According to researchers at Cambridge University, the average mother and her teenage daughter have a 15-minute argument every 2-1/2 days.
That’s actually good news. I think I’m ahead of the curve. At least on intervals between fights. Not sure about duration though. It depends if the prolonged sulking afterwards is considered part of the 15-minute fight time or not. What about the time she spends complaining to her friends about her terrible lot in the parenting department? What about the parallel conversation I’m having with my husband?
Whatever the statistics, we all know that raising teenagers can be a rough ride. And that it puts the mother-daughter dynamic to the test.
While a certain amount of friction is unavoidable, I believe there are some tools that we, as mothers, can use to keep the noise level low – literally and figuratively.
One of the most important strategies in dealing with teenagers – and probably the hardest one of all – is not to take their behavior personally. This is particularly difficult when the words suggest otherwise, when she says “You’re so unfair, you just don’t understand, I hate you.” But we must ignore the actual words and try to look beneath the surface.
Our daughters are a whirl of emotions that just seem to burst out at unexpected and inappropriate times. They aren’t really directled at us. They are just so intense that she doesn’t know where to put them. And there we conveniently are. But it’s a release of the pressure of that emotional buildup and not really a condemnation of us.
As hard as that may be to believe at the time, it is crucial to our relationship that we don’t react defensively, that we don’t take her at her word. We want a relationship, not a power struggle. We want to be empathic to her tumultuous state, not assertive of our own power, position or correctness.
This is very difficult – make that extremely difficult – to do. What makes it possible at all is the recognition that underneath all the bluff and bravado is just a scared, little girl – someone who simultaneously wants her independence and is terrified of it. She wants to separate and she wants to run back to the comfort of our arms. She wants to make it on her own and she wants us to take care of her. She doesn’t know who she wants to be and what the future holds. And it’s intimidating. But she can’t acknowledge that. She wants to be able to spread her wings but she wants the security of the nest still there, waiting for her. Think of it as the terrible twos on steroids, I mean, hormones.
It’s so hard not to react when they attack. It’s so hard not to feel “After all we’ve done for you” or hurt or insulted or embarrassed. But we need to be the adults here. We need to be the strong ones and not the needy ones.
We need to provide our daughters with the foundation they need to really grow into adulthood. We need to weather whatever they throw at us. And they need to know that we are always there for them, no matter what. And that there are no challenges that they – and we – can’t survive.
Being a parent is an awesome responsibility. And, in parenting adolescents, we take some hits. But, please God, we all emerge stronger and closer from the experience.
Don’t let the fights discourage you. You see they’re common (take comfort if you are below the average!) and crucial to our daughters’ growth. Just stand steadfast in your love and support. This really is a case where love conquers all (especially when mixed with a healthy dose of prayer!).