Raising a child all the way to adulthood sure can come with unexpected twists and turns. Having been through some rough patches in raising my own kids, I’ve developed a parenting practice that I call “arms wide open” when it comes to parenting teens.
During adolescence, it is a teen’s developmental task to become their own unique self, ready and willing to launch out in to the world of adulthood. Creating more space between self and parent is a key element in preparing to leave home. Is it normal? Yes. And is it painful for the parent to feel pushed away after so many years of pouring ourselves into our kids? Oh my, yes!
When our teens reject us, it’s easy for our own inner-teen to surge to the surface and reject them back. But that just hurts both the teen and us. Parenting with “arms wide open” means that when we ask our teen if they want to do something together and they sneer, we exercise restraint and say, “Ok, no worries. I love hanging out with you and just thought I’d ask. I’ll try again another time.” Then, we try again a few days later, being deliberate about giving our kid freedom to opt in or out of time together. We learn to expect their rejection. It can be helpful to think of our invitations as deposits in the bank account of “I love you and love to be with you but you are free to choose.” This is a long-term strategy, but it can be helpful in paving the way to connection. Inside those adult-looking teenage bodies, our darling little children still reside, wanting to feel seen, wanted, and loved. The “arms wide open” approach honors their developmental stage and still helps them feel cherished and wanted.
I’m sharing with you a story that posted this morning about my journey from mother-son disconnection to closeness. It’s part of a series by CNN called, “The Best in Us” about the impact of living through a global pandemic.
Sending love to those of you in the trenches of challenging times with teens. It takes sooo much adulting to navigate it well.