Parent-Tween Relationships

Theresa was a single mother, so when she found her only child's bedroom door closed and a handmade sign that said “KEEP OUT!!!” taped to it, she had no doubt for whom the message was intended. But why was her daughter suddenly shutting her out? Amanda had been more standoffish lately, pulling away from hugs and saying she was too big for goodnight kisses. She also had grown quite critical and even balked at being seen with Theresa, as if she were ashamed of her mother.

At first, Theresa thought that she must have done something to upset Amanda. But why couldn't her daughter say what it was? Then, anger replaced Theresa's feelings of guilt. A ten-year-old had no right to try to dictate what part of the house was off-limits to her mother. Who paid for that room, anyway?

Tweens need privacy and a space to call their own. Otherwise, they may take refuge in tree houses, homemade forts, basement cubbyholes, and rooftops. Many retreat to a special tree limb, a secluded spot in an empty lot, a clump of bushes in an alley, or a shadowed area under a stairwell or porch.

Instead of barging in and telling the daughter she had bathed and diapered that in this house there were to be no secrets, Theresa remembered how she had felt when her own mother had done exactly that two decades ago. The day Theresa had locked her bedroom door had been an unfortunate turning point in their relationship. Although Theresa had done it on a whim, without any particular meaning or purpose, her mother's rule that it was to remain unlocked had left Theresa feeling invaded and exposed.

Theresa had convinced herself that her own mother was treating her like a baby because she wanted to keep her one. That had catapulted Theresa on a defiant search for other ways to safeguard her privacy. As a result, she'd kept secret many of her thoughts and feelings, even when what she really wanted was to collapse into her mother's arms and sob like a baby. It had taken her a decade to realize that she had cut herself off from the person whose wisdom, guidance, and support she'd needed most.

That memory enabled Theresa to rethink what was happening. As she stared at her daughter's locked door, she realized that keep-out signs, secret diaries, hidden treasure boxes, and private phone calls were undoubtedly normal for children Amanda's age. Her anger and guilt dissipated only to be replaced by sadness. Finding her daughter's door suddenly closed to her signaled that her baby was growing up. Did that have to mean growing away? Theresa hoped not, but that's how it felt.

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