A mom wrote me recently, concerned that her
15-year-old son was pulling away from her, especially in terms of being
affectionate and letting her do things for him. This is a common occurrence in the lives of parents and kids. This mother wondered, “How do you provide that same sense of
security to your children as they start to break away from you?” My response offered words of comfort
and advice that might prove helpful if you’re experiencing something similar.
It’s Totally Normal
This is what teenagers do. What they’re supposed to
do. They pull away so they can figure
out who they are without you. Your child
is becoming himself, which is what you want.
This Is an Important Step Toward Self-Exploration
Your son is
creating new attachments to his peers that allow him to become ready to be a
"we" with someone else in the future. This shift in
attachment—he’s still attached to you, but in a different way—allows him to
take the secure base he has in his relationship with you, and use it as a
launching pad to explore who he is apart from his family and in the context of his
peers. This process is a crucial stage
in his identity formation.
possible to be physically close with your son. Take his cues and respect his journey into adulthood while still letting
him know how much you love him. At
times this may mean a simple pat on the
back or the head, or an arm around his shoulder. But even if it's a bit
uncomfortable, try to keep hugging him when you can—even if it’s the dreaded “side
hug” that can feel so awkward.
As much as possible, keep up the affection and the
connection. You might even see whether
he'd be willing to let you sit in bed next to him to read to him or have
him read to you. If not, get the laptop and watch some funny YouTube
videos together. You have to sit super close so you can both see the
screen, and the laughter can create a shared moment of togetherness.
Thoughtful While Also Observing Boundaries
Don’t be corny,
but come up with gestures that show him thoughtfulness and nurturing without
treading on his independence. Take him to a Jamba Juice when you pick him up
from school. Text him about something
you’re proud that he’s done. Challenge
him to a game of ping-pong. Take him to
dinner and a movie. And when he's sick,
baby him like you used to. He’ll love
he’ll tell you to back off, then the next minute he’s mad that you’re showing
attention to his younger sister. It's
very similar to his toddler years, when he’d say, "Me do it," and
then get mad that you weren’t helping him. He's in between two worlds and
wants what he feels like he needs—but only when he thinks he needs it. He wants to be treated like an
independent adult, but secretly, he may have times when he just feels like
being nurtured like a little kid. The
best thing you can do is to assume he still wants you to nurture him and be a
mom, while also communicating that he can tell you to give him space if he
not a mind reader, initiate a direct conversation about your uncertainty about
how to interact with him. Talk about your desire to keep nurturing him
and doing things for him, while still respecting his space and independence. Explain that you know how capable he is, then ask for his guidance and
advice on this issue. If nothing else,
he'll be aware that you’re trying.
but Be Available
so important, so you want to encourage it. But you need to still be sending signals that say, "I'm always here
for you if you need me." Communicate this over and over, both verbally and nonverbally. Then he’ll know it’s true, whether his
actions show it or not.