Staying Close to Our Daughters During the Teen Years
When our daughters are small, it often seems that they can never get enough of us: our presence, our attention, our affection. The constant refrain of “Mommy” or “Daddy” imploring us to spend time with them can feel ceaseless. She is our ever-present companion, our constant shadow.
However, somewhere along the way, our little girls grow up, and suddenly our homes feel much quieter. Our overtures are rebuffed, our questions are met with gruff responses, and it seems like nothing we ever do is right. Our daughters’ needs for attention, affection, and validation are now met by their peers, leaving us wondering about our place in their lives.
Individuation is the task of developing an identity separate from that of our parents and determining our sense of self, a natural and developmentally appropriate process. Even armed with this knowledge, feeling our daughters pull away can be painful and confusing. Fortunately, there are ways we can foster connection as our daughters navigate this complicated phase of life.
- Look for opportunities that invite communication. Teen girls can be intensely private and direct offers to talk can feel intrusive and prying. Ask your daughter to join you in the car as you run errands, and she may relax enough to open up. Be sure to listen more than you talk, and practice reflective listening skills. Use verbal encouragers such as “uh-huh” and “I hear what you’re saying” to keep the conversation flowing. Most importantly, don’t use this precious time to judge or criticize. This is one of the most effective ways of shutting down a conversation and decreasing the chances that she will be willing to open up again.
- Look for opportunities to understand. Our teenage daughters have the ability to hurt us in ways others can’t. When our daughters say something hurtful (and they will!), try not to take it personally. As with so many things in life, it is most likely not about you but about whatever it is with which they are struggling. Avoid reacting from a place of pain but rather stop, take some time, and try to respond from a place of understanding. However, abusive, disrespectful words and behaviors are not okay and should be dealt with appropriately.
- Look for opportunities to show physical affection. While teen daughters often appear to shrink away from our touch at this age, they still want and need physical affection. While she may not want to be hugged or cuddled, your daughter may love having her feet rubbed or her hair brushed.
- Look for opportunities to nurture trust. With rare exceptions relating to your daughter’s safety, it is never okay to read her journal or look through her personal belongings without her permission. Have a conversation with her about how to balance your safety concerns with her expectations of privacy regarding cell phone use. Honor your commitment in this area.
- Look for opportunities to share her interests while also respecting her boundaries. Try listening to her music with an open mind while in the car together. Not only can this strengthen your connection, but you may also discover a new artist that you love!
- Look for opportunities to pursue your own interests and personal growth. It is important for our daughters to see us as complete and whole individuals, not just Mom and Dad. In the process, you might stumble upon something you would enjoy doing together.
Our relationships with our daughters will change throughout our lives. While often turbulent, the teen years can also provide opportunities to develop new ways to connect.