“My son always said, “If you get married, I will move in with Grandma”. At first, I took it as a joke, then as a threat. Now he wants to leave me, and I will be left alone”, – writes a reader. Ekaterina Sivanova, a family psychologist and a mother of three children, explains why teenagers change so dramatically and what you should do if you and your child suddenly become strangers to each other.
“Please help me understand my relationship with my son. He is 15. It is just the two of us. I divorced his father before my child turned one. The reason is that he cheated. All these years, the father neither contacted my child nor paid alimony.
I have dated men, but I have not been able to bring any of them home. My son always said, “If you get married, I will move in with Grandma”. At first, I took it as a joke, then as a threat. But no matter what, I could not build a serious relationship.
Now I see my son drifting away from me. He is planning to move to another city to study after high school. I do not mind, but I think: I was so afraid that he would leave, and now he is leaving. I am asking him to stay, there are universities in our city where he can study. And he does not agree to study at any of them.
It turns out that when he did not want me to get married, I did what he wanted. And what now? I am like that old woman left with nothing. I ask my son: spend some time with me, talk to me, but he says, “Leave me alone! You are annoying me!” Sometimes he can even make me cry. As if on purpose he goes around and pisses me off, snaps at me, and is just rude to me.
I understand that my son and I will never be able to communicate the way we did when he was little. But I do not know any other way out”.Parents of teenagers send letters and messages to me, I read and listen to the stories of relationships between adults and children. Meanwhile, I am building my own bridges with my sons and daughter: they are 21, 18, and 11 years old. My eldest son is no longer a teenager, but a young man. My daughter is about to come out of adolescence, and my younger son is on his way to being a wayward, desperate teenager.
In my columns on Pravmir, I will tell you about how I build my relationships with my children and answer your questions.
I really hope to receive feedback. And I want to say right away that absolutely all your stories, thoughts and questions are of great value. At least, because every experience is unique and unrepeatable. It is impossible to give one recipe for all parents of teenagers. There are no repetitive patterns and correct solutions. That is why we need to have an open conversation.
A snarling boy
So, let’s start with a letter from a reader asking for help to “understand the relationship” with her 15-year-old son. The relationship that was developing from the moment the mother saw the pregnancy test results and experienced her special feelings. What were they like? Was she overjoyed? Shocked? Puzzled? Immensely happy? At this stage, the relationship between a mother and a child already starts developing.
How was the pregnancy going? Who was there throughout the process? How did the family prepare for the birth of a baby? I know that everyone, who is reading these lines now, is seeing images from their past and answering these questions together with me.
Three children mean three completely different pregnancies and completely different relationships between me and my every child. And then there was birth and feeding, sleepless nights and the first tooth, smiles and fevers, hysterics and point-blank questions…
Step by step, day after day, we all were on the way to becoming parents of a teenager.
They say when you are a mother of a teenager, you say “Good night” to one person in the evening, and in the morning, you greet a completely different person.
I do not know any parents, who have calmly discovered this change in their son or daughter.
One would think that being an experienced mom and having encountered such changes in my younger son, I would not be confused, “Why does this happen? After all, I am a psychologist, I have already experienced my elder children growing up, I am accepting, helping and supportive. We have such a good relationship. But he snarls at me!…” It is hard to remain calm in such moments. I am not a robot, I am a living person. And it is very hard to not stop seeing this snarling boy as that toddler.
How can one understand what is going on?
Children are the fastest boomerang
In my opinion, it is essential not to forget for a moment that this harsh and angular person is that soft and agreeable toddler. No one has replaced anyone: it is still the same baby. But they have grown up.
And they have been all our life for these 12-15 years, which they have absorbed like a sponge.
If you do not communicate with a child for 12 years, and then suddenly want to, it will take another twelve years to restore or even establish this contact.
If a small child knows that they can make their parents do as they like (“If you get married, I will move in with Grandma”), then they will grow up to be a teenager, who tells their mother, “Leave me alone! You are annoying me!”
If you manipulate your child from childhood, take your anger and irritation from your own total exhaustion out on them, they will inevitably grow up to do exactly the same thing with their parents.
Our children are the fastest boomerang. All that we have launched (whether we wanted to or not), will come back around to us.
I have read letters of adult men and women with stories how this kind of relationship did not work out more than once, how everything went crashing down during their child’s adolescence, how they are “complete strangers” now. And in most of these letters, there are words at the end about how they could not imagine that everything they did to their child would come back around to them.
But in one of the letters, a mother of a daughter, who is already in her thirties, wrote to me, “I believe, parenthood is a lottery. You never know what ticket you will get. I seemed to be a good mother, clothed her, provided food and drinks for her, took her to the sea in the summer. However, it turned out, she needed communication. What could we talk about? What could I talk about with my child when I was thirty? Well, now she is thirty-five and has nothing to talk about with me. It is a lottery…”
I think having a baby is a win-win lottery. In any case, you will receive a prize at the moment of drawing. Yet, what you do next with them is your choice and responsibility.
You cannot present a bill for services to your child. “I did not get married because of you, so now you will spend time with me”.
When a child yells at their mother, “If you do this, then I…”, – they live here and now, in this particular moment of time. They are scared and lonely right now: if you get married, I will leave, too. What is so terrible for a child in this “marriage”? Why cannot a mother be let to do this?
I have my own possible answers. But those are only hypotheses. I would ask this teenager, who turned his “do not get married” into “leave me alone, you are annoying me” and what his mother told him about his father.
After all, such a terrible “marriage” and “leave me alone, you are annoying me” were in his childhood and in the life of his parents.
Do not justify your illusions, but try to understand your child
So, what should you do? Sprinkle ashes on your head? Is it possible to change the relationship with your own child, when everything has been done wrong for so many years?
It is possible. It is only important to want to do this and make a vow to look at your life and your reflection in the mirror, and not at the life of your child.
I will never be able to help sort out any relationship. I do not want to and do not know how to divide something that has been developed over the years by people who love each other into component parts. Yet, I am a family psychologist and a mother of three children – I know how to be there for someone and how to accept someone, who has the intention of establishing a contact with their child, and, above all, with themselves.
I know that everyone is doing the best they can at this particular moment in time.
When the author of the letter made the decision to “listen” to her child and did not get married, she could not do otherwise. Perhaps, now she would have done it differently, but she did it the way she did. And her son is doing what he can do here and now, based on the entire story of his life.
There is no point in telling a woman, who finds herself in this author’s situation, that she “needs to let her son go” and that she “needs to see him as an adult”. How can she do this when her whole life is focused on her only son? How can she let him go?
Stop waiting for someone else to justify their illusions. That is what this mother and her son need to do right now, to look at each other with clear eyes, open their hearts and to be the people they are, not some part of them.
However, the difficulty is that the teenager’s parent should be the first to give up their illusions, open their heart and eyes, and become their true selves. A child follows their parent. Not the other way round. You have never seen a duck, who follows its ducklings, have you?
Being a parent of a teenager is difficult, but each of us has the inside knowledge of how to solve it. This knowledge is the unconditional love for your child.
Translated by Julia Frolova