Dear Your Teen:
My son just turned 16. About a month ago, he didn’t like me taking away his cell phone for missing work. He lashed out, told me he didn’t respect me—never has. I lost my cool and said to pack a couple bags and find out if things would be better at his dad’s house. He believes this means I kicked him out.
His dad and I have a poor relationship. He insults me in front of my son. My ex mother-in-law is also not helpful. She tells my son I don’t care about him, posts negative things about me on social media … you get the picture. Any advice how to repair our relationship? I’m so worried that my teenage son hates me—and that the past 16 years have meant nothing. I have been crying myself to sleep almost every night.
Those 16 years are not lost! That time will shape the man your son becomes, and nothing can rob him of that influence or your love.
I hear you, though, that he doesn’t seem to believe in it now. And that there are people trying to change his mind about who you are and what you want to be for him. The best answer is to do what you can to keep your voice and your truth front and center for him. Here are some steps toward that end.
1. Come up with a plan. Are you willing to have him back in your home? If so, do you need some clear rules and boundaries in place? If not, do you want to spend time with him on a regular basis?
2. Don’t let him tell himself that you don’t love him anymore. Text him. Call him. Message him on social media. Write him a letter and get it to him at school. If he’s on a team, go to his games. Show up for parent-teacher conferences. Do whatever you need to in order to continue to be a constant person in his life who loves him.
3. Try hard to make plans with him. Ask him out for coffee, or invite him over for dinner. Offer to bring food to a park just to hang out for a bit. When you’re together, ask him questions about how and what he’s doing and listen to his answers without telling him what to do. Then, you can let him know that you do want him at home (if you do) or that you do plan to be a part of his life and ask him what he’d like that to look like.
4. Don’t try to argue with him about what his father or grandmother are telling him. Teens are observant, and trust their own opinions more than an adult’s. Focus your attention on you and him – he will see that you want the best for him. Attacking the other adults in his life isn’t helpful, and it isn’t necessary.
Keep telling your son what you admire in him and why he’s important to you. Just like the last fifteen years of raising him, those messages will make a difference.
Deborah Gilboa, M.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. G”), is a family physician and author of Get the Behavior Your Want . . . Without Being the Parent You Hate. Follow her on Twitter @AskDocG or learn more at AskDoctorG.com.