I just finished Dr. Lisa Damour’s book Untangled, Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood (Ballantine, 2017), and when I closed the cover, I felt relieved. Relieved that I am not the only parent who looks baffled, at the person standing in front of me who used to be…different. Sure, in some obvious ways- height, hair color, the shape of her face- yes, those things have changed. It’s more about what comes out of my mouth (Hey, how was your day? Did anyone say anything funny, interesting, snarky to you today? What did you have for lunch?), and then what comes out of her mouth: “………..long pause. Staring into space. Shrug. Some vaguely confused comment about me or the conversation. Ugh”.
Damour reassures me with her words and research backed observations that this is perfectly natural, and I can contribute to reconnection regularly, calmly and with minimal fuss. Here’s what rings true for me, and what I know from spending countless fascinating hours with many teens and parents:
- I, too, have changed. I used to be familiar, sensible, funny even. I had ideas and dreams that were interesting and fun! But now (although when I changed I’m not sure) these pearls of wisdom, humor and endless understanding is nagging and boring, not to be trusted. My go-to response when my teen doesn’t recognize me or doesn’t see it my way: “I can tell you don’t agree with me, and I don’t expect that from you- but I do expect respect. When you aren’t respectful, I’ll just leave the room; I can at least respect myself. Come find me when you’re ready to talk about (Using the car? Breaking curfew? Where the twenty dollars I gave you went?)”. What do we want? RESPECT! When do we want it? NOW!
- That’s not how I see it. How do you respond when this happens: Principal: “Mrs. Campbell, your daughter wasn’t in math class today. We believe she’s been with ______ doing ___________________. If ever confronted with this scenario, I see myself immediately start sweating, break out in hysterical laughter, deny that I know the child who was calling me mom to anyone within a hundred feet, and run to my car and call my sister. Unfortunately, my daughter would be waiting for me when I got home, the unspoken consequences and anger hanging thickly in the air. Jane Nelson, Ed.D, of Positive Discipline, says I could try this: “We had an agreement that you chose to break. I’m sure you can figure out how to navigate this situation; I have faith in your excellent (fill in the blank skill). Let me know if you need me to listen to you or give you some feedback”. Not my cart, not my horse.
- 3. Planning for the Future. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath, sure your child won’t survive when it’s time for them to move out? Research studies look at resiliency in teens and surmise that regular ups and downs in life are the perfect speed bumps that create resiliency. Dr Carol Dweck’s work with developing a “growth mindset” points out that parents can contribute to resiliency not by removing these figurative speed bumps, but celebrating effort over outcome: “I’m so, so proud of you for trying out for the (soccer, basketball, bowling, debate) team. I know you didn’t make it, but you gave it YOUR BEST. That’s what counts around here”.
To all of my beautiful teens, in my home and out: I love you, your path, your mistakes, your brutal honesty, your feelings, and mostly for loving me back with equal ferocity.