“Are you and your mom close?” That’s a question that always comes up in my work with teenage girls. Can you guess what they tell me? It isn’t what you think. They don’t say she drives me crazy or she’s so annoying. You know what they say? When asked whether they are close with their mothers, my teenage clients overwhelmingly say “We used to be.” Then they reminisce about a time in their lives – usually around age 9-10 – when they felt like their mom was their best friend. They did everything together. They held hands and snuggled. She told her mom everything. And then something happened…….
At my parenting workshops I have started asking moms the same question: “Are you and your daughter close?” And guess what they tell me? You guessed it! The most common answer I get is, “We used to be.” Usually followed by, “and then one day she just shut me out.”
So what happens during those tween years that pulls moms and daughters away from each other? There are so many things at play during these years of course, from hormones to brain development, but one thing I have noticed in my work with moms and daughters is that both parties tend to take what we’ve all been taught about teenagers wanting independence a little too seriously. At its most extreme, moms take it to mean they should back off and disconnect from their teenager’s life, and daughters take it to mean they shouldn’t need any support from mom anymore. But the truth is your daughter needs you MORE at this age than she did before. And whether she is willing to show it or not, odds are she knows it!
Teen girls feel vulnerable, scared and at times unlovable. They can also be difficult, self-centered and impossible. As moms it is our job to see past the eye-rolling and sighing to figure out what is really on their minds. They are craving a more connected relationship with you, but what does that really mean? After working with hundreds of girls over the years, I have learned that what they really crave from their moms is an answer to these 3 questions:
#1. Do you really know me?
It seems a little silly, I know. Of course you know your daughter. But the question is really deeper than that. She is looking for evidence that you want to know who she is and what she cares about. She wants to know: Do you know what I like to do for fun? Do you know who my friends are? Do you know who my crush is? Do you know what kind of music I like?
And more importantly, do you know what I dream about? Do you know what kind of life I want for myself? Do you know what I’m afraid of? Do you know what I worry about?
One of our deepest, most basic human needs is the need for Love and Belonging. It is ranked just about the need for food, water and safety on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Your daughter is craving a connection with you that reassures her that you see her, you hear her and you “get” her. When was the last time you had a conversation with her about her future that didn’t involve getting into college and her grades? When was the last time you asked her about her favorite artist and what she loves about her instead of just asking her to turn the music down?
#2. Do you like me?
That also seems like such a ridiculous question, but you’d be amazed at how many girls tell me they truly believe their mom doesn’t enjoy their company. As parents who are trying to keep our teenagers safe and guide them toward making good choices, sometimes we are guilty of focusing on everything that could go wrong at the expense of acknowledging what is going right. Between teachers, coaches and parents, the average teenager is scolded, re-directed or corrected approximately 50 times per day! Your daughter is eager to know what you enjoy about her personality and what talents you admire in her. She wants to know all the ways she reminds you of your younger self, or of your own mother. She wants to know all of the hopes you have for her, without the weight of making a misstep and disappointing you. Remember when she was 3 years old and every little accomplishment –from the simplest artwork to tying a shoe — was praised as amazing and spectacular? She just wants a little taste of that again.
#3. Will you please spend some time with me?
I know, I know. She’s always on her phone, or in her room, or with her friends, right? And when you try to go into her room to talk to her, she acts like you’re intruding and sends you away. Sound familiar?
When I work with mothers and daughters it is so striking how easily they misread each other. They both miss spending time together, yet they both believe the other one doesn’t want them around. For girls, they fear that every interaction with mom has an agenda – she’s going to bring up grades or homework or the messy room, or worse yet she’s going to lecture and tell a story about a lesson she learned “back in the day.” For moms, their fears are more subtle. They fear trying to reach out and being rejected….again. The hurt they feel over the loss of connection leads them to stop trying altogether.
So, what does she really want? She wants time with you without a hidden agenda. Time that isn’t scripted or forced. She wants to laugh with you and be silly. She wants to tell you about her day without 1000 questions. She wants to feel accepted by you unconditionally.
The trick to a more connected relationship, though, is that it needs to happen naturally. The last thing your daughter wants to hear is a guilt trip like, “You never spend any time with me. Let’s do something together!” It doesn’t have to be a big, scheduled date night or a mother/daughter weekend away, although those are wonderful once in a while. Connecting doesn’t have to be complicated or over-thought. Little connections can happen all day long—in the car, at bedtime, texts throughout the day, chats while watching TV — until being connected becomes a habit. Pay special attention to those rare moments when she invites you into her world. When she tells you a story about some girl drama, just listen. When she tells you about someone she likes, ask to see a picture. When she whines and complains about an assignment or a teacher, just let her vent. Of course she will make mistakes and of course sometimes she’s just flat out wrong. But there will be plenty of time for correcting and guiding later. When she offers you a glimpse into her world, for that brief moment just focus on enjoying the view!
To get you started in the direction of building a stronger connection with your daughter, I’m inviting you to join my free “21-Day Connect With Your Teen Challenge”. Once you sign up, you’ll receive 21 days of tips, ideas and strategies for making connection a habit! Click on the link to get started!