My friend Amy has been struggling with the changes taking place as her daughter grows into adolescence. Just the other day she was saying to me “For the longest time I was the center of my daughter’s world. I sometimes feel a tremendous sense of grief and loss because I no longer have the lovely close cuddly relationship with my daughter. Now she just pushes me away. It’s as if she’s saying “Don’t even bother.” It’s very hard for me to step back and let my daughter be her own person. I have to find a new way of relating to her and I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
Children are dependent upon their parents to help them navigate the early stages of their development. They identify with their parents, internalizing many of their traits, attributes, mindsets and values. Adolescence is a time when one learns to think and feel for themselves and to determine their own wants and needs. Adolescents go through a process known as individualization. This is a critical stage of an adolescent’s development in which they pull away from their parents in order to form a separate and distinct identity. Adolescents need time and space to learn to formulate their own thoughts, work through their own feelings and issues and to get a sense of what’s best for them. They may need to distance from or sometimes even reject the parents they had once identified with as they grow into adulthood.
Raising children is a growth process for parent and child. It can at times be painful for both, albeit for different reasons. Our pain comes in letting go and theirs comes from the struggle to grow up and find a place among their peers. Younger generations are also facing a whole new set of challenges. They are vulnerable to the influence of the media. And their dependence upon texting and social media is preventing many from developing the basic social skills that are necessary to function in today’s world.
The years between thirteen and eighteen can be especially difficult. Adolescents want the freedom of an adult. The problem here that they have yet to reach the level of maturity that would enable them to make the best decisions. A parent’s first response is to want to reach out to protect and guide their children. Sometimes parents have to stand back and allow their children to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons.
Amy went on to say “I watched my mother struggle to relate to my daughter. She was wonderful with her as a baby and when she was little. But she couldn’t relate to my daughter as she got older. My mother continually tried to relate to my daughter as though she were a little girl. She could no longer find any common ground and now I see that I’m struggling with the same issue. So that’s something for me to work on.”
The process of individualization that children go through as they reach adolescence can sometimes be difficult and even painful for parents and grandparents. Many feel threatened by the changes taking place as their children begin to pull away, form their own separate sense of identity and go on to live a life of their own. The process can be far more difficult for parents that are limited in their capacity to process their own feelings. The children are growing into adulthood and yet the parents are still fixated at a time in the past when their children were still small.
To some extent, we are all resistant to change. We try to keep our children small in our attempt to hold onto what is known or familiar. Watching the changes taking place in our children as they grow up can evoke a wide range of feeling. We may experience feelings such as grief, loss or hurt when our children move away from us or act out. The feelings will be more subtle at other times. We may sense a distance that wasn’t there before. We may struggle to relate to the person they are becoming and find ourselves longing for the connection we shared in times past. We need to be able to process all of these feelings. Those of us who fail to do so are left frozen in time and then we find ourselves reaching for something that is no longer there.
There may have been times in the past when we shared a very close and loving bond with our children. Children can become more distant as they grow into adulthood. We may feel as if there were a barrier separating us. And it may seem at times as though we can no longer reach them.
The only constant is change. It’s important for us to understand that all relationships change over time. There are different mental, emotional and energetic dynamic to every relationship. And these dynamic are always changing. We need to be in a space that allows for the changes that are taking place.
Everyone on the planet is going through some kind of change or evolution. It is critically important as parents for us to open up to fully experience any feelings that are being evoked by the changes taking place in our children. We can facilitate this process by sitting down, closing our eyes and then bringing them to the forefront of our awareness and then allowing ourselves to sense the mental, emotional and energetic dynamics between ourselves and our children. We then need to breathe softly and deeply while centering our awareness in the midst of any feelings and sensations that we experience within our bodies.
It’s important for us to stop and allow ourselves to fully feel the dynamics of the relationship for what it is at any given moment. In doing so, we feel our child’s presence. We may also sense their feelings and overall state of mind. We sense how close or distant they are. And we also experience our own feelings as they arise in response to the changes taking place with our children and any interactions we have with them.
Breathing into the feelings that arise facilitates a digestive process. This processing of our feelings helps us to clear up confusion, come to a place of understanding, resolve conflict, come to terms with what is and grow individually and in the context of our relationships. Our children are changing all the time. We are also changing and so is everyone else around us, therefore it’s important for us to take time to do this practice every day.
Working consistently with this practice makes it easier for us to come to terms with what is and adapt to the changes taking place with our children and in other significant people in our lives. We become more present in a way that enables us to experience people as they are in the here and now. It helps us to let go to the extent that we can allow our children to have the space they need to learn and grow and become who it is they are meant to be.
Adolescence is a period of intensive physical, intellectual and moral growth. It is often a time of confusion and upheaval in many households. Approaches to parenting that seemed to work so well during our children’s younger years may no longer be appropriate. One of the greatest advantages of working with the practice I’m sharing in this article is that it helps us to adapt so that we can respond appropriately to our teens changing needs as they continue to grow and mature.
Teens that were once compliant will begin to assert themselves and their opinions. We need to look at how much room we give our teens to be an individual by asking ourselves “Am I a controlling parent? Do I listen to my child and allow him or her to be a separate and distinct individual with opinions and tastes different from my own?” In some instances we may need to change our approach or our style of communication.
Parents who have a greater understanding of the changes taking place in their teens are better equipped to cope. We need to be educating ourselves. That may mean learning from the experiences of other parents, reading books, attending workshops about teens and in some instances seeking the help of a psychotherapist. Remembering how we struggled as we reflect back on our own teen years will also help us to be more understanding and supportive.
Adolescence is a time when our children begin to test their limits. Adolescents, not being fully cognizant of their own limitations and the dangers facing them, often believe they can handle anything thrown their way.
Basic ground rules need to be established and consequences need to be enforced when our teens fail to comply. They may not always happy with the expectations placed upon them, but they do need to know that we care enough about them to expect that they keep their grades up, fulfill their responsibilities, eat right and come home at a reasonable hour.
Adolescents often feel as if no one understands them or their feelings. In many instances they are left feeling angry, alone and confused as they struggle with the issues of being accepted by their peers, sexuality, drugs and finding their own sense of direction in life.
It’s important for us to stay present with our children. Spending time with our teens and listening to their concerns shows them that we care. Being there when they need us helps to provide them with a sense of groundedness and security as they grow into adulthood.
Children usually come around once they get a sense of who they are and learn to make their way through the world. The relationship may take on more of a quality of friendship once they do. Things have a way of coming around full circle. There may be a time in the future when we are dependent upon them for our care.
Amy then said “I felt terribly guilty about distancing from my own parents as an adolescent. One good thing that has come out of this experience with my daughter is that it has helped me to let go of all of that guilt. I know that distancing from my parents hurt them, but I now realize that I had to push them away so that I could grow up. Addressing these issues with my daughter has brought me a lot of comfort by helping me to reconcile this conflict that has been with me all these years.”
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Ben Oofana is a healer who began his training with Horace Daukei, one of the last surviving traditional doctors among the Kiowa Indian tribe. Call (913) 927-4281 to learn more or to schedule an individual session.