Isn't it a drag when our children make the shift from being our
biggest fans to acting like we're public enemy #1? I can really
relate to the reader who wrote about feeling puzzled by this common
hallmark of the early tween years, when cracking the code of kids'
behaviors can become especially challenging:
"My son and I have always been close. He was a 'mama's boy' who
loved spending time with me, wanted to sit by me, believed
everything I said and even held my hand in public. Suddenly, he
pulled away. It's now 'uncool' to snuggle and hold hands, I get a
rolling of the eyes when I voice my opinions and now Dad is the
cool one. When I discipline him, he says, 'Dad would let me do
that,' or he issues a sarcastic remark. I know this is part of
growing up, but I can't help but feel sad and rejected."
It can be difficult when our sidekicks spread their wings, even
though it signifies a healthy effort to know their own minds, forge
their own alliances and make their own way. Differentiating or
pulling away from you is perfectly typical at this age, but
understanding that it's typical doesn't make the disrespectful
Now that he's older, perhaps he's less comfortable with the snuggly
connection you once shared, or maybe he just feels angry about
something. Have you asked? Another possibility, ironically, is that
your son may be (unconsciously) testing the limits of your
connection. You can use this as a teachable moment.
When I feel angry or hurt during encounters with my kids, it's
tough to always recognize them as opportunities. It's easier to
withdraw and lick my wounds or simply give in and indulge them in
an effort to maintain peace. The trouble with these "passive
parenting" approaches, however, is that they do nothing to help our
children learn to become good friends to others-let alone
empathetic and responsible partners in work and in life.
The bottom line? Under no circumstances does a difference of
opinion make it OK for people to be rude or disrespectful to one
another. Let your son know what you expect and then notice and
affirm those times when he does respectfully disagree-and make sure
you toe the line, too. Kids learn so much more about how to be in
the world by observing us than by listening to our boring
For me, the key to mastering these moments is to maintain the
perspective that parenting is a real job. How would I deal with
difficult personalities in a workplace? While I don't relish
conflicts in my family, I am learning to expect them and to
recognize them for what they are: opportunities to parent. That
way, I'm not always shocked, injured and reactionary, unwittingly
reinforcing the very drama I claim to abhor.
As for rapport between your son and his dad, I encourage you to
affirm this. Children of both genders typically ebb and flow in
their zeal to connect with each parent, and it's quite typical for
boys entering adolescence to want to model after the men in their
lives. This is a healthy shift, but beware of "splitting," a
dynamic where one parent is pitted against the other in a child's
unconscious quest to identify with one parent. It's helpful if
parents can decide to have a united front and problem-solve as a
No matter its origins, this pulling away you're noticing may wax
and wane. Try to notice and express curiosity about the new things
your son finds important, which can inspire moments reminiscent of
that earlier warmth. So when your boy drops into your lap without a
warning, drop what you're doing and savor it.
Recently, my son Noah hesitated when I asked if he wanted me to
chaperone a school field trip, as I often do. A middle-schooler
now, he winced and shrugged, making it pretty clear he wanted me to
sit this one out. I felt a little sting of rejection.
These are bittersweet moments. We can acknowledge the losses these
changes mean for us, but also affirm our kids' new alliances and
take pride in their budding independence. Ironically, it's because
they feel secure in their connections with us that they're able to
confidently leave the nest. Teaching our offspring to spread their
wings respectfully will enable them to enjoy healthy connections
with others later-my singular hope for them in life-when they fly
the coop for good.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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