Parenting Questions

I don’t feel needed any more.

I am a single mum. My son is 17, has a new girlfriend and I don’t feel needed any more. My purpose has gone and I feel down about it.

When I read this question, I immediately had a large smile on my face. This was because I could hear how much this mum loved her son and what a great job she had done (single handedly!), raising a young man who was clearly moving into adulthood with a sense of purpose. His natural desire for independence was a direct result of her nurturing parenting. He was now spreading his wings in way that we all hope happens, but may dread nonetheless.

When we parent, the job description changes constantly as our offspring move through different stages, but the goal always remains the same; to bring up a child to become self-sufficient, resilient, purposeful and who is able to experience joy. As older teens move away from their parents, it shouldn’t be taken as rejection, nor to mean that we are no longer needed. There is a period of recalibration that occurs, when the relationship is slightly in flux, as new personal and social identities are forged. This young man needs to find his feet and that requires stepping away emotionally (temporarily). The parent will feel the impact of this ‘stepping away’, but needs to exercise patience and trust the process. Getting a girlfriend is a cause for celebration; he has been able to form another positive attachment with someone else, who will also play a key role in helping him move successfully into adulthood.

Older teens can feel anxious and worried about parental reaction over romantic relationships, so it is important that we stay calm, cool and signal that we are delighted that they are happy. Instead of lectures, ask them what they like about this person and how they make them feel? They will be ready to introduce their partner to you, when they feel ready. A key tip is to tell them that you trust their judgement and know that they will make positive decisions within the relationship.

Widen the discussion, when the opportunity pops up, now and again, to reference the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships (perhaps referring to celebrity examples), the importance of consent (don’t worry, there is a video for this) and perhaps share your own experiences of love; what went wrong or right and what you learned from the process. Begin to share new professional goals or personal aspirations, which will stop your teen worrying about you, and inspire them to pursue their own goals, knowing that you have their back.