To the Mom With a Teen Who Just Doesn’t Seem to Care

I watched my son walk to my car last Friday after school. I love picking him up; there’s something about seeing him with his friends and the visceral relief you see in their smiles.

It’s nostalgic since I remember feeling the same way, but I love watching him and seeing him in a space different than the one he’s in when he’s with me and when he doesn’t think I’m paying attention.

As he gets closer, I notice something smeared all over his white T-shirt. I have no idea what it is, but I’m sure he doesn’t care. He slept at his father’s last night, and as I ask him what’s all over his shirt, his brother and sister chime in. “He went to school like that,” they tell me simultaneously.

Of course, I could say something to his dad about it and fault him for letting his son arrive at school in such a state, but I don’t.

I know how their morning went well because I’ve had many confrontations with him about his clothing if he’s taken a shower or done his homework on time, and he doesn’t care. Not even a little bit.

When a teen doesn't seem to care about what we think they should

It doesn’t bother him if he walks into school with stained clothing, an oversized whitehead on his nose, or the same pants he’s worn the last three days in a row.

I don’t understand it, and we had many throwdowns about this and other subjects at a very early hour.

He keeps his room looking like a murder scene, and when I tell him to clean it up, it consists of him bringing down a sink full of dirty dishes and throwing everything else under the bed.

He doesn’t try hard in school despite being an intelligent kid who is excellent in math and science. At 15, I can’t read his penmanship, and he doesn’t put any effort into projects — he doesn’t care.

I’ve tried; I’ve taken him to counseling; I’ve loved him hard, and I’ve backed off.

And then…

There have been moments I’ve screamed at him, trying to get across how much I want him to care, how much I want him to live up to his potential, but it doesn’t help.

Nothing does.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that you aren’t alone if you have a teen who doesn’t give a flip about many things. I know so many teenagers out there are thriving and thinking about college and how many goals they will score in tonight’s game, and then there’s your kid.

They are good and kind and can be sweet, and dammit, you love them — it’s guttural and huge. But you wish they would care. You wish they’d shower more and not treat their room like a junkyard.

You wish they would live up to their potential in school and play ball because they have skills they are hiding.

You’ve tried it all, and nothing you do works, and it brings you to tears. You wonder if it’s something you’ve done, if you’ve pushed too hard or not enough.

But I have to tell you; it is not just your child.

So many moms are feeling this way despite what they post on social media or what they see on the field. Those are snippets from a highlight reel; it’s certainly not the whole story.

I know my son has gifts; he’s found a few but not all of them. I know he will in time; he’s not ready yet, and I’ve realized I can’t squeeze them out of him.

I’m not giving up; I’ve committed myself that I’d let him be because what I’m doing now, what his father is doing now, isn’t working. We are both baffled; we both did well in high school and couldn’t wait to go to college. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been caught dead walking around high school in a stained shirt, and if my room looked like his, I’d cry.

We raised him to be a good kid and a good adult; you have raised your kid to be a good human, too. I know you have.

That doesn’t stop because all our efforts are being blatantly ignored, but maybe we can give ourselves a damn break and realize we can’t force them to care about things they don’t. We want it to happen organically, of course, and I don’t think it’s going to if I keep shoving cleanliness, organization, working harder in school, and acne pads down his throat.

My son is lovely. He doesn’t skip school; he gets his work done by the skin of his teeth, and he takes care of me when I get sick since his father moved out.

But he doesn’t want to play sports; he couldn’t care less if he was wearing clean clothes or has deodorant on or if all his friends are in the National Honor Society, and he could be too if he tried just a bit more.

He lacks desire and motivation.

My son doesn’t care about many things right now, and if your child doesn’t either, let’s try and remember (together because I need support here) there are worse things.

As his mom, I’ve worried other people will notice his nonchalant attitude and think it means I haven’t shown up for him. Maybe you’re worried about that too. Perhaps you are worried about it at this very moment.

But mother to mother, let’s let go of that thought and the fact they could be doing so much more with their life right now despite our support and our nagging and focus on the positive things they bring to the table because there are many.

Please know, though, you aren’t alone; your child is not alone, and I feel they will be just fine.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous.



About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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