It’s all push and no pull, I moan to my friends when our conversation turns toward our kids, as it usually does. No matter how many times I’m reassured that it’s normal, even healthy, for a teen to push away from her parent, it’s happening with such intensity at my house that the once solid bond with my daughter now feels as tenuous as a single fraying thread.
My attempts to connect with my teen fall flat.
My attempts to connect with her are quickly brushed off before they ever have a chance to land. She didn’t want a celebratory hug when she found out she made the varsity volleyball team or when she passed her driver’s test. Her reply to “I love you” is either yep or uh huh.
She’s resurrected a familiar phrase from her toddler years, albeit with much clearer diction: “I’ll do it myself.” I’m suddenly kept at arm’s length after sixteen years of closeness, and struggle to figure out the new rules of engagement.
Friends who have slogged down this same murky road and eventually arrived on solid footing with their adult daughters assure me that my journey will be similar; she’ll come back to you in a few years. I repeat it like a mantra to soothe the ache in my chest as I wait for her to return.
I lean on my friends for support and so does my daughter.
While I wait, I lean on my friends and find solace in the fact that she’s doing the same. Fortunately, we both have excellent taste in friends. After a brief detour in middle school, my daughter ended up with a close group of girls she’s known since the days of pigtails and juice boxes.
Apparently, the same qualities you’re drawn to when you’re five are still appealing when you’re sixteen. Sometimes you just know who your people are. I’m now forced to rely on these friends to do the things I’m no longer allowed to do. They’re the ones who get to celebrate victories, soothe losses, and talk about things that matter. Thankfully, her friends are solid and I’m grateful that she’s in good hands.
Meanwhile, I’m supported by my own circle of friends who look out for each other and love a conversational deep dive when we get together. We offer ourselves without armor, and are gentle with each other’s soft spots because we all have similar bruises at this stage of life.
As my friends assure me that my daughter doesn’t hate me and someday she’ll let me hug her again, I can only hope that her friends are providing similar counsel to bridge our gap, telling her I’m not, in fact, the worst mother in the world and that every once in a while, she should let me in. I find it amusing that my daughter is probably covering the same topics with her friends as I do with mine — the confusing male brain, changing family dynamics, fluctuating hormones.
I hope the girls support each other as they talk about classes and college and future dreams the same way my friends encourage second careers, master’s degrees and life plans after the kids leave the house. I can see my daughter building a family out of friends, not necessarily to replace ours, but perhaps to provide the things she’s not allowing me to give her–hugs, opinions, a soft place to land. I suppose it’s good practice for college where she may find herself further from home than I care to think about just yet.
My teen and I have both surrounded ourselves with friends.
Learning how to choose friends and build a family wherever you go is a life skill that will serve her well. It takes me a while to realize that I’m doing the same thing, surrounding myself with good people who help ease the sting of a changing family life. Just as my daughter will be turning to friends in college to fill her days, I’ll be turning to mine as evenings and weekends suddenly become wide open without the constant churn of teenagers’ activities.
It’s hard not to dwell on the days when my opinion mattered and my very existence wasn’t embarrassing. But if parenting has taught me anything, it’s that family life is always changing, sometimes in dramatic leaps, sometimes in imperceptible baby steps — it’s all just a phase. Knowing that my daughter and I both have the support of good friends makes this push phase a little more tolerable as I wait for things to change so we can once again pull each other close.
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Jennifer Davis lives in Northern California with her husband and two teenagers. She’s written everything from press releases for high tech companies to cookbook reviews for the local paper. She was a cast member of San Francisco’s Listen to Your Mother show, and her work has appeared online and in The Contra Costa Times. A newly-certified yoga instructor, Jennifer looks forward to combining words and mindfulness to help people find peace in our noisy world. She spends too much time on Twitter (@Davis_Jen) and too little time on her blog, Unskilled Perfectionist.