Dealing With The Only Child’s Adolescence
With the onset of his adolescence, you may start experiencing minor fissures in your relationship with your only child, which until now was rosy and perfect. From being a cooperative, demonstrative and loving child, your budding adolescent may display streaks of rebellion, prefer to be withdrawn and isolated or be sullen and uncommunicative. Apart from these emotional changes, your child would also be going through physiological changes.
From being cuddly, cherubic and sweet, your child would start looking more adult-like in appearance: changing voice, bodily hair, newly acquired physical build. As parents, your response to these outward changes could range from surprise to uneasiness to unfamiliarity with your own child who is going through puberty. On the other hand your reactions to his inward changes of striving for independence and self identity may range from anxiety to conflict to exasperation.
Typically, adolescence is harder on parents of only children as they would find it very difficult and emotionally unsettling to watch their ‘one and only’ move away from them, breaking the magic circle of three. Without another child to divert their attention to and with differences in thought increasing between them and their only child, adolescence can indeed be a testing time for the parents of only children.
Differences of opinion between parents and their adolescent will usually be in the following key areas:
a) Individualism– Starting at nine and spreading well into their teen years is the stage when your child will be sculpting his own identity, or in other words, becoming ‘his own person’. The adolescent will begin to define himself not vis-a-vis his parents as he did till now, but more in relation to his peers. The teenager will not only desire freedom from parental regulation, he will also demand more adult standing and be wanted to be treated as a grown up.
b) Social separation– Your child may seem like moving away from you. The earlier closed group of being a cozy group of three may begin to disintegrate, much to your dismay. Your child who was content with just his parents may now explicitly say that “I’d rather be with my friends than with you”. The company of his peers would become more important and interesting to him at this stage, as he searches for social separation from his parents.
c) Experimentation– The rules of the house may be contested. The carefully regulated routine of yours may be challenged. Your child may experiment with gaudy clothes, shabby shoes and an embarrassing hairstyle. Music may get louder than usual and the television may blare at odd times. Basically, your teenager would be experimenting with his preferences and appearances with equal gusto as he would be contesting the limits of your rules.
While your child goes through these age-triggered changes, you as a parent may also experience a variety of feelings and fears. Predominantly, you would go through:
a) Fear of rejection– Your adolescent’s new thoughts and activities may make you feel defunct and rejected. From being the center of your child’s world, you may feel relegated to the periphery.
b) Fear of conflict– When the position of your authority is questioned you may feel insecure in your relationship with the child. When your only child questions the rules and regulations you have set for him, the possibility of conflicts and confrontations increases, making you uncomfortable.
c) Fear of estrangement– As your child increasingly seeks social separation and openly shows his preference for friends over you, you will start getting pangs of estrangement. “Will my only child move away from me permanently? Will he get closer to his friends than us?’ you may fear.
d) Fear of failure– Yet another setback a parent may experience- “What if the child tries something so radical and dangerous that he harms himself? What if I let my child mess up his life and fail in my parenting duties?
While you go through these fears, be assured that your child is going through similar fears too. Your adolescent does not mean to push away your love or spurn your concern- he is merely confused and is currently trying out various things in order to “find himself”. While he experiments, explores and challenges the options available to him, he wants your love and support to aid him, but often ends up communicating differently to you through his behavior.
Bridging over adolescence
Parents can tide over their only child’s adolescence and also support their growing child by:
a) Exercising faith– On the bond of love, trust and care they have created between them and their child since his birth. Parents should ‘know’ and ‘have faith’ that the carefully nurtured bond with their will not be broken so easily and they must just have the confidence to allow their child to ‘come and go’ while he is experimenting and exploring.
b) Keep communication open– Despite the conflicts and confrontations your relationships may be seeing, it is vital that you don’t close off any channel of communication. It is better to ‘argue and talk it over with’ rather than opt for the ‘silent treatment’. It is important that you allow your child to express his feelings as much as you take the freedom to express yours.
c) Greater acceptance– With greater prodigal behavior from your child a greater degree of tolerance and acceptance is required of you. If you want to be ‘above the situation’, the only way out is to scientifically understand the changes your child is going through and deal it with it with a greater science- the science of love and affection.
As your child flexes his wings, it is important that you give him roots. While your child struggles in his adolescence to find his roots, it is vital that you give him wings.