I am a mother of three teenagers. I have just listened to your book about emotionally immature parents. I have no doubts that both of my parents were emotionally immature- and so am I, though maybe to a lesser degree than my parents. The two oldest show few signs of being damaged but I'm pretty concerned for my 13 year old girl. I am very controlling when it comes to eating healthily, doing homework and exercising. Sometimes I do have some nice conversations with my daughter about the things she is interested in. But she turns her head away if I try to hug her or kiss her hair. She mostly replies to me in a very angry way when I politely ask her something. She defensively asks me what I want If I sit down on her bed or ask her to show me what she is watching on the computer, so that we can watch it together. Can I do more than try to show my interest in the things that occupy her? Do you have any advice on how I can help my children grow emotionally mature? Thanks a lot for having opened my eyes for the topic of emotional immaturity.
Trying to be a Good Mom
Dear Good Mom:
Good for you! People like you are changing families for the better. You have empathy for your child and are trying to have a closer relationship. Your heart is in the right place; now let’s consider some ideas that might smooth things out a bit.
Many children who are just emerging into adolescence feel the healthy urge to increase their autonomy and boundaries. This is a good sign! It means your daughter is trusting her gut instincts toward needing more personal space now that she is older and becoming her own person. In the safety of her relationship with you, she is practicing her ability to be effective in setting limits with unwanted touching or physical closeness. This is an important skill for a young person to have.
Perhaps you could help her learn to assert herself in a firm, yet not rejecting way. For instance, you could admire her assertion of personal space, but ask her to just tell you, “Mom, I need my space” when she feels that way. She may be sounding angry because she may fear that she won’t be heard or might feel guilty that she is making you feel bad. Your job as an emotionally mature parent is to hear her the first time she refuses (“Okay, I love you, bye”). Think of as her behavior as indirectly asking you if it’s all right for her to grow up and have her own personality. Her angry and rejecting manner suggest she fears that she might have to fight for her individuality and personal boundaries. She may not need physical affection or closeness as much as she needs to be seen as a teenager who needs some time and space to herself.
Being emotionally available is just as important in that age group as giving affection. Young teens tend to open up more when parents do the following: be emotionally available on the child’s schedule even when it’s inconvenient for the parent; listen empathically without giving advice unless asked; take everything they say completely seriously; stop doing what they’re doing when the child seems ready to talk; look at the child and give eye contact; don’t dismiss their ideas without discussion; validate their feelings as understandable; genuinely ask them for their opinion; show curiosity about their reasoning; and show affection when they seem receptive. In other words, parents who put themselves in their kids’ shoes show them the interest and respect that facilitates opening up. (For more ideas, try the book, How to Really Love Your Teenager, by Ross Campbell. Although the book is written from a Christian perspective, its wisdom transcends any orientation.) Best of luck to you!