When your child pulls away

When your child pulls away

If you had seen my middle son and me walking together when he was around fifteen years old, you might have noticed us holding hands as we chatted and strolled. People often commented how remarkably sweet he was for a teenager and how well we seemed to get along and I felt extremely fortunate.

Now that he is almost 22, you might get the same impression if you saw us together. But there were a few years in between…well, not so much.

Because my son and I had such a good relationship I got lulled into a false sense of security. I thought things would always be the same between us so it took me by surprise when it happened.

He pulled away.

You may have had some experience with this yourself. The child you were so close to becomes distant. They’re less communicative and more secretive. They recoil from your touch or pretend not to hear you when you speak. And when they do seem to hear you, they answer with as few words as possible — words spoken in a less than agreeable tone. The change in them (and your relationship) may happen all of a sudden, or it may occur more gradually.

You’re left wondering what you did to cause the rift. It can even feel as if your child doesn’t love you anymore, compelling you to try different (and sometimes desperate) tactics to get things back to how they were. I tried to bridge the gap between my son and me by spending more time with him, doing things I knew he enjoyed. If we were out shopping or having lunch together I’d sometimes see flashes of his former self, but any connection we made felt fleeting. And as I struggled to get closer to him, I alternated between feeling frustrated, angry and sad.

I  want you to know that your son or daughter’s behavior has little to do with you. You didn’t do anything wrong. This is all about your child.

Someone told me that, if your child was sweet once, they will be sweet again. It’s true. When your child has figured things out, they’ll eventually return to their default setting. It may seem like an eternity until they return but it will happen.

After living through the process, to varying degrees, with my own three sons, and watching my friends go through it with their children as well, I’ve realized this behavior is common. My relationship with my oldest son was always more contentious so the rockiness of his teen years wasn’t as abrupt or dramatic but it still happened. The good news is that by the time he graduated college we grew closer and now that he’s an adult our relationship is better than it’s ever been.

Of course this scenario doesn’t happen with every teenager. Some seem to transition to adulthood more easily. If you’re reading this and can’t relate, consider yourself fortunate! But for those of you who’ve gone through it, or are currently going through it, know that you’re not alone. The timing may be different; some children pull away in middle or high school, others not until college. But whenever it happens, it hurts. A lot.

It can be especially difficult when your child pulls away when they’re in college because you aren’t with them and don’t really know what’s going on. You may not hear from them for days or even weeks, and when you do it’s only with superficial information. I‘ve learned that, although your student may not be confiding in you, it’s likely they’re entrusting their thoughts to others and building new relationships.

As hard as it is on us parents, this pulling away is part of the process of growing up. In retrospect, I understand my sons were worried — worried about their futures, relationships, etc. They were trying to figure things out and they needed to be independent of my husband and me to do that.

Someone told me that, if your child was sweet once, they will be sweet again. It’s true. When your child has figured things out, they’ll eventually return to their default setting. It may seem like an eternity until they return but it will happen.

Last year, my middle son seemed to shed some of the angst he’d been carrying. With a more concrete plan for his future and a better sense of who he was, he no longer needed to keep us at a distance.

These days he texts me just to ask how I am and what’s up at home. And when we’re together, he often reaches for my hand, just as he did when he was younger. I’m grateful to have made it through to the other side with him.

If you are there right now, in that difficult place with your child, take heart. Although they may not always be able to show it, they still love you. Be patient. Let them know you are always there for them, ready to welcome them back with open arms.

 

Follow Marlene on Facebook, and read more of her wonderful stories on her CollegiateParent author page and her blog, “Thoughts from Aisle Four.”

 

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Marlene Kern Fischer

Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and essay editor. She attended Brandeis University, from which she graduated cum laude with a degree in English Literature. A founding contributor and advisor at CollegiateParent, her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Grown and Flown, Parent and Co., Kveller, Her View From Home, the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, MockMom, Better After 50, Beyond Your Blog and The SITS Girls. You can read more of Marlene's work on her site, "Thoughts From Aisle Four."

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  • This is a wonderful article which I have copied and sent to my daughter. she feels calmer if she is prepared ahead of time and knows what to expect. these suggestions are just thing to give her.

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