, she stays in her room all the time, would not eat with us, talk to us or go out with us.
It hurts….I don’t understand why. My husband blames me for being a poor mother.
A common lament by parents of adolescents: puzzled by changes in their relationship with their kids, the emotional distance, the disconnect, the coolness.
Disappointed by the gulf that divides us – that seemed unimaginable just a couple of years ago.
Puzzled by the silence that has fallen upon us – how come we have lost common vocabularies?
Hurt – why our children distance themselves from us – how could they do that when we have been such dutiful parents!
Some of us also dread: oh no, the teenage years are upon us.
We parents all want our kids to grow and develop – but when growth and development occur, we struggle to understand and cope with these changes.
In times of stress, instead of pulling together to better support each other, we often lapse into blaming: parents blame the kid, couple blames each other.
Adolescence is an important developmental stage in the young lives of our teens: it is the bridge spanning half a dozen years or so between their childhood and adulthood.
Changes occur at multiple levels: physical, cognitive, social.
Some teens can be emotionally reactive, angry, sensitive and touchy, withdrawn. Others may be attracted to thrills and reckless behavior.
They grapple with their identities “who am I?”, and in so doing, they may well reject us simply because “Parents aren’t cool”.
They experiment with different ideas, concepts, looks and behavior that are alien to parents, “the old fogies”.
They want to be different from their parents; they want to be more like their friends, less their parents. They prefer the company of their peers more than families. They want more space and autonomy.
These become common triggers for arguments with parents.
They are aspects of individuation: the process through which a child becomes psychologically separate from her parents to become independent.
Parents are privileged!
Parents need not dread or fret about adolescence: have faith that, with knowledge and help, they can learn to adjust and ride this transition.
Instead of insisting on our previous parenting style – or the style of our own parents, instead of reminiscing the way we were, parents could try embracing this stage with curiosity and wonderment.
Because parents are in an extremely privileged position: parents are given the ringside seats to witness the evolution of this precious personality, the blossoming of this young adult with his/her own unique gifts and talents.
Naturally, we parents have to labor for this privilege!
Parenting : a balancing act
Parenting is a balancing act between nurturing and discipline. Parenting teens requires parents to adopt additional approaches.
In their struggle to be independent and differentiate from their parents, our teens may come across as indifferent, aloof, rebuffing the best intentions of parents.
How do parents nurture in the face of apparent rejections?
As a first step, parents have found it helpful if they
- listen more, lecture less
- be genuinely curious about our teens, invite their views often
- allow space for different perspectives: accept that parents don’t hold a monopoly of thought leadership.
But parents also have other questions.
How would parents, on the one hand, respect their teens’ quest for space and autonomy, and on the other, continue to guide and monitor?
Are we too strict, or overly lenient and indulgent?
Oftentimes parents found that to successfully surf this phase of family life, they need to learn new perspectives and psychological skills.
When parents could make changes appropriate to their families, they find
- more collaborative family interactions emerging
- more communication channels opening up
- more kindness, mutual appreciation and respect in the family.
If the teens feel secure and accepted by their parents, they are more likely to seek out parents in times of need. That in turn allows parents access to the world of their teens.
Growing pain for parents as a couple
When our children are experiencing major developmental changes, parents’ couple relationship likewise comes under strains.
Blaming and bickering with each other only drive the couple apart, and push their teens further away.
This stage of family life is therefore also a period of growth, with attendant pain, in parents’ couple relationship.
It calls for conscious effort to navigate the course so that the parents – as a couple – could better connect and support each other to become an even more capable team.
Critical years for the Family
Adolescence, being a pivotal transition and developmental stage of our kids, impacts not only our kids – their individual wellbeing and future, but also the wellbeing and future of our family as a whole.
If we manage this stage well, parents are a source of affection, stability and wisdom to our teens, and to each other as couple. That maximizes our teens’ potential to evolve into emotionally healthy and well-adjusted adults.
In so doing, parents are seeding for a warm and harmonious future family life.
If you find navigating this passage challenging, you may wish to consider seeking professional help. I invite you to make an appointment at email@example.com.