How do I get my teenager to be nice to me?
Question from Amber:
“I have a great teenager. He’s hard working, fun to be around, nice to his sister, in fact, he’s nice to everyone, except ME. When I sit next to him on the couch, he gets up. When I try to hug him, he ducks away. The other day, he was helping his sister with her math and I said, “Thank you so much for helping her, that is so sweet of you.” He immediately stopped helping and walked away. Everything I say is wrong in his eyes. I’m just want to feel close to him and love him and he won’t let me. I expected some teenage rebellion, but the only thing he’s rebelling against is ME. How can I get my teenager to be nice to me?”
The parent educator answer:
A teenager’s job is to fire their parent. A parent’s job is to earn a place at the kid’s board of director’s table. It sounds like your teenager is doing his job. He’s telling you, mostly through body language, your work here is done. I don’t need mommying anymore. I don’t need your approval, hugs, attention, or anything that makes me feel like a boy. I’m ready to stand on my own two feet and be a man, take responsibility for my life and I can’t be that man when I have the same relationship with you that we’ve always had. The parents job then, is simply, to let go. Easy, right?
The life coaching answer:
Easier said than done.
Some helpful questions to ask are: “WHY is it so hard to let go?” “What am I making the fact that he pulls away from me mean?” and “what is it that I really want?”
Let’s take a look at the facts of the situation: He stands up when you sit next to him. When you try to hug him, he ducks away. He tells you that you are wrong. These are just neutral facts.
Can you imagine another mom might not be bothered by this? She might think, “Finally, some time to myself!” or “Fine! He doesn’t want me around, I don’t want him around.” or maybe she wouldn’t notice or care?
The reason this is bothering you is because of what you are making it mean.
Right now, with his behavior, I’m going to guess you feel annoyed and frustrated.
We all have a default emotion, something we feel easily and often. Underneath this is a hidden, more vulnerable emotion, one that we try really hard not to feel.
My hunch is that what Amber is making her son’s behavior mean is: “I’m losing him” and the feeling she’s trying not to feel is sadness.
Some moms have no trouble with sadness but many of us avoid it and get annoyed instead.
In this case, Amber doesn’t want to think about losing her baby boy, so every time he pulls away, she clings on tighter. She feels more and more vulnerable as she tries to control something she has no control over. She thinks, “If he would just be nice to me, then I wouldn’t have to feel insecure.” She’s putting all the power to feel secure and happy, in the hands of her rebellious teenager who is trying to DISTANCE himself from her. The more he pulls away, the tighter she holds on.
The solution to this isn’t to “make him nicer” but to acknowledge the truth of what is happening here.
You are losing your little boy. The relationship you had with him will never be the same. It’s ok to grieve the loss of the wonderfully close relationship you had with him.
This is not to say you won’t have a relationship with him. It’s just time for the relationship to evolve. Right now, you can’t say or do anything right because of the ENERGY you are bringing to him. It’s so one sided.
When this was happening to me, I was so confused. My husband helped me see it this way…
“It’s like you are his stalker. It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. You could be the most perfect mom on the planet, nobody wants to agree with their stalker. No one wants to hug their stalker.”
The way to get your son to be nicer, is to pull your energy WAY back. To grieve the loss of the relationship you had. Treat yourself to a vacation for all the work you put into raising him. Give yourself a certificate, a trophy, something to signify that your work is done and it’s time to change the power dynamic from you as authority/ approver/holder of wisdom and put you on the same level as your son. You are both imperfect, learning, growing, and changing.
Here are 4 tips to help you let go of your teen so he doesn’t need to push you away.
- Love more, care less. When kids are little, love and care go hand in hand. Care involves food, clothing, hygiene, how they spend their free time, etc. As they grow into adolescents, mommy taking care of them, thinking about their food, clothing, hygiene, etc, feels overprotective. Teens want to care for themselves, so learning to separate love and care is an important milestone for Supermoms. You will always have “mother’s eyes”. You will always be able to spot potential hazards, ways he could do better, chores that need to be done, better food choices to make, improvements in hygiene, appearance, and ways he could challenge himself more and increase his potential. Probably until the day he dies you will be able to notice these things. The trick is to love the imperfect teenager he is today (without futurizing and catastrophizing), and care less about the details of how he’s living his life. Focusing on loving more, while caring less about them, will set them free to grow into independence.
- “Would I say that to a roommate?” You are co-habitating with your son, so using a roommate analogy will help your relationship step into adulthood. You might ask your roommate “How did you do on your test?” but you wouldn’t ask “Did you study?” You wouldn’t say to a roommate, “Thank you so much for helping your sister with her math” because you are interjecting yourself into his relationship. A simple “You are so nice to your sister!” would be enough. You can ask your roommate to take out the trash but you wouldn’t get weepy if they didn’t feel like hugging you.
- Focus on yourself. The question, “Who am I if I’m not his mommy?” sends us into an identity crisis. Think about how the lives of your parents changed after you moved out and see if it’s something that looks appealing to you? If not, you are probably going to cling even tighter. Create a vision for yourself separate from your roll as mom. Supermoms are very involved with their kids lives and the thought of not being needed or wanted in the same way can cause us to panic.
- Create a vision of yourself and your future that excites you. Do you want more time for creative projects? More time for outdoor adventure? Do you feel like learning a new skill, taking on a new challenge, or pushing yourself to play bigger in your life? Is there anything you enjoyed but put on hold when the kid’s activities took over? Use your imagination to create a picture of your future that is fun and energizing.
Supermom Kryptonite: Letting your teenager take the emotional lead in the home. When we put our ability to be happy in the hands of our teenagers, we ride the emotional roller coaster along with them. If you think: “I can’t be happy until my teen is” it will exhaust you. Instead, you decide how you want to feel and let your teenager follow your emotional lead.
Supermom Power Boost – Use your creativity (photography, crafts, etc.) or at least use your imagination to create what you want.
Quote – “Live out of your imagination, not your history.” Steven Covey