When You and Your Child Seem to Have Nothing in Common
You remember fondly the days when your child was little and you two were so very close. Now, your child is teetering dangerously on the precipice of becoming a teenager, and you feel like a vast chasm separates you. You miss feeling close to your child . . . or even being able to relate to him/her. What can you do to restore closeness in your relationship?
1. Recognize that your child is establishing his/her own individual identity. That is a healthy part of the maturation process. Your child’s personality cannot be mini-me to your personality, any more than your personality was mini-me to your mother’s personality. You and your child have unique personalities, and that’s ok. Additionally, you and your child grew up/are growing up in different cultures because of the decades between. You didn’t grow up with Xbox, Facebook, Sponge Bob, and other cultural influences that exist today. You cannot expect your child to mature as you did (or to mature in harmony with your expectations) when the person and the culture are different.
2. Recognize that how parent-child closeness manifests varies widely based on the age of the child. Think about how that closeness manifests with a toddler and with a 25-year-old “child” (or perhaps “offspring” would be the better word for a child that is fully adult). Closeness in the in-between years can be more difficult to maneuver, as transitions are frequently somewhat difficult, but you can find the manifestation of closeness that suits your relationship with your child.
3. Allow your child to explore the options available to him/her. You may cringe as you witness a goth phase, a grunge phase, etc., but know that usually these are transient phases. They typically do not last forever. So, do not create permanent damage to your relationship over a perceived problem that is temporary. You do not have to like your child’s phases, but you should behave acceptingly unless the phase at hand may be harmful to your child. Keep your eyes open to the phases and be vigilant for phases that could be truly damaging to your child (i.e., if your child starts experimenting with illicit drugs). If you behave in a critical manner for each phase that you dislike, your child will feel that you do not accept him/her as s/he is. Your child will then begin to hide elements of his/her life from you. That will further divide you and make it more difficult for you to monitor for truly harmful phases.
4. When you observe phases that you dislike but that are not harmful, try to find ways to support your child’s current phase or at least find pleasant humor in it. For example, if your child is going through a goth phase, s/he is very well qualified to design your family Halloween party this year. Praise your child for his/her skill in this particular area and make your child feel that his/her phase is useful and valued by the family. If you can find no utility in the phase at hand, try to find pleasant humor in it. For example, if your child is coloring his/her hair to match his/her outfit every day (colors like green, blue, and purple), you could say, “Child of mine, you are goofy, and I love you! That’s a lovely magenta stripe down the middle of your head . . . ha ha ha! Ah, well, I do admire your creativity.”
5. It is not possible for you to have absolutely nothing in common with your child. Genetics and a shared history guarantee that you two will have at least a few things in common. Find those things that you and your child do have in common. Do not create commonalities that do not otherwise exist, however. For example, if your child is going through a goth phase, do not become goth yourself just to have that in common with your child. Your child will read that as your not being genuine or rooted in who you are. You can find things in common with your child while still being true to who you are. Think back to when your child was younger. You two used to love going on nature hikes together. Suggest a shared nature hike today. It may be just as much fun now as it was when your child was younger. If your child is going through a grunge phase, and you love “treasure hunting” (aka shopping at garage sales and second-hand stores), ask your child to go “treasure hunting” with you. Your child may be able to pick up clothes to fit his/her new phase while you two have a great day together. Enjoy family traditions together, and perhaps even create a few new traditions as well.
You love your child, and your relationship is very important to you. By following the tips above, you can foster relationship with your child while s/he is maturing and differentiating him-/herself from you.