Five years ago, my daughter turned thirteen. That year, shopping with me wasn’t her favorite thing to do anymore. Instead of watching movies or shows together, she wanted to stay in her room. When I’d kiss her goodbye, she made it known I was embarrassing her and if she had a friend over, she acted like I was a secret she was trying to hide.
It was a challenging year for me. I wanted it to be a phase but knew it wasn’t. We had always been close. I had already gone to the “pulling away stage” with her older brother and was expecting this. It was unsurprising, but that didn’t make it any easier.
The teens pull away, hang in there; they do come back. (Twenty 20 @Yusev)
I was a mother of three and felt like my two older kids had semi-left me, and I’d look at my youngest and think, You are next. I soaked in every moment I could go with him; he was ten, and I knew he’d be hiding in his room instead of snuggling on the sofa with me in a few years. He wouldn’t want me to walk near him in public anymore, and everything I’d say would get an eye roll. I held on tight for the next few years, but, of course, just like his brother and sister, he drifted further and further away from me.
Holidays and birthdays weren’t the same. It didn’t matter how much sweat and tears I put in; there was no getting my kids to return to the people they used to be — kids who felt the magic, appreciated the little things, and got excited about pancakes on a Saturday morning.
It was rare I got them to do anything with me. Their free time was spent with friends or sleeping. Instead of sitting at the dinner table, they wanted to take their food to their rooms. When I didn’t allow that, we’d sit there silently and eat.
It seemed physically painful for them to answer if I asked them questions about their days. They were all so quiet, and there were nights I’d be eating alone or watching television alone, and it seemed impossible to me that I had three other humans living with me.
I was sad. I missed my kids so much I’d constantly look at pictures of them when they were younger or watch old home movies. All of which made it worse, of course, but I needed to mourn who they used to be as I accepted who they were becoming.
Most teens go through this, and as I talk to other moms, we all feel the same: it creeps up on us. It seems to happen overnight, and even if we are exhausted and drained and feel like we can’t take on another thing, the quiet that comes when your kids are teenagers is unsettling. It makes you feel like something is missing in your life that you can never get back.
But here I am on the other side of the battle. Your teens do come back, and this has been my favorite part of parenting so far. My kids are now nineteen, almost eighteen, and sixteen, and my youngest has just started to dip into what I call the Coming Back Stage.
For my oldest, this didn’t happen until he was seventeen. One evening he sat downstairs with me and watched a show. I wondered if anything was on his mind, so I asked him. I wasn’t used to being graced with my kids’ presence after dinner. When he said nothing was wrong and got up to make a snack, he asked me if I wanted anything. We talked more that evening than we had in years, and that was the start of my oldest coming back to me.
Now, we are best buds. He goes to the gym with me and isn’t embarrassed to be seen with his mother. We have a standing date almost every Saturday night, and if anything starts falling apart around the house, he is here to fix it. He’s rarely in his room and now asks me if I want to do things with him.
My daughter came back about a year ago. She also comes to the gym with me, wants to help me with dinner regularly, and loves finding shows or movies to watch together. She often asks me if I want to ride with her to Target or get tea, and we listen to Podcasts and talk about them. She is now downstairs with us all every night after dinner, and we’ve made some of our best memories these past few years just being silly, talking about when they were young, sharing our dreams, or discussing the news.
My youngest came back earlier than my older two did. Maybe it’s just his laid-back personality or the fact he saw his brother and sister want to be around their mom more, and he wanted to join in the fun. It doesn’t matter to me; I’ll take it.
This is the sweet spot of parenting, I think. My kids are independent, but I still get to see them. They can help me and are still willing to take my advice and let me help them. They want to hang out with me, and we can do adult things together. They let me know they appreciate me, and I no longer feel unseen in my home.
If you are struggling because your kids are pulling away, I want you to know they do come back. It might feel like an eternity, but when they want to hang out with you again, it will make the heartache and struggle you felt when they were so distant worth it.
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