How can I stay close to my teenage daughter?

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

My daughter and I went to see the film, Lady Bird (Cert. 15), this month.  It’s a coming-of-age story of a 17 year old teenage girl and the turbulent relationship she has with her mother.  Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, her working title was Mothers and Daughters – an insight into mother-daughter relationships – including her own.

The film puts a strained and often beautiful light on the conflict that arises as daughters grow up and away into young adulthood.  Their striving to be independent and different from their mothers, whilst at the same time desperately needing (and demanding) a close and connected relationship, belies a separation that is as harsh as it is intimate.

There is love to be found in the arguments and cruel words – and there is hope.  But it’s a risky business.  Riding this wave can be extremely difficult and sometimes it’s hard to know what to do.  How do you stay close when you’re continually being pushed away?   What helps us to stand firm, to stay intact and to weather the storms as our girls begin to grow into the first tentative version of themselves?

1. Hold the hot potato

Your girl will be experiencing tremendous changes, physically and emotionally.  She needs you to hold some of that heat, which may present itself as anything between silence and fury.  Tentatively reflect back what you’re seeing in her, or what she’s saying – adding what you imagine she might be feeling.   Don’t worry if you get it wrong.  Let her tell you what it’s like to be her, right now.  Believe her and don’t worry if she doesn’t find a resolution then and there.  By holding her ‘hot potato’, you’ll be giving her some respite; perhaps enough for her to take the hot potato back and figure it out for herself.

2. Lead by example

Model the behaviour that you want to see in your daughter. Show respect to get respect.   Remember that difficult conversations are an essential opportunity for increased understanding.   If you can, ask for time to talk rather than wading in when she’s not ready to listen.  Remember less is more – less comparisons, less giving advice, less drawing conclusions and fewer questions.  She probably doesn’t know the answer anyway.  Don’t get into a shouting match – tell her you need some space so you (or her) can calm down before resuming the conversation.  Stay in the present and resist dragging up the past.   Pick your battles – decide what’s really important.   Agree to disagree.   Own your own mistakes and repair any damage quickly.  Say sorry, forgive, make up and move on.

3. Use problem solving strategies

Use problem solving strategies to deal with conflicts, to set boundaries and to manage expectations. Have realistic expectations – this is a time of experimentation for her.  Avoid comparing your own (or a siblings’) teen years, with hers.   Don’t try to change her to become more like you, or better than you.  Let her find her own way.  She’s not going to become the final version of herself first time around.  Be patient.   Make sure that you give her a chance to meet your needs, as you attempt to meet hers.

4. Make time to be together

Find out what she’s interested in and make it happen. Remember to be the parent.  She wants you to be her Mum, so respect the boundary of the generations.   Respect her privacy, especially around her friends.  If she tells you something private, keep it private.  Show up when she asks you to – she’ll want you less and her friends more, so take advantage of any invitation to be close and connected.

5. Focus on her strengths, even when things aren’t going well.

Make the first move to build her up, rather than tearing her down.  Let her know that you will always be on her side.  As you guide her to adulthood, be open to what she can teach you about yourself.  Be prepared to be changed by her.   Love her, without condition.

Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers. www.parentingclass.co.uk  She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children (toddlers to teenagers) by using evidence-based communication skills.  Her next Open Programme starts in April, 2018.  She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype.  This blog was previously published in the Family Section of the EDP on 13th April, 2018.  If you’ve got a question for her, please contact liz.nice@archant.co.uk

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