Once upon a time you had a smaller child who loved to hang around you. Your child would leap at you when you came in the door with happy chatter and follow you around the house. This child also deeply enjoyed when the two of you would cuddle and snuggle. This child lived to simply be in your presence. This child was a dog.
Now you have a bigger child. A teenage child. This child doesn’t often come when you call unless it’s for food. This child can be indifferent towards you and want to be left alone. Sometimes you can touch this child but he or she may snap at you if you try to touch them when they mysteriously don’t feel like being touched one minute after they seemed to enjoy it. This child is a cat.
As parents we get quickly accustomed to the fact that our children come into the world like puppies. An ancient part of us understands their mammalian needs for milk and warmth and closeness. This dog life goes on for years and years. Even though they bark and bite sometimes we understand their dog-ness and cherish it.
When it dawns on us that our dog has been replaced by a cat, our reactions can be extreme. We might panic, “what the hell happened to the dog in this house?” Or become angry, “who took my dog!?” Or even pleading, “I never asked for this lazy cat!” We might feel like someone pulled a sudden mean trick on us. Nobody warned us! There was never any discussion about the invisible transformation that apparently took place right underneath our noses.
Moms and dads can long for their long-lost dogs. They can experience bouts of grief as they think about the good-old-days, the days when their dog-child was predictable and friendly. Most parents also feel confusion; they know they are supposed to want this new cat-child and that the arrival of this individual signals a turn in the natural direction of development and maturity, yet it’s difficult to shake the feeling that they were blind-sided and currently their family is floating up sh*t creek. Another common reaction is anger, as the cat-child seems to care much less what we parents think and she or he is no longer trying to win our affections by doing such things as responding when we speak to them or coming home when we ask them to.
What is a parent to do with their grief, confusion, and anger?
First of all, notice it. Notice that you are experiencing some new feelings in relation to your kid. This emotional awareness is absolutely the key to parenting success. Reassure yourself that your human emotions are fine and normal; they do not necessarily mean that anything bad is happening or that you aren’t rocking it as a mom or dad.
Secondly, own your emotions. For example, your teen may have slept in on a school day and missed an important test, which disappoints you and/or pisses you off. She or he is responsible for that mistake and ideally s/he needs to own it, perhaps by saying something like, “it’s my fault for staying up so late on my phone last night. I need to set 2 alarms from now on and go in to school early tomorrow to write the test.” You are responsible for any feelings you have about this, as in: you need to handle your feelings responsibly and not spray them all over your teen. Ask yourself, ‘if my spouse slept in and missed an important meeting at the office, would I complain to him/her about what a disappointment s/he was?’
Third, remember that you are in completely uncharted territory; this young person has never been the age that they are now, and you have never parented this person before at the age they are now. It is okay to fumble around a bit. Even if other parents seem to have it more together, believe me when I say that we are all in the same boat.
And lastly, remind yourself as often as you need to that this whole teenage-thing is temporary, just like so many of the previous stages of child development you have already weathered. Your son or daughter will outgrow being a cat, I promise, just like they outgrew being a dog. I recall the huge relief I felt when my son’s 2-year molars grew in (about 16 years ago) after months of sleep troubles and irritability. When it finally happened he seemed like a completely different kid! Suddenly my sunny tot was back and I could notice that his earlier unhappiness wasn’t because I was failing at motherhood.
Stay tuned to this website for more parenting tips and inspiration. It’s a heck of a lot easier to enjoy a strange ride with good company on board.