As our daughters hit their teens, it sometimes seems as if parents are surplus to requirements. Sometimes we are invited into their lives but on many others, shut firmly out. Moods swing from elation to misery according to the throw of the hormonal dice – and that applies for both mum and daughters!
It can truly feel as if you are being tested and, worse, as if you just don’t have the parenting strategies or ‘magic’ solution to repair the fractured bonds which used to be impenetrable.
There are, I believe, two schools of thought.
There are those who think that hanging out with your tween/teen girls all the time is not a great thing. It is mum cramping their style and living vicariously through her daughters. You may remember a documentary about ’embarrassing’ mums who went clubbing with the daughters and competed with them for attention both on the dance floor and off – much to the chagrin of the girls.
But then there are those whose daughters become their new best friends and for whom time spent together just serves to bring them even closer. They seem to have found the solution to the constant, knackering drama-fests that can envelope a hormonal household.
It’s always going to be a challenge where you have mums and daughters with equally strong personalities and especially if either one of those personalities is inflexible. My mother had a very specific set of rules for behaving and doing things around the home – passed on to her, of course by my grandmother. From hospital corners on beds, to meals served at set times, my mother has always thrived on routine and structure.
Ours was never a ‘laissez-faire’ household where bedtimes varied and the occupants kept whatever hours they chose.
It’s only natural, I suppose to want our daughters to be like us and I’m guessing that, as they age, many of them will turn out like us – but that is no consolation during the tempestuous teen years. In truth, it is surely far better for our daughters to be different, to be adventurous, to be rule-breakers and non-conformist.
Lots of us innocently push our own agendas on to our daughters – from the hobbies we tell them ‘they are sure to like’ to the books they ‘should’ read. We only want what’s best for them – the best academic results to ensure they get a job for example. The best job so they have a chance at saving a deposit for a place of their own. The best partner for a committed loving relationship and on it goes.
We forget that we got to be who we are and where we are through the lessons life taught us – and how many of those were from our parents?
But back to today – and what do you do if your relationship with your daughter is like living in a war zone – or at least prone to door slamming, tantrums and sulking (both sides!).
Do you ever catch yourself talking to your kids and realise that you are basically just issuing instructions?
“Clean your room”
“Do your homework”
“Put your clothes in the laundry basket”
“Make sure you eat a proper breakfast”
There’s not actually a lot of conversation or even relating going on. Of course, sometimes if you ask ‘how was your day’ you don’t get much of a response but at least it’s an attempt to share their experience.
What we are not doing in this situation is actually seeing our daughters as individuals.
The adolescent brain has an undeveloped prefrontal cortex and a dominant limbic system which translates as being prone to drama. I’m sure you’ve noticed (!)
But this isn’t the only factor at play.
To quote one study, “childhood and adolescence is the core risk phase for the development of symptoms and syndromes of anxiety that may range from transient mild symptoms to full-blown anxiety disorders.” This includes depression.
So what is going on?
Environmental factors such as the pressure to conform by social media or to get 5 A* A-Levels may play a part for some.
Heavy social media use is actually linked to depression in young people, according to a study published in “Computers in Human Behavior”.
As women we are surrounded, still, by so many pressures no matter what we read about a new ‘woke’ society – made all the worse because so many opinions and views are sat upon and any sensible discussion immediately curtailed lest someone’s feelings be hurt. It’s the unthinking ‘cancel culture’ of Twitter and the red mist descending over mature discussion in many other quarters. History is to be rewritten rather than learned from which, to me, invalidates all striving, fighting and hard work of those who have trodden the path before us.
Teen girls are truly under pressure to perform which must make focusing on just ‘being’ extremely difficult.
And for us mothers, the worry about how our daughters will cope with all this creates a stress which makes us all the more prone to react with panic and censure.
When you have both mothers and daughters living in an atmosphere where there is a permanent threat of not fitting in, not making the grade and not ‘getting it right’, it’s no wonder fireworks occur – and that’s without hormones.
Some of our kids are working so hard with school work and extracurricular activities they literally have no time to themselves.
So what can we do about it?
Spend more time together just ‘hanging out’
Whether it’s watching a movie together, listening to music or a spot of online shopping, just spending some time without having to be, do or behave in a certain way can help. Step out of the mother / daughter roles for a bit and just relax.
I think this is even more important where there are male siblings or fractious sibling relationships in addition to parental ones.
When there are no expectations to conform to the usual pattern of behaviour, it may be easier for mum and daughter to be open and honest with one another.
Let them teach you
Very often I’ll be writing a post or playing around with photo editing and my daughter will offer advice or show me a new way of doing something. (One of the few positives of her social media use!).
You’ll be amazed what your daughters can teach you and it’s important that you let them share the world they are growing up in – it keeps you, in turn, younger and better equipped to relate to them.
The way to get through to our girls may not always be through conversation. Responding positively to the things they choose to share can develop bonds. Caitlin loves to share funny videos (especially cats), memes and songs.
Rather than brushing these kinds of interruption aside – and it’s not so easy if we are working from home for example, making time for them can improve our closeness.
The trick is, of course, to focus on what she has chosen to share and not the maelstrom of clothes on the bedroom floor or rubbish that has missed the bin.
If you can master this, you may find that your daughter shares more with you more often.
Don’t Always Jump In With Advice
The urge to give advice is very strong isn’t it? The problem is that it isn’t always wanted. You’ll know from your own experience that the last thing you want when you are upset or feeling down is a lecture and a list of yet more things that you ‘should’ be doing.
A bit of kindness and empathy will go much further – as will listening without interruption.
Perhaps try a coaching approach – asking how she thinks should she should approach a situation may be more helpful that “why did you do that for heavens sake!”
The other thing to bear in mind is that you may not always know the full story. If your daughter doesn’t trust you with her innermost secrets, any advice you give could be based on half the facts – and might actually make things worse.
Teens seem to amplify situations according to their moods – which seem to change from moment to moment.
What might be a nightmare scenario today may be just “whatever” tomorrow.
If we parents pitch in too soon we risk not only making it worse for our daughter but ramping up our own stress and anxiety too – and who needs that!
If you can implement these strategies you will hopefully see a reduction in the level of drama – or at least the frequency. Start small with an hour or so dedicated to mum and daughter time that is sacrosanct and for you and her alone.
Of course there will still be battles and arguments but we are not powerless to create a different path.
For those of us lucky enough to still have a good relationship with our mother (and I am well aware that this does not apply for all), how you handle the teen years may be crucial in creating a strong and lasting bond with your own daughter.