An infant’s first relationship with his mother envelops him completely. He finds it lovely and screams wildly when launched, unexpectedly into the cold, noisy, bright world. He has to transition to relating to Mama and the world in a new way.
Next, he enjoys being the center of Mother’s universe, and then another transition begins, Mother hands him around to relatives, leaves him alone for moments, hustling temporarily out of view to meet her own needs, and their relationship transitions once again, much to his chagrin.
Mother and child will re-negotiate their relationship time and time and time again, but it starts getting harder for Mama than it is for him. Each time he gains some skill, he asks for more independence. When he learns to walk, he wants to be in another room. When he learns to ride a bike, he wants to be blocks away from Mother’s protective gaze. Mothers experience slight losses each time the child moves further out of her world and into his own.
As a child’s independence grows, parents’ fears can grow. The more the child tries to break free, the tighter the parents try to hold on. He wants to go to the mall alone with his friends, Mom wants them to have adult supervision. He wants to spend whole weeks at a friends’ house over summer and Mom wants him home for family dinners.
When teens begin to exert their wills, it can get ugly. They fight, scream, yell, argue, debate, refuse to speak, plead, beg, cry, pout, reason, and threaten outrageous acts, in an effort to gain freedom. Many parents engage in exactly the same behaviors in an effort to maintain control.
Everyone begins wishing for the 18th birthday to arrive. If the child does not just give up and comply until he turns 18, he might rebel and just starts doing whatever he wants. If the parents don’t intensify their efforts and increase restrictions to a prison-like level, they might just throw up their hands and tell the kid that they don’t even care anymore.
The child’s 18th birthday is a terrifying transition for all involved. The kid wants to be a grown-up, and it also scares him right out of his shorts because he also wants to stay 9 forever. Parents have a similar reaction. They’ve been raising him for almost two decades and would like for it to be over, but they also don’t want to “lose” their “child” yet.
Instead of just acknowledging this difficult transition and working together towards it, it seems to be easier for most people to just drive each other so terribly nuts that everyone hates everyone and all are in agreement that the teen MUST go.
That way, the teen doesn’t have to feel guilty for abandoning dear ol’ Mom and Dad, and he can blame them for kicking him out. Mom and Dad don’t have to feel guilty for wanting Junior out, and they can blame him for making them kick him out.
The key to reducing pain through this transition is for parents to model honesty and respect for the kids. When parents are honest about their own feelings and express themselves respecfully, their children will be more able to do the same. If parents don’t know how to do that, a psychologist can help.