Raising a teenage daughter is a whole lot more complicated than I thought it would be. The boys, who were challenging when they were small children, are like a cake walk in comparison.
I think it is the emotional roller-coaster that gets me. I have never been a very emotional person, at least not outwardly. I tend to be stoic, composed and rational, even in times of heightened stress. Except when it comes to whining; that zaps my patience in a hurry. And managing teenage drama. Heaven, help me because I just might lose it.
I have realized in recent months that I am much more likely to strategize than empathize when somebody comes to me with a problem. My mind naturally goes into problem-solving mode, and I am quick to analyze what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to avoid the same mistake in the future. That is not something that I consciously decide to do; it is as automatic as breathing.
That approach might be a good thing when we are talking about systems or organizational factors, but it does not always work so well when we are talking about people, especially teenage girls.
My daughter often comes to me in tears because she is extremely sensitive to things that happen with her friends. Perhaps she was left out, or somebody said something unkind to or about her. She tells me every detail of what happened, for which I am grateful.
I try to listen as patiently as I can and, in the details of her story, I can easily spot the things that might have contributed to the negative outcome that is upsetting to her. My default reaction is to point those things out because I want to help her solve the problem and avoid it in the future. But apparently having your mom tell you (nicely) that you may have contributed to the problem is not helpful when you are hurting, even when she does it with the best of intentions.
Add that one to my list of stuff I wish I had known before my kids were teenagers.
I know that might seem like common sense to most people who fall on the more emotional side of the personality scale but, as a thinker, navigating emotional situations is not my forte. It is not that I am unsympathetic. I felt those same feelings as a teenager and remember how painful they were for me. As a mom, my heart breaks into a thousand pieces when I watch my daughter struggle with the same challenges that I faced at her age. I feel deep empathy and want nothing more than to help her successfully navigate through challenging times, but my mind is wired to solve problems, not to simply dry tears, as much as I sometimes wish that was not the case.
I am learning, however, that most of the time my daughter does not need to know how to solve her problems nearly as much as she needs to feel understood and supported. She needs me to tell her that she is not alone, that she is not “weird” and that things will be alright. She needs me to validate her feelings, even if they seem irrational. Sometimes teenagers are irrational; it goes with the territory.
I have been working hard in recent months to suppress my natural tendency to offer solutions when she is upset. I have found these phrases to be helpful instead:
That frequently requires immense willpower on my part. I have to bite my tongue and dig deeply into my emotional intelligence, which is not always easy for a logical thinker like me. But raising teenagers is not always logical and often requires me to get outside of my comfort zone and meet them where they are. When I can do that, emotional situations seem to diffuse much more quickly.
I am not perfect at this by any means. Sometimes I slip into old habits and defaults. But I am, over time, developing skills and learning things that I would likely not internalize in any other way. I believe that at the end of the day, parenting is as much about personal growth as it is about teaching children. Those two things go hand in hand.
If you, like me, sometimes struggle to communicate effectively with your sensitive teenagers or have a tendency to want to fix their problems rather than offer emotional support during times of heightened stress, perhaps incorporating these seven phrases into your vocabulary will be a game changer for you as well. I invite you to give it a try.
Food for thought:
What strategies have you found useful in communicating with teenagers?
What personal growth have you experienced in parenthood?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section, if you feel so inclined.