Monday, June 30, 2008

Teenage Girls And Their Mothers

I had kids late for a Southern woman (which I'm not, since I'm a transplant), so most of my friends around here have teenagers. And many of those teenagers are girls. Oh, the suffering! There are a couple things I've noticed:

  1. All the moms did a good job. They loved their children. They were involved. They made sure the child had a good moral foundation. They met the friends.
  2. All the mothers blame themselves for their daughter's misbehaviors.
  3. The daughters come back around--usually by age 25, but often before.
I've also seen some things that make life worse. Now, many mothers of teenage girls are traversing their own hormonal terrain. They are either perimenopausal or menopausal themselves. Depending on their heredity, diet, etc., this transition can be brutal. Like a girlfriend of mine told me about her own mom, "My mom curled up in the fetal position and cried for a year and us kids were all out of the house and grown. I'm menopausal with a 10 year old and working full time." It's a different world and so this life transition can be complicated. Many of the women I know are going through menopause while their daughters navigate the teen years. That makes for emotional agony--and I'm not even talking about the poor men in their lives.

Here are some of the things the moms do when things are going well. They have shown me a great example and I hope that I do as well when I cross this bridge:

  1. They control their emotions. When it descends into a screaming match, the relationship looks more like two peers than a parent-child relationship. Actually, someone is in charge. It's the kid. And while the daughter claims to want to be in charge, that's generally B.S. She wants freedom, yes, but she doesn't want too much responsibility. Mom has to stay in control, otherwise no one has it.
  2. They keep their humor. Drinking and drugs help. Actually, no they don't. Sometimes the mood just gets too heavy and most of it is just comedic, not tragic. The happy, centered moms find the humor.
  3. They keep perspective. When a child says they hate you and can't wait to leave and knows all the soft spots and exploits them, it's difficult to keep perspective. It seems like this will go on forever. But it won't. One way or another, this will be over. At the very least, the kid will move out in a huff.
  4. They seek support. This seems to be a time where friends and familial support is crucial. Most people wouldn't go on a wilderness trek alone. Going through the teenage wasteland alone seems foolish, too. I'm watching and learning and I know exactly who I'll call when the time comes. One bonus to having kids later is that my friends will be done with it and enjoying grandkids (if their daughters have started speaking to them again). They can laugh at me and give me advice.
  5. They trust themselves and their daughters (within reason). Fundamentally, parents are terrified because of what they did at that age and because they fear they screwed up their kids and their kids will repeat their own mistakes. That might happen, and really, if a kid is hell-bent to destruction, there isn't much a parent can do to stop it. Most of the time, though, the mom did a good job and the daughter is a good kid.
  6. They aren't idiots. A friend of mine said that she hid a baby monitor in her teenage daughter's room. Her daughter never could figure out how her mom knew everything. Another friend installed software on her daughter's computer so she knew where her daughter was and what she was doing. Is it sneaky? Yes. Did the mothers have the information they needed to head off disasters? Yes. You can't parent and be a moron. If it is in your house, it's not off limits. Now this must tempered with wisdom. There is a fine line between concern and complete psychopathology. I have seen more than my share of narcissistic, manipulative, crazy parents who violated boundaries, and just generally made their kids lives hell. I'm not talking about that. It's called sense, though and it means paying attention.
  7. They take care of themselves. They are exercising and eating right and indulging in interests and doing what they love, thereby setting an example for their daughter. Their daughter is paying attention. A tired, crabby, overwhelmed mother models tired, crabby, unthinking coping mechanisms. Children, even teens reflect back what they see. In fact, one of the amusing things (from the outside), is hearing moms complain about their daughters. I have yet to see behavior from the daughter that isn't a perfect, if exaggerated, reflection of the mom's behavior. Yes, this terrifies me.
Moms of teenage girls deserve the same sort of sympathy mothers of freaked out toddlers get. The teenage brain and hormone system is changing at the same pace as a toddlers, it's just that the "baby" is in a nearly grown-up body and it throws everyone off. It helps for parents to remember this, too. That's why a mom will see the child swing from rational to hissy fit to rational in a span of hours, sometimes, minutes. Good diet is helpful here. (Keep in mind that carbs make blood sugar go up and down and moods often follow the sugar. Make sure your daughter is getting enough protein.) And make sure to let the kid sleep enough, too.

If nothing else, a woman I know said this about parenting teenagers, "This too shall pass."


ElvenPhoenix said...

I've got one daughter who is 21 and out of the house, a 14 y/o daughter, 13 & 12 y/o step-daughters, 8 y/o step-son, and a 15 mth old baby girl. And I must say I REALLY appreciate your post.

My biggest problem is an ex who panders to the girls' every wish and encourages them to think of me as the "mean" one. When my eldest was 17, right after our divorce, she suddenly became a b***h on wheels. At one point I turned her cell phone off due to her behavior, with the understanding (and agreement with the ex) that she could have it back if she went to counseling. She refused, and he went behind my back and got her a new cell phone.

At this point she has cussed me out, didn't want me at her high school graduation (she moved in with the ex during her senior year - the better to defy curfew, since he wouldn't take her car away), refused to speak to me, broken into my house and stolen items while I was on my honeymoon with my new husband, trashed my front yard (repeatedly), and calls me her "uterine donor". Among other things.

My ex's response is "she's a b***h, but what can you do?", as he gives her more money, buys her a better car, and generally subsidizes her bad behavior.

I refuse to allow her to treat me badly any longer - so my ex has told both the girls that I "disowned" her. As a result I wasn't invited to her wedding (she is now going through a divorce) and have never seen my 1 year old grandson.

I have had other friends with girls who have done similar things - and yes, sometime around 23 - 25 they reconciled. So I'm hopeful.

But I can't tell you how much I'm dreading the next few years with my teen...especially as her dad wants to be the only person in her life and continues to undermine everything I try to do. And no use going to the courts (which he started) - they have an "enmeshed" relationship according to the evaluator, but nothing can be done about it without spending a lot of money I don't have going back to court for minimal results.

Thankfully my husband is a man with much patience - and he refuses to allow his kids to talk badly about his ex. It makes me hopeful that the teen years of the youngest won't be quite such a catastrophe.

Melissa Clouthier said...


Wow. Parenting a teenager is difficult enough without constantly being undermined. Unfortunately, too many ex-parents delight in their child's defiance of the other parent as a way to vicariously punish the parent. Of course, this is abjectly selfish behavior and harms the child. Too many parents don't seem to put the child's well-being first. They put their own vengeance as a priority--hmmmm...., I wonder why a person would want to divorce that?

Good luck to you!

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