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Are You Pushing Your Kids Away?

Lori Freson


As your children are getting older, does it ever seem like they are completely disinterested in having a relationship with you? Maybe you used to be really close, but now every interaction just turns into a huge argument? Don’t worry; you’re not alone.

As your kids grow and mature, their needs change, and over time they are learning to separate from you and become their own individuals. Things you used to do will no longer work well, and you will need to learn to make some big adjustments. You will need to maintain adult friendships with people you can lean on, rather than expecting your child to fulfill all of your needs. This is much easier said than done, but the alternative is pushing your children away.

When your child was little, you might have been their best friend. It is somewhat normal for a young child to tell you that they love you so much and want to live with you forever and you are their best friend. Hopefully, you understood that it was temporary and would never really happen.

More importantly, it shouldn’t have been something that you even wanted. Now, as they are getting older, being best friends with your child is completely inappropriate. There is such a thing as being too close and smothering a developing child. As they become pre-teens and teenagers, you will need to learn to respect their privacy and be less nosy and invasive. Learn to recognize where you stop and where they begin; you are not one. You will need to accept that they will tell you what they want when they want.

Perhaps when you had young children, you were incredibly organized, scheduled and structured. That probably worked quite well for you, allowed you get out of the house on time, and provided a sense of routine for your children and family. As your children get older, though, if you continue acting the same way, it will likely be interpreted as being controlling and demanding.

That often turns into critical and judgmental when your family doesn’t end up doing exactly what you want, when you want and how you want. You will have to shift from being on top of everyone and everything all of the time, to just being supportive. You will need to listen more and say and do less.

Most parents help young children get things done and navigate situations in order to avoid negative consequences. At some point, though, rather than teaching it becomes rescuing. As children grow, parents must not be so afraid of letting them mess up. It is actually a necessary part of their development. This is how they learn and grow and find ways to solve problems. It allows them to form their own sense of identity separate from yours. You must stop solving and doing everything for them.

As a parent, you must learn the importance of the word “no”. If you always say yes, your children will walk all over you. Children and teenagers need limits and boundaries. It helps them feel safe, and demonstrates that you love them. That doesn’t mean they will always like it. You do not build solid relationships by giving someone everything they want and lacking boundaries. It is important that you learn to be okay with that. Otherwise, you will unwittingly be pushing them further away, not to mention contributing to a whole host of other potentially serious issues such as entitlement and inability to follow rules.

Here are some tips and things you can do if you are pushing your kids away:

  1. Ask yourself this question frequently, “Is what I am doing right now helping or hurting this relationship?” Notice that the focus is on the relationship, not on what makes you comfortable.
  2. Don’t be afraid of upsetting your child. Setting limits actually builds trust and allow them to build confidence.
  3. Don’t do for others what they are capable of doing themselves. This allows children to learn competence. It means they can pick up after themselves, pack a lunch, do their homework, etc. You shouldn’t be doing it all for them.
  4. Listen and show support without always telling them what to do. It’s okay to ask a lot of questions, but respect when they don’t want to answer. And don’t give unsolicited advice. In the history of ever, have you or anyone you know ever been receptive to unsolicited advice?
  5. Accept your developing children for who they are and who they are becoming, flaws and all. This applies even if they do not turn out to be what you had hoped for. Nothing matters more to your children than knowing that you love and accept them exactly as they are.

None of this is easy. Even under the best of circumstances, for the most loving parents, this can all be a real challenge. It can be even harder if you tend to be a “type A” personality.

Have you ever pushed anyone else away in any other relationships? Has anyone else ever told you that you are too controlling or critical? If so, it might be time to take a look at how that might be harming your relationships with your children. These are traits that make it difficult for your child to feel that unconditional love and acceptance, so try to get some help minimizing these and focusing on more positive ones.

After all, it is worth it to end up having great relationships with your children as they move into adulthood, isn’t it? Even better, it will likely help you improve other relationships in your life as well. Sound like a win-win to me.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.