Raising teenagers can be a very difficult job. They can go from being sweet and loving to aloof and mean from one minute to the next. This change can become difficult to understand or even withstand; one moment they express warmth and intimacy, and the next they seem to push you away or seem withdrawn. How do parents navigate this dichotomy and fast-growing change in the way that our teenagers interact with their parents? In a fantastic book written by Dr. Lisa Damour, called “Untangled,” she writes a beautiful metaphor to explain the waves of change in our teenagers.
The Swimming Pool Metaphor
Consider the following metaphor in which your teenager is a swimmer and you are the pool in which she swims, and the water is the broader world. Your teenager wants to play and be a good swimmer, so she swims to the middle of the pool. However, after some time of swimming she gets tired and needs to regain her strength; she holds onto the edge to catch her breath. In the real life, your daughter has been busy with friends, work and activities and she seems to ignore you. Then something goes wrong in her world and she is suddenly asking your advice and sharing the details of her life; she might even want a hug! In the metaphor she has had a hard time in the water and has come to the edge of the pool to regain strength and recover.
When this happens you feel happy and optimistic that she wants to be with you again and share her life with you. Yet, all of a sudden she pushes you away, by picking a fight or saying something rude. You cannot believe it! In this situation, like a swimmer who gets her breath back and is ready to go back to the depth of the pool, your daughter is ready to go back to swim and she pushes with her feet on the side of the pool to get there. Once your teenager is restored, she wants to return to the depth of the pool.
This sudden turn can feel cold and hurtful, but as Dr. Damour points out, it is important to stand strong. Your daughter needs you to be the wall that she swims to and be able to withstand her comings and goings. When parents feel too hurt or take the rejection too personally they can make themselves unavailable to their daughters. Being unavailable comes at a cost; parents who do not allow their teenagers to seek them when they need respite miss out on wonderful times with their daughter. More importantly, their daughters are left without a wall to swim to during choppy or even dangerous waters.
Thinking about this metaphor might help lessen your pain of rejection. Anticipating that this is a common behavior might help you enjoy the times that your daughter wants to be near you and give you the strength when she wants to swim.
To learn more about Gali, go to www.GaliGoodman.com, or to schedule an appointment call 201-870-0331.
Gali has a private practice in Englewood, NJ, where she treats families, individuals and couples. Additionally, Gali is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. She also works for the Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Clifton-Passaic and supports Project Sarah, a program that works with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Gali earned a double master’s from Columbia School of Social Work and Bank Street College of Education.