When my daughter hit puberty she moved straight into her room. It seemed dramatic and overnight, not a gradual release. One day I can’t get a minute alone and the next I hardly know she lives here—except for all the half-filled cups she leaves all over the house. One day she drones on and on about horses, YouTubers, recess, and pizza in the cafeteria, and the next she answers with as few syllables as possible.
I do my best to lure her out from her room with the promise of her favorite foods or movies, but mostly she retreats. Some days I hear music, and other days I hear power tools from behind her closed door. She rearranges. She paints her nails. She paints her furniture. She even occasionally does homework.
She tries on new styles, friend groups, and hair colors regularly. She has no idea who she is or wants to be. I’m trying to give her the space to figure it out. Not so much space that she loses herself, but enough to find her own way rather than the one I might chart for her. She is pulling away, and it is a loss as much as it is a discovery.
Multiple times a week, I ask her to come down. I ask her to watch a TV show with me or get an ice cream, coffee, or sushi. I get mostly disinterest in return, but the occasional yes. I ask how her day was. Who made her laugh? What did she learn in class? Who did she eat lunch with?
Her answers are always short and concise. The compliments from her rare. Gone are the “best mom ever” notes I used to find. They have been replaced with long sighs and the occasional glare. Now, when I hug her she quickly brushes me off. It feels like rejection, but really it is becoming.
My son did the same at about her age, but my daughter has an edge and coolness that my son never showed. When I tell her goodnight or that I love her, she mostly just responds with, “I know.” Flat and full on nonchalance.
Unlike some of my friends, I do not hate this response. It doesn’t feel like disrespect. To me, it provides an assurance. I could never have said that so casually at her age. Knowing I was loved took a lot longer for me to believe. I see her in all her angst, hormones, and uncertainty, and I think as long as she knows that she is loved—she will be okay.
My Job as a Mom of a Teen Is to Show Up and Love Unconditionally
I’ve heard my friends talk about this inevitable withdrawal from their teens, and I read posts on social media. They mostly address how hurt the parent feels. Many parts of this teen thing are hard, but I see this part as normal. I see it as my job to keep asking. To show up as often as I can. I tell corny jokes and sing along to the radio. I say “yes” even when it is inconvenient. I try to slip a joke or sticker in her lunch even though she tells me not to. I go thrift shopping with her even though it makes me want to pull all my hair out.
Now, when I hug her she quickly brushes me off. It feels like rejection, but really it is becoming.
I am the one with a fully developed prefrontal cortex. I can handle a cold shoulder or permanently embedded earbuds. I am the one who keeps leaning in even as they pull slightly away.
Sometimes I miss when they used to smell of graham crackers and juice. I miss needy sticky hands reaching for mine. I do not, however, miss car seats or pick-up lines or up-all-nights. This is the trade off. When they were young, I thought I’d never get to go to the bathroom or grocery store alone again, and now I have to practically beg them to sit next to me on the couch.
My Teen Gives Me Perspective on My Own Teenage Years
I doubt I was a joy to live with at my daughter’s age: headstrong, insistent, and every bit as moody as my own teen. My own mother, however, has always been distant. She did not respond to my teenage withdrawal with invitations and pursuit. She let me retreat. She loved me in the best ways she could. I just didn’t always see it.
Lately, my mother has been struggling with memory issues and extreme anxiety. I fear that I have missed the window for some healing conversations. She is fading and so are our opportunities. These moments are hard but tender in their own way.
Recently, I went home to visit and help after she was released from the hospital. Caretaking for a parent is every bit as draining and consuming as that of a toddler. Exhausted and desperate for my own bed, I had my car loaded and leaned in to give her a hug before heading back to my own family. I did not know how she would react, but this time she accepted. She told me that she loved me, I smiled and responded, “I know.”
Your teen’s sudden change in behavior might make you second guess your competency in motherhood. Here’s why you shouldn’t doubt yourself: