Maybe the rolling eyes and distant attitude isn’t just the result of normal teenage hormones. Maybe the locked bedroom door and the quick goodbyes at the door aren’t just signs of a desire for more independence. Sometimes as parents—especially as fathers—we have injured our relationship with our teen and need to find a way to rebuild and restore it.
It wasn’t wounded overnight and a single conversation won’t repair it especially if having any kind of conversation is difficult. A different starting place is essential to a restored relationship. Actions speak louder than words so try some actions that will bring the needle out of the negatives and back toward zero again.
Notice things. Trauma causes a child to go into themselves. A damaged relationship with a dad is traumatic for a teen, in spite of how many times they say, “Whatever.” As they walk by without a word, simply notice that they’ve chosen their favorite sweater again today. Say it gently, “I notice that you are wearing your sweater again today.” Even leaving out the word favorite can prevent her from being rebuffed by your supposed knowledge of her favorites. Just notice. Do it at least daily for a while. It doesn’t have to be anything special but it needs to be something about her.
Agree and allow him to do some things that you are tempted to withhold. It would be easy to deny the use of the car until you can get a civil greeting but maybe allowing something you might easily withhold speaks some trust back into your relationship. There is a line where allowing everything becomes permissive and where the teen rules the home. This action is a long way from that line. Just give a little. It might help ease the tension.
Speak softly and kindly. Always. Our frustration tends to come out in our voice. We maintain a tense environment when we appear frazzled by the situation. Softer words invite. Harder words rebuff. Kind words speak safety into the relationship. Harsh words only invite avoidance. Every communication from “What would you like for breakfast?” to “What time can I expect you to be inside and safe tonight?” can be spoken with soft words from a kind spirit.
After a period of allowing your actions to speak some peace and safety into the relationship again, invite a conversation. Show an interest in working on a better relationship again. Try saying, “I know things haven’t been good but when you are ready, I’d be willing to visit about us sometime.” You can’t force a conversation. You can invite someone to think about talking again.
A few days after an invitation to communicate has been issued and there has been no response, position yourself at an opportune location and ask if it might be a good time. Be up at the dining table when she comes in at curfew some night. Come to the bedroom door as he gets into bed and try asking, “I wondered if you thought about my invitation to a conversation yet.” There should be nothing that suggests a captive audience in your posture or your voice. If you think you have them cornered, you’ll end up having to start back at negative readings again for a while. This is simply stage two of the invitation. Being available suggests that you really meant it.
Time alone is not a healer. Restored relationships require specific, non-threatening, softer actions and words to begin rebuilding things between you. Time will pass, but time won’t fix it. Take steps to change the way you communicate. When your child sees that you are serious and that communicating won’t be like it was before, they may actually join the conversation again.