Dear Rachel,

My daughter and I have always been extremely close. At times more like friends than like a mother and daughter. However, now that she is 17 she has been trying to distance herself from me. If I say I like something, she will say she doesn’t. If I want her to do one thing, she will want to do the opposite. She tells me that I need to give her space, but if she loves me, why is she pushing me out of her life?

Baltimore, MD

Dear M.J.,

As we all know, the teenage years are some of the hardest years we ever endure. This is a time where your daughter is dealing with a huge gap, living in between being a child and being an adult, and in truth, she is therefore both and neither. This is a time where she is trying to define herself, establish her individuality and independence, and yet, as much as she wants freedom, she is scared. Freedom can be overwhelming since it means tremendous responsibility, and most likely responsibility she may not be ready for or doesn’t want to have.

Understanding where she is coming from is one of the first steps in working on your relationship with her. Most likely she simultaneously desperately wants you to approve of her, and yet feels the need to rebel in order to establish her own identity. She may very well feel that only if she breaks away from how she was raised, from what you want of her, from what she has been given and not chosen, can she then decide for herself what she truly wants.

On a certain level, this is a very positive thing. There is a time in all of our lives when we need to make sure that we are doing things for the right reasons. Obviously we need to do the right thing, even if not for the right reason, but to make it real, to make it a part of us, we need to understand and choose that path, not just follow it. The important thing is to make sure that while you provide her with the room to question and find things out for herself, that she still have a structure to make sure that she does her exploring in a safe, healthy and productive way.

The Torah teaches us this very concept in the story of Abraham when he is told, “Lech Lecha Martzrecha, Mi’Moladetecha, U’mbeit Avicha…” “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father…. The expression used, however, “Lech Lecha,” literally means “go to yourself.” How does one find himself? How does one go to one’s true essence? So we are taught that in order to find who you truly are, on a certain level you must go away from your land, from your general surroundings, you must go away from your birthplace, from your more immediate surroundings and community, and you must even go away from your father’s house, from the place closest to you.

Obviously this going away does not need to be a physical removal, but part of the process of getting to know yourself requires just enough distance to be sure you are thinking for yourself. From the sounds of it, your daughter is not trying to move away from what you have given her, but rather is looking to choose her own path with all the tools you have provided her throughout her life.

When morals, values and compassion are imparted upon children from when they are young, then their frame of reference is one that will hopefully guide them as they become adults. Now, as your daughter makes her way from one stage into the next, you must give her room to grow yet it is imperative that she know that you will always be there for her if she needs it. While it may seem right now that she only wants to look ahead, most likely she wants to know that you are there right behind her.