Having a strong relationship with your child is like having money in the bank. When you have a reserve of money that you’ve invested over time, you are able to get through hardships without sinking. Many of the families that I encounter in therapy are emotionally bankrupt. For whatever reason, the parents have not established a foundation of love, respect, and trust to withstand the turbulent period of adolescence.
Most parents are doing the best that they can with what they have and know. However, some don’t understand the value of having a strong relationship with their children. Building a strong relationship with children begins as soon as you conceive. Nurturing, self-sacrifice, affection, discipline, proper boundaries, quality time, safety, and trust are just a few of many ingredients. Some folks believe that their child is supposed to respect them and follow their rules just because they created them. This is ideal thinking, and it just doesn’t work that way (well, not in the U.S.).
I once worked with a single mother of a 13 year old girl, who started our sessions by saying “I don’t know why my daughter hates me”. After working with them for a few sessions, I realized that the daughter didn’t hate her after all (at least not yet). The daughter was just being a typical adolescent girl by "getting attitudes", being moody, sneaky, and not cleaning up when her mom asked her too. At the same time, she had decent grades, hardly ever in trouble at school, not into sex or drugs, and quite a talented dancer and writer, with a good sense of humor. The problem was that this mother took all of her daughter’s behaviors personally, rather than just giving her consistent consequences for her behaviors. This resulted in arguments that became physical and lingering resentments.
In other situations, I’ve had teenagers who were out right disrespectful to adults, using drugs, having sex, on probation, and just out of control. They would cuss their parents out and treat them as if they were peers. In most of these cases, there was some history of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or over-indulgence (spoiled rotten!). These are families whose relationships are “in the red”. They did not have enough “money in the bank” to deal with this difficult developmental period, and it spiraled into chaos and crisis. Some will get through this with their resilience and eventually become well-adjusted adults. But this kind of chaos wreaks havoc on family relationships that lasts for years, and sometimes forever.
As parents, you are only responsible for the input, not the output. Kids grow up and start making their own decisions, and have to be responsible for their lives. Children will bring you love and joy, but will also disappoint you and worry you nearly to death. Some of the parents that I mentioned don’t have much to invest from the beginning. They, themselves, may have come from households that were emotionally impoverished. By the time that I meet them, they are in crisis mode and expect me to turn chicken shit into chicken salad. My point is that it is difficult being a parent and also difficult being a child, so start by putting something away for a rainy day.