Losing Your Kid -- When Your Child Turns Into a Teen
By Klaus Klein MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor
A few months ago my son became a teenager. I’ve watched this happen with many of my clients and their children over the past 15 years that I’ve been a therapist… and, now it is happening to me as well.
When my son made the shift from little boy to teen, I wasn’t aware of the impact this had on me. When I finally took time to look at myself I realized that I had become more frustrated, confused, and angry. I was also blaming him for not being the boy that I once knew.
My Unacknowledged Feelings About My Son Growing Up Created Conflict Between Him and I That Didn’t Exist Previously
The inner experience I had due to my son becoming a teenager was subtle, almost invisible. However, the emotions I was expressing towards my son ended up causing more conflict, anger, and stress in my relationship with him than ever before.
For example, we started having more conflicts when I asked him to help around the home, or asked him to get off the computer, or when it was time to come to the dinner table. These things all of a sudden created a battle between us.
The conflicts only diminished between us when I switched from focusing on him and his behaviour to being responsible for my own feelings. When I took the time to become aware what was happening with me I could then take responsibility as a parent for my emotional part of the conflict.
I had helped many parents become aware of their underlying feelings when they were having conflicts with their children over the years as a first step in decreasing the conflict. However, I hadn’t done it for myself for quite some time. I was now over due for taking myself through my own internal process in order to make some changes with me first.
Accepting That My Little Boy Has Become a Teenager
One evening after a conflict with my son I decided that I better deal with my anger about his behaviour before the situation escalates even more. I took myself through an internal process, which I often lead other parents through in my private therapy sessions and in my parenting programs.
The first step was to acknowledge that I was angry because part of me wanted to connect with the boy I once knew. I became aware that I was blaming my son for not being that boy anymore.
I took some time to really feel my anger. I asked myself what else was under the angry. What came up was a lot of sadness. This was a total surprise! I realized that I was sad because I could no longer relate to my son the way I used to. I then saw that my ‘anger’ was a reaction to the ‘sadness’ I was feeling of losing my little boy.
I then moved to my thoughts and how I was seeing the situation.
After becoming aware of my thoughts, I moved to my expectations. Expectations often get overlooked but are very revealing. When they are ‘unmet’ they can be a driving force behind our reactions and behaviors.
The Process I Used to Understand and Change my Behavior Towards My Son
First, I explored my expectations of myself and discovered:
Second, I identified my expectations of him and discovered:
These expectations were very revealing to me and so were the feelings of anger that I was expressing trying to get them met!!
Third, I identified the expectations that I thought he has of me:
These expectations were also enlightening and gave me guidance on what I needed to do to change.
Fourth, I looked at my ‘yearnings’:
Yearnings are universal. Some examples are; love, connection, acceptance, safety, belonging, peace, freedom, purpose, creativity, etc.
For me my yearning was for ‘connection’. However, I was trying to ‘connect’ to the boy he once was. This boy was no longer there. He was now a teen. I could see how frustrating it was trying to ‘connect’ with a boy that isn’t a little boy but now a teen. Also I could see how frustrating it has been for him with me as a parent trying to ‘connect’ with him as a little boy when he no longer is one.
When our yearnings are being met through realistic expectations then life is good.
But when we try to get our yearnings met through unrealistic expectations then life becomes more difficult.
Putting my process all together it then looked like this:
I was experiencing a ‘loss’ of what “once was” and felt ‘sad’ because of that. I lost my young son, but I was unaware that I was feeling this way and was trying to ‘connect’ to the boy that was there just a few short weeks prior. Obviously treating my son like the boy he used to be wasn’t working and I felt ‘angry that I could not get him to ‘change’ back to the boy he was.
Because I was not aware of my own experience of ‘sadness’ over this natural phenomenon called growing up, I felt angry.
A New Way of Being with My Son Has Decreased the Conflicts I Have With Him
Now that I understand what is going on for me I am working on being more accepting of my sadness and seeing the loss as a natural part of parenting.
Because so much of communication is non-verbal, within 24 hours of me changing myself I could experience that my voice tone, posture, and body language were different around my son. I was more present, open and curious about him and who he is now.
Perhaps most importantly, there was a definite decrease in our conflicts, and an increase in our bond.
I can now change some of the expectations I had that were out of my awareness and were unrealistic: “Changing him back to who he was” – is just not going to happen. Instead, I can change my expectation and be more “open, curious, and accepting of who he is now as a person”. This does not necessarily mean that I am doing it perfectly all the time. But it is more realistic and I am moving in a positive direction.
I can also go to my thoughts and change the way I was thinking about my son. Instead of thinking “How do I get him back to ‘normal’? I can change that viewpoint to, “ this is an opportunity for me to get to know him now.”
I can now be more present and curious about connecting with my son in the present.
Connecting with and accepting my sadness and being responsible for it is part of me stepping forward as the parent. This new way of being is better than expecting my son to change back to being a little boy again so that I ‘feel’ better.
I still have conflicts with my son at times. I still have to hold boundaries and help him be accountable, which makes me not very popular at times. My sadness is still there to some extent, but it will pass in time.
I am Not Alone: Many Parents Forget that They Need to Change As Their Children Change
I realize that so many parents have experienced a similar kind of sadness within themselves as well. It’s subtle and often out of our awareness. If you are struggling with your child as he or she grows, I urge you to try this internal process for yourself.
When we make subtle changes in ourselves then our kids will appreciate our growth. As we grow from within as adults, the impact on our kids is that they usually follow, sooner or later.
The process used came from the Satir Model based on Virgina Satir and later developed further by Dr. John Banmen and Kathlyne Maki-Banmen.
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