I was a bit of a horror, as far as teenage daughters go.
My mom and I fought, almost daily, for many of my early teenage years. I was a pain, to say the least, with a strong personality in a house of sweet, tender and quiet family members. I was always right and very independent at far too young. I wasn’t respectful of the boundaries laid before me, but I refused to lie– so I would lawyer my way into proving that my point of view was right. The result was never ending fights, that seemed to merge into one another. Her poor mother, you’re probably thinking… you’re right.
I say this because now, I understand both sides. I’ve been the unruly, emotional teenage daughter. And I can look back at it from the eyes of an adult now: both with guilt for being so unruly and with sympathy for my poor ma, who must have felt like she was going out of her mind.
Yes, I know– I will get my payback when I have girls. For years I’ve thought a lot about how I might raise them. I’ve wondered if I’ll make the same parenting choices or if I’ll wield an iron fist.
There are a few things though, that I’ve decided were key to me growing up successfully– things that I would do again with my daughters when their teenage years come barreling in at 11 or 13 or 14, whenever teenagehood decides to show up.
I hope this helps some of you mothers, that are in the depths of mucking around in “teenage daughterhood”, wondering when it will ever end and you can just drink hot tea together and be friends again. In the depths of where you are, don’t forget these things– she will appreciate you for it later.
1. Listen, listen, listen.
My mother did me a big favor from the day I was born: she always, always, always listened. She took my point of view into account, even from when I was a child. I never felt like my point of view mattered less because I was younger– I wasn’t ever “just a kid”. I was a person, with real feelings and worthy opinions.
That’s the truth of it though, isn’t it? Girls have real feelings and opinions, even as little kids. If you listen to her, you’re building an internal truth that her feelings matter. That they’re worth hearing. You don’t have to give her what she wants– you just have to listen and really hear her.
2. Don’t trivialize her day-to-day drama. That stuff matters.
I had the unfortunate luck of going through my first break up on 9/11. I was in so much despair that I couldn’t quite comprehend what was going on around me in the outside world. We all know what was the more important event in the long run… And perhaps I was a selfish teenage girl for not being more involved that tragic day. But at that moment, I couldn’t see outside my little bubble. It was a time to think about me, and to go through feelings of loss and anger for the very first time. It was my own personal death of a relationship, which felt so immediate compared to the collective pain around me that I could do nothing to stop.
When she goes through these big life moments, drop everything to be the one who comforts her. She’ll remember if you’re the lap she sobs on. Girls don’t forget things like that.
3. Insist on honesty.
Your daughters will probably start doing things that you don’t want them to do very soon, whatever those things may be. There is not a whole lot you can do about that, no matter how many strict rules you put in place. Through the generations, kids have always learned ways to get around those rules and do what they want to do, no matter what. This is true now more than ever.
So let me ask you, is it better that she sneaks out of the house at midnight to go to a party, or that you know that she’s at a party and you can help her if she needs it (or even save her, you never know)? This is an honest question that you need to ask yourself, and you can base your decisions off you answer– this one is very personal. I presented this question to my own mother at 16, knowing that I was going to do as I pleased, and she could be in the loop or not.
No parent wants to really have to answer this question, because it makes you feel completely out of control. And it feels like a slap in the face– like she’s deliberately disobeying your rules. But if you take a step back (and 3 deep breaths) you may find yourself with a different understanding. She’s going to test boundaries, you know this. You’ve known this for a long time. And if you promote telling the truth above all else, you will have a few advantages: 1.) you will know where she really is, which is always safer, 2.) she will know that if she needs you, really needs you to stay safe (and alive– for example, if her drunk friend insists on driving her home) she can call you. You will still love her.
There can still be repercussions for going against your rules. Just insist that she tells the truth, above all else.
4. Give her independence, if she’s really clamoring for it.
The teenage years are the start of a long push for independence. If she really, really wants that independence, you will probably be better off to give it to her, little bit by little bit. Some people are just more apt to want independence early, and if she’s really pushing for it, she’s probably just one of those personalities.
With girls like that, it’s better to give it to them and let them return to your arms on their own. They will. Once they feel responsible for their own actions, their own choices, it’s likely that they’ll want to return to being a little girl pretty quickly after that.
5. Give her affection, a lot.
Yep, she’s going to feign disgust. She’ll push you away. She’ll roll her eyes. Just smile, ignore her and hug her and kiss her anyways. Keep doing it just like you did when she was 6.
That too cool for school attitude is completely normal, especially when she’s embarrassed. But trust me, she notices when you reminder her that you love her. And she notices if you don’t. Ignore any personal feeling of rejection or being pushed away, and then be affectionate anyways. And then do it again. She’ll remember it years from now, those constant reminders that you love her– those things will matter the most when she moves away and starts her own life. And then again when she starts to raise her own girls.
6. Don’t be perfect. Just be your own personality.
Girls aren’t looking for perfect mothers. They’re looking for real mothers. Mom’s that yell and then apologize for being too mean. One’s that have weird quirky habits. One’s that have flaws, and struggle with things in their own lives. One’s that talk about their struggles, and work through them.
It sets the precedence for being real, for being authentic and for loving yourself just as you are. It teaches her that life doesn’t just suddenly fall in line at some point– that everyone continues to have their own struggles, no matter what age.
When you are willing to share your own downfalls, admit your mistakes, try again and be open about your challenges, it will show her that she should do the same. Not just with you, but with friends and later with a husband. Don’t we all want to help girls grow into real, empowered women? This is the base of it.
7. Ask questions. Give advice. Be involved in her life.
Be involved. Know her friends, know her goals. Know what’s going on next Saturday night, or who’s mean to her at school. It’s so easy to become a someone on the sideline at this point in her life. She won’t invite you to play in the muck of her life unless you insist on being there.
Don’t miss her most important events, even if it’s not convenient. If she comes to you for breakup advice at 11:45pm, wake up and give it then. Don’t hesitate. It will set the precedence that she can come to you next time when something happens, and the time after that. This kind of support and involvement are what real relationships are based on; it’s the important stuff in any friendship. It’s also the foundation of what you’ll build your mother-daughter friendship on for the next 30 years.
More than anything, just keep going– it will get better soon.
Arguing and being at odds– that’s the tough stuff of classic mother-daughter relationships. You just have to make it through in the teenage years. But if you stick with it, if you stay open with her and remind her every day that you love her, she will emerge from teenagehood at some point. It’s inevitable.
She will leave for school or for a life of her own and suddenly miss you, like nothing else she’s ever missed. And the two of you will be that much closer, because you’ve been by her side through everything. Mothers and daughters who fight, find themselves in the best of relationships a few years later.
So just keep going. It will get better soon. I promise.
Add to this list in the comments below. I want to know, what else have you done with your teenage daughters that you know they’ll love and appreciate you for later?