Why Is My Daughter Pushing Me Away?

6 ways to stay connected when she wants to separate

Posted Oct 28, 2015

MFer Photography/Flickr
Source: MFer Photography/Flickr

The shouting. The silent treatment. The eye-rolling. The door slamming. Sometimes connection and communication may seem all but impossible with your adolescent daughter. You wonder: What happened to the days when she was bursting with excitement to tell me about her day? To the times when she was thrilled to do simple things with me like hold my hand while walking at the park? 

Her transformation into a teen has likely produced a major shift in your relationship. Sometimes you may still feel close, while other days you wonder if it is even worth the effort to connect when she is working so hard to push you away. But she needs you to hang in there and remain a constant source of love and acceptance in her life. Even if she never says so, she wants you to stay close even as she pushes you away.  Here are two reasons that help explain this tension: 

Reason One: Your daughter is undergoing an essential developmental milestone during adolescence. While you shouldn’t have to tolerate disrespectful behavior, know that the underlying drive to separate from you is a biological mandate; all children are driven to pull away and show that they are separate beings who are capable of becoming adults. Rather than reacting with anger, try to view the situation objectively: she is instinctually driven to separate herself from you in order to ensure that she will be able to survive on her own as an adult one day. While it is painful for you, your daughter needs to know that she is more than just a miniature version of you, so she may sometimes insult you or try to humiliate you in order to create this separateness.

Reason Two: In many cases this rejection of you is actually a signal to you that she feels well cared for and loved! This of course is not what it looks like to you at the time, but with all of the stresses of adolescence, she might need to take her relationship with you for granted for awhile – in other words, I can ignore Mom and Dad or treat them badly for a time—because she is confident that you will hang in there with her and will still be there after she has figured out all of her other relationships. She can relax about putting energy into your relationship, and focus on other relationships instead.[i]

With these two reasons in mind, try these strategies for staying connected even while she is pushing you away:

  • Love and accept her. Your daughter desperately needs to know that you deeply love and approve of her, not based on her appearance or accomplishments or anything else, but just because she is your child. Let her know that you like her, you enjoy spending time with her, you believe in her. If your daughter truly believes that she is valued, accepted, and unconditionally loved by you, you have given her a priceless gift, one that paves the path for a resilient life. 
  • Cherish positive memories. When you become frustrated with her current behavior, hold on to the image of the child you love, even if she is staying hidden beneath the surface for the moment. Surround yourself with photos or mementos of her when she was young, so that you can be reminded of who she really is underneath her somewhat prickly adolescent skin. 
  • Continue family rituals and outings. Even if your child rejects 90% of the invitations you offer for spending time together, then at least be grateful for the 10% of acceptances you do receive![ii]  Don’t give up on family routines, meaningful family rituals like holiday and birthday celebrations, or family outings and vacations. Keep planning, keep offering, and don’t give up.
  • Listen with intent. When your child does want to talk, treat this request with respect. Turn off your devices, make eye contact and give your child your undivided attention. Try to listen to the full story without interrupting. Remember you are listening for understanding, not for criticizing. You can do this by reflecting her feelings, asking open questions, and encouraging problem solving rather than giving pat answers or quick advice. These face-to-face, active listening skills will help your child open up and become more likely to approach you again in the future.
  • Be the calm center of your home. While adolescent parenting may not be as physically tiring as parenting a younger child, it can be far more demanding in terms of your mental and emotional endurance. Because of these demands, try to simplify and keep balance in your life. As her parent, you need to be the center of stability and consistency in your home, even while everything else is spinning around you.
  • Seek self-care. When your daughter pushes you away, you can feel as if you are losing a part of yourself.  As she spends more time with her friends and away from her family, you might feel needy and lonely. Try to fill these gaps with self-care routines that make you more content and satisfied. Focus your energy on creating your own fulfilling life that isn’t dependent on her moods or performance on any given day. When your needs are met outside of your relationship with your daughter, this in turn enables you to become a more effective parent and person.  

So stay level-headed and keep these two things in mind:

  • Separation is a biological mandate
  • Because she feels secure, she is taking your relationship for granted right now

Yes it is incredibly hard when she is pushing you away, criticizing you, constantly fighting with you. But no matter what, implement these strategies and try to stay connected the best that you can. She is internally torn between letting you go and holding on to you for dear life. Even when you feel rejected, the truth is that you are needed and that you do have a valuable role to play in her life.

Laura Choate is the author of a new book, Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture (Oxford University Press). See Swimming Upstream for more details.  

Notes

[i] Allen, J. & Allen, C.W. (2009). Escaping the endless adolescence. New York, NY: Ballentine Books.; Deak, J. (2003). Girls will be girls: Raising confident and courageous daughters. New York, NY: Hyperion.; Ginsburg, K. (2011). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

[ii] Allen, J. & Allen, C. W. (2009 ) Escaping the Endless Adolescence. New York: Ballentine Books.