Crystal, a single parent of 15-year-old Steven, was frustrated and confused by her son's unusual silence.
"Is something wrong?" she asked. "For years, we've spent a few minutes together, sharing our days. What's the matter?"Steven stopped in his tracks.
"Get a life," he suggested. "I've got my own life. I've got nothing to say. Do you have to be in my face all the time?"
Crystal was shocked.
"How can you talk to me that way?" she asked. "I can't believe it. We used to talk and talk. It's not like we have any tension. We're friends. What happened?"
Steven got annoyed.
"I don't like it here," he said. "I didn't do anything wrong. Can't you leave me alone?"
Crystal looked down, saddened and feeling useless. As she watched Steven leave the house, skateboard under his arm, she could only mumble, "But, I thought we were friends."
Over the years, Steven and his mom, widowed before Steven was born, had been confidants. They took care of their little house together. Steven had become the "man of the house," knowledgeable about limited funds, and willing to help out.
But in the last few months, things changed. Steven turned moody. When his mom could free herself from her busy professional life, Steven disappeared.
Always a good student, with good friends, he had new reasons to be in his bedroom, or to leave the house.
Crystal worried that "something must be wrong."
She surmised he had an adolescent, emotional problem that might need professional help.
Tim, an involved dad, who walks his children to and from school every day and volunteers weekly in their classrooms, is also feeling a loss.
Historically, he walked 8-year-old Sarah to her class. Faithfully, their routine was to hang her lunch bag on a hook, guess the fruit in her lunch, hold hands as they walked to her desk, and then a goodbye by saying, at the same time, "I love you."
Now, a third grader, Sarah is less talkative on the way to school. As they cross the last street, she yells "drop off." Then she runs away from her father and brother and into her school.
In her father's view, "She can't wait to get away from us. On the way home, she seems to be in pain if a friend doesn't come home with us. Instead of telling me about her day, like she used to, she just says, `Oh dad, it was a boring day,' It's not like we're best friends anymore."
Sarah continues to be a good student. Her friend's parents say they see no change in her. But Tim misses Sarah. They really were super friends. Sarah loved playing sports, especially gymnastics with her dad. They explored the city together. They bought clothes and gifts for Sarah's mom together. And, they started each day in a wonderful way.
It's different now.
Sarah has taken her experiences with her father and transferred them to a reliable group of girlfriends, who share interests in sports and music.
The parent-child relationship often has different meanings for parent and child.
For Crystal and Tim, who changed their busy professional lives to become good friends with their children, their friendships have become primary. Their relationships with their children have enriched their lives, and in some ways, replaced other relationships with contemporaries.
For these children, however, their relationships with their parents, once felt as their most important friendships, are now supportive of their growing-up activities: social, academic, and athletic.
Their friendships with their parents were actually important training and practice times in their earlier lives. Their family "friendships" taught them how to share thoughts and feelings, how to be warm and caring, how to explore, and how to compete.
For them, nothing is lost. They know they can count on their mom and dad to be there when they need another training and practice friendship.
Parent-child "friendships" are within nature's scene. The friendship must feel like an end, in itself, for the parent. The parent has to feel like she or he gets a lot back, for themselves, like other, true friendships. Otherwise, it wouldn't be real.
For the child, friendships with parents provide a kind of "holding," where they can safely and confidently explore sharing, frustration, and closeness.
It is thus sensible for children and teens to walk in and out of their parent's lives, as though it's fine for their mom or dad to be on hold! Sometimes they have to withdraw, and push away harder, if they were close earlier.
This can be painful for the parent. It can be difficult to avoid getting angry or resentful. Parents often assume their is a hidden problem, only to learn that their lost friend is doing very well in all aspects of life (outside their relationship with the parent!).
Children move on to other relationships. Their parents can simply feel abandoned. (Good marriages are very appreciated at this time!)
Knowing all of this, I still find some friendship changes difficult with my own children. And it helps to remind ourselves that these friendships evolve and persist by design, but not intentionally.
It helps to look forward to our children becoming adults (after they leave us!), because that's when they can create permanent and reliable friendships with us.