Girlfriend Has Monopoly of Son’s Time
Q: My son seems absolutely distracted by his relationship with his girlfriend — unable to connect with friends or family — almost like half of him is with her whether or not she is present. I miss him. Is this a problem?
A: It is obviously a problem for you — you miss him! You have had a good connection in the past and feel a change now. That fact indicates that this is not his personality style or the way he has always been. It sounds as if what is really hard is making sense of why the disconnection has occurred. You think it has to do with having a girlfriend. That might be it, but you may not know why there is a sudden silence.
First, you don’t want to nag or complain or make any unnecessary demands for disclosure. If you’ve had an open relationship in the past, that relationship is what you want to regain. You do not want to join a possible list of people who have emotional expectations of him whom he disappoints. (His girlfriend may top this list!) Avoid running him off in the process of reaching out, no matter how much you hurt.
You may have had a comfortable way that you have stayed connected with your son in the past, but these methods are currently not working. You may want to try something different in an attempt to feel that you are doing your best. You also want to make sure he isn’t waiting for you to signal an openness to listen to whatever is going on with him.
If you haven’t already, try texting him, e-mailing him, or sending a note or card to invite him out to lunch. Be upfront if he does respond and let him know you’ve missed the talks you used to have and want to touch base with him. If he takes you up on the offer, be sure to focus on listening to him first and foremost.
Don’t forget the seven second rule of becoming comfortable with silence, if he doesn’t talk right away. If he doesn’t talk, be prepared to update him on the issues you’ve been addressing. Even if he is not able to talk about himself, you can share the part of you that you have shared with him in the past.
There are many possible reasons for your son’s sudden silence. He may be moving into a phase where he really wants to work things out on his own. He may need to have his own relationships and to make sense of them himself.
By managing relationships, school and other things in his life, he will learn how to address the inevitable problems that arise when he isn’t living with you and seeking your input. He may need the distance to learn what he thinks. You can let him know that you are always available for listening and will refrain from offering advice unless asked.
Your son may be influenced by his girlfriend. She may need to have his focus on her and not you. Sometimes this happens out of fear that you won’t like her and may want to interfere in the relationship.
Sometimes this may happen because she has not seen a relationship that is connected between a mother and son as he matures. If her parents had problems in this area, then she may feel that you will try to influence his relationship with her.
There is the possibility that both of them have become so entranced with one another that they have let all of their other relationships fall by the side. They may be in the initial “honeymoon” phase of the relationship where all they can think about is the other person.
If possible, you might check it out with his friends. Does he still see them? If not, what have they said about him being MIA on their friendship? Did it make a difference? Did he hear them? Has he been the kind of friend he has been in the past?
You miss your relationship with your son. This grief may be laced with fear. Are you fearful about where the relationship may go? Some parents naturally worry about teens and sex, pregnancy, and making poor choices. Others may worry about the person their son is dating. Have you met her? Have you shared any negative opinions about her with your son?
Most parents say to avoid that trap whenever possible. Since you want the relationship with your son, you do not want to jeopardize it by criticizing his girlfriend. You can lose him in the process of his defending her.
Grieving the change in your relationship is part of what you are feeling right now. Many parents report that it won’t last forever. Often there are stages of relationships getting distant only to become stronger than before. I hope that you have ways to cope with grieving loss that work for you.
Some people take on new projects, write, read, exercise, and surround themselves with people who love and support them and will listen to the grief. Doing something is often an important step in handling grief.
If your son opens up and shares concerns about his relationship, listen. It is safest to support what you hear him saying, and let him know that you trust his ability to make good decisions and to know what is right for him. Avoid forcing him into feeling pressured.
You hope he learns balance in his life. How do we balance love, family, friends, work (or schoolwork) and make use of being alive at the same time? Hopefully, you and his dad have been setting this example in your lives.
Continue to share the art of maintaining this balance while you stay open to reconnecting with your son when he is ready. Good luck! This is really hard work!