This post: Rebuild a Broken Bridge with Your Teen: 8 Ways to Mend Your Relationship
“No matter how hard I try, my relationship with my daughter seems to be falling apart right before my very eyes. There’s now such a deep divide that I don’t know if the bridge can ever be rebuilt.”
This is what a mom shared with me just the other day…
I could see the tears in her eyes and feel the despair in her voice. She desperately wants to have a strong relationship with her daughter. She’s confused about what went wrong. And, with each passing day, she can feel the unbearable tug as her daughter pulls farther and farther away from her.
Nothing is more disheartening or agonizing as a parent than feeling that we’re losing touch with our own child, that the deep admiration and love our child once had for us is fading, and that the strong bridge that once connected us is slowly deteriorating.
But parents, there is hope. If you and your teen are in the midst of what feels like a hopeless divide, here are a few tips that might help to rebuild a broken bridge with your teen.
Rebuild a Broken Bridge with Your Teen: 8 Ways to Mend Your Relationship
Adopt the Right Attitude
Chances are, if your goal is to reconnect with your teen, there’s a fair amount of “water under the bridge.” Your teen has said or done things that might be hard to let go of (and perhaps, vice versa). However, if you’re truly dedicated to rebuilding the broken bridge between you and your teen, you need to let those things go.
Step into this process with an open mind, an open heart and a fresh perspective. Wipe the slate clean and start over. Give your teen a second chance. Give yourself a second chance. Forgive your teen. Forgive yourself.
Toss Out What Isn’t Working
According to Mark Gregston, author, speaker and founder/director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens, we have to be willing to take a hard look at what is and isn’t working in our relationship with our teens.
“Like going into your closet and getting rid of all the clothes that don’t fit us anymore or have simply gone out of style, we need to go into our parenting closet and take inventory. This requires an honest evaluation of the actions, beliefs, styles and habits in our home and adopt a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong or doesn’t work.”
Whether that means loosening your grip to give your teen more room to breathe or trying harder to accept their decisions (even when you don’t agree with them), you need to look at what’s holding you back from having a strong connection with your teen.
Accept Your Parenting Mistakes
Let’s face it, parents, we’re certainly not perfect. Just because we’re the “parent” doesn’t mean we have all the answers or that we’re always right. Chances are, we’ve all made a few mistakes along the way that we’d rather forget.
Rather than brushing those mistakes under the rug, it’s time to begin fessing up to your teen. Saying “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have overreacted the way I did,” or “I hope you’ll forgive me, I never should have said that to you,” can go a long way with a teenager who, from their vantage point, feels you believe you’re always right and they’re always wrong.
According to Gregston, “Never will your child respect you more than when you admit your faults and ask for forgiveness.”
Stop Being the “Fixer”
Since our teens were born, we’ve always been the “fixer.” Whether it was a skinned knee or hurt feelings, we swooped down to rescue them from any shred of pain or discomfort. But they’re teenagers now…
We can’t (nor should we) solve all our teen’s problems. More importantly, they don’t want us to. And when we do, we inadvertently open the door to conflict. They need to learn, through trial and error, healthy problem-solving skills. When we solve all their problems for them, we’re preventing them from learning how to manage life’s natural ebb and flow of highs and lows and worse, robbing them of the self-esteem and confidence they need to face this world on their own.
(Heads up, parents, that doesn’t mean we should abandon our kids when they need us. It means we should stand beside them, shoulder-to-shoulder, and fully support them as they navigate their way through the teenage years.)
Listen FAR More Than You Talk
If you sat in a room full of teenagers who considered their relationship with their parent(s) “broken,” you’d find one common denominator. Most teens (if not all) will feel as though their parents simply don’t listen, that they don’t understand their lives, what they’re going through, the challenges they’re facing, or how they’re feeling. These teens quite often feel alone, abandoned in their emotions and thoughts and eventually, they become resentful and pull away.
One of the most important things you can do to rebuild a broken relationship with your teen is to listen. Get your teen talking by asking questions – about their life, school, their friends, their hobbies, what motivates them, what scares them, what their goals and dreams and hopes are. Get into their head. Refrain from judging or offering your opinion. Skip the “life lesson” lectures (I know, easier said than done). Bite your tongue and just listen. Your teen needs to feel heard.
Create a Partnership with Your Teen
If you think about it, your goal and your teen’s goal are virtually the same. Your goal, as a parent, is to equip them to become honest, hardworking, capable adults so they can succeed in this world without you. Your teen’s ultimate goal is to become self-governing and independent so they can move out, make their own decisions and live life on their own.
Rather than standing on opposite sides of the fence fighting one another, work together. Put a halt to the battles, nagging, shouting and resistance and work in unison toward that common goal. Strive toward ongoing mutual respect. Communicate freely, openly, and honestly. Let your teen know that you’re on their side, that you’re in this together, and that they’re not alone. Also, make sure to seize those moments to praise your teen – when they aced a test, dealt with a problem on their own or put forth effort even when it was hard.
Make Quality Time a Priority
There’s a good chance your idea of quality time and your teen’s idea of quality time don’t necessarily align. You’re likely thinking of a day at the beach together or a mini get-a-way vacation.
Whereas your teen’s idea of carving out quality time might mean a quick lunch at a local restaurant, a 20-minute conversation late at night when they get home from hanging with friends or a few minutes in the morning before they dash out the door for school.
Don’t fight it. Don’t take it personally. Don’t worry that it’s only a few minutes a day. Meet your teen where they’re at. Focus on rebuilding that bridge one moment at a time, one interaction at a time, one day at a time. Find comfort in knowing your teen is noticing your efforts and they do appreciate your time – even if they don’t show it.
Make Sure They Feel Your Love
It’s not enough that we feel it, our teen needs to hear it. They need to feel it. They need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our love is unconditional and steadfast. Day in and day out, we need to show our love to our teens in everything we do and everything we say.
Plenty of hugs (if they’re willing), a back rub at the end of the day, a surprise just because, their favorite snack when they walk in the door from school or a text just to say, “Hey hon, I’m thinking about you. How’s your day going?”
Rebuild your relationship with your teen, brick by brick, by making sure they feel loved. On their “off” days, good days, and every day in-between, give them the rock-solid reassurance that your love is unshakable.
Regardless of how strained, broken or hopeless your relationship with your teen might feel, you can always build a bridge. There is always hope. With time, your commitment and a whole lot of love, understanding, persistence and patience, you can have the loving, fulfilling connection you want with your teen.