Let Your Kid Pull Away. They'll Be Back.

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At 12, my oldest seemed to change overnight. One minute, he was a fun tween who still wanted to hang out with me. The next, he was grumpy, he wanted to spend all his time in his room and he absolutely didn’t want to be seen with me. He’d even get angry if I tried to give him a hug when it was just the two of us.

It broke my heart that he was isolating himself from me. Now, looking back some six years later, I realize I handled it all wrong. I was all over him, constantly asking questions, wondering what was wrong, and knocking on his door when he clearly just wanted alone time. I would force him to tag along with his younger siblings on family outings even when he asked if he could stay home.

All my prodding made things worse, and he pushed me away. I felt like he hated me. God, it was hard. I was really sad, felt rejected and was worried I was failing him. When I was growing up my parents could care less about me or what was going on my life. So for me, it made sense to be more involved in his life and ask questions.

I knew that he wasn’t depressed, and overall, he was doing great. His grades were okay and he had friends. He just didn’t want to be around me.

Then I remembered my own tween and teen years. I spent all my time in my room or with friends. I didn’t want to hang out with my parents, and when I was forced to go to some family obligation, I was miserable.

I realized how I was dealing with him was maybe making things worse. I wasn’t giving him any space — and space was exactly what he needed.

I took a step back, but kept a close eye. I didn’t force him to hang out with the rest of the family. I didn’t check in on him when he was in his room alone. But I told him how much I loved him every day and that I was always here for him.

Sure enough, as soon as I let him have some breathing room, he started, little by little, to come around.

There were a few times that I let him know how happy I was that he was spending more time with me, because the distance was making me sad. That only made him retreat again, and I realized it was manipulative of me. This wasn’t about me and my feelings. He’d shown me, time and time again, that he needed some space and it wasn’t personal. The last thing I should’ve been doing was make him feel guilty about it.

That was a huge lesson for me because when my two younger kids turned 12, they went through the same thing. Again, it felt like the change came overnight and it was still hard for me, but I’d learned from experience a better way to deal with it.

I let them have alone time when they needed it. I was able to make sure they were happy and healthy while still giving them space. I didn’t take the fact they were pulling away personally. It’s a normal and natural progression. And I was so happy that they came around faster than my oldest. I strongly believe it’s because I gave them the space to do so.

There have been many times when I too have needed some space. Sometimes, I didn’t even know why. I just knew that it was what I needed. My kids are no different. And having someone badger us or make us feel guilty when all we need is some quiet or alone time only makes us retreat more.

Yes, our kids pulling away can be hurtful. But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re doing it because it’s what they need to get to the next stage in life. And the best thing we can do as parents is to let them, and remind them we’ll always be here.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.

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