Reflections on having a teenage daughter
“My daughter hates me and I don’t know what to make for dinner.” This is the exact thought I had driving home from work last week. It had been a long day at work with one problem after another arising out of nowhere. While I was playing my best version of Superwoman at the office I was also getting inundated with text messages from my husband about my teenage daughter. Though too busy to answer them all, a quick glance at the screen told me all I needed to know–My daughter was pissed (again) and we were in desperate need of groceries (again).
Once I was finally able to escape to my car and start my 30 minute drive home I began to ponder my current situation. My daughter was upset over one thing or another having to do with what she sees as my husband and I’s overly restrictive, totally unnecessary set of (gasp!) rules. Rules such as no going for a run in the dark after 8:30….no staying up until 2:00 a.m. messaging on your phone…no hoarding dirty dishes with dried on food in your bedroom closet. You know, those totally unreasonable rules that we parents come up with for no other reason than to torture our young.
Some parents I know get very upset when their children are mad at them. They take it personally, and I can totally understand why. As a parent you want nothing more than for your child to be happy, and when you yourself are a source of unhappiness that just stinks. For some this makes it hard to set an expectation for good behavior, or to have solid ground rules by which the child is expected to comply.
While I get where these parents are coming from, I have to say I am not one of them. Driving home that day, the fact that my daughter was mad at me really did not bother me much at all. In all honesty, I hardly thought about it. I was much more concerned with the fact that I had very little food in the cupboards and desperately needed to go shopping than I was that one of my offspring was in the midst of a teenage temper-tantrum.
I know, I know…this probably sounds callus. However, the truth is that I love my daughter dearly. I love all of my kiddos more than I could ever express. And though it doesn’t bother me when she gets mad, I do sympathize. I remember well the real anger I used to feel towards my mother. More than once I have seen the same look in my daughter’s eyes that I used to give my mom; that look that says “If I could I would shoot laser beams out of my eyeballs and fry you where you stand.” Oh yes, I know it well. But it is this knowledge, this memory of how I used to be at that age, which allows me to take it all in stride and not become personally wounded by her words or actions.
I was not a bad child. I was, however, a very sassy teenager. I never did drugs or drank alcohol. I got good grades and took advanced classes. I excelled at music and even tried my hand at a sport or two (which, might I add, I most decidedly did NOT excel at). Yet between the ages of 13-18 I was a sassy mouthed little stinker. I could roll my eyes and cross my arms with the best of them. Oh, and nobody had the one-line insult down like I did.
What made me act this way? Did I hate my parents? Was I the victim of a miserable childhood? Was I neglected or emotionally wounded? No. No to all of it. I had a great childhood, compared to many. The only explanation that I can give as to why I acted the way I did was because I was a stressed-out, acne covered, frizzy haired ball of teenage hormones with no real outlet to my emotions and, oh yeah, I thought I knew it all. In short, I was a teenager. That’s it. That’s all there was to it.
Looking back now I can see that the way I acted was probably quite hurtful to those who loved me most, but of course I didn’t realize that in the moment. I was too concerned about how ‘right’ I was to care about the fact that I might be hurting someone. Still, I never intentionally wounded my parents. I never, excluding the occasional full blown argument here or there, said anything or did anything with the sole purpose of hurting their feelings. I was just convinced they knew nothing.
Yet despite the fact that I often didn’t mean to hurt my parents, I know I did. I especially hurt my mother, with whom I had a very rocky relationship for many years. I remember my mother crying and staying in her room, nursing the wounds she received from one of my verbal attacks. She took it all very personally, and because of that my words cut her deep. She wasn’t able to step back and realize that I was a child lashing out…that even though my age had reached double digits it did not mean that I had the mental wherewithal to really know what I was talking about. Every word I said she took to heart, and it crushed her. It’s something I feel bad about to this day.
I think it was watching how my mother reacted to the teenage version of myself that has really taught me how to handle my daughter. I can reflect back on myself and my actions and respond to my daughter as though she is me. My emotional resilience is such that her words don’t really wound me as deep as they could otherwise. I hold the understanding that much of what she says is not meant personally, and that the age she is at is a difficult one.
I do tell my daughter when something is too much or is a bit hurtful. And, generally, she will apologize. However, I don’t ponder over it or lose any sleep over it at night. She lashes out because I am her safe place, and I will love her regardless of what she says. She knows this. She says things before she thinks because that’s what teenagers do—it’s the stage of growth their brains are at. Her words and actions are not without consequences, but one of those consequences will never be knowing that her ‘normal’ teenage phase emotionally damaged her mother.
This is why, after a crappy day at work, I am more worried about what to make for dinner than I am about the fact that today, for a while, my teenage daughter hates me. I will survive her being mad at me. The uprising of five angry kids who will all claim to be “starving to death” when I get home, on the other hand, I may not survive. I’d take the former over the latter any day.