Remember your daughter in grade school? Lively, your best friend, carefree, happy to confide in you? Then when she was fifteen a switch turned on. She said too many times, "You never understand me!" She started to keep more to herself, was angry when you suggested deodorant, took hours grooming her hair and was fighting with you about being late for school. She no longer told you her secrets. Not at all! Had you become the enemy? What's going on? How do you cope?
Individuation--such a classy psychological word, but full of meaning. This is when your daughter needs to find her own personal identity apart from her mother. She needs to find her own way, feel autonomous and independent.
Some girls who were very close to their mothers in the years before need to take a sharp break in that tie. Other girls who were reasonably friendly with their mothers, they, too, need to find their own private way.
In any case, to individuate is to find your identity. Girls need to do this on their own and even mild advice and direction from their mothers can set them off in a tizzy as if their identity has just been blown.
So, given this understanding, how do mothers cope with the antagonism and even seeming hatred that burst from their daughters' eyes and mouths?
8 Tips on Coping with the Antagonistic Teenage Daughter
1. Try your very best not to take the "I hate you" talk personally! How is that possible? The only way is to reinterpret it in your mind as saying, "I need to find myself and can't do it with you near me."
2. Give your daughter her space even if it means she spends hours in her room alone. Surely make be certain she's safe and not depressed, but beyond that give her time for herself.
3. Respect her body. You have good guidance for bodily care, but to your daughter it feels like you're taking over her body. She misinterprets your good will and you feel rebuffed, but if you understand it's her way of saying, "I'm my own person.," then it doesn't hurt as much.
4. Try for some hang-out time when you don't give advice. Take your daughter out to lunch or drive her to school. Don't talk about anything consequential. Let her lead the discussion. Even if you both are quiet for long periods of time, it's respectful time together that goes a long way for healing wounds and rebuilding ties.
5. Collaborate on setting rules that you both can agree on such as curfews, bedtime, and when to do homework. Respect her reasoning, in fact, encourage it.
6. Listen carefully any chance you get to what she tells you. If she does present a problem, try not to give a fast solution or instant advice. Ask her to tell you more detail. Seek her ways of seeing things. The more you listen and the less you speak, the closer she may feel to you.
7. Seek out her opinions on anything. Let her know you respect her ideas about politics, being female, her interests, her views, her wishes. Don't discredit even the most convoluted philosophies. She's working things out. That's great.
8. Be your daughter's advocate. If there's a squabble with a friend, a teacher, any authority in school, even if she's wrong, be there to support her, so she knows you're on her side. Even if she's made a mistake, let her know that's how you learn. It's an opportunity for growth to do things incorrectly. Let her know you really believe that.
Deep down your daughter values you, loves you, and you're the most important woman in her life. But just for now, maybe for a few years, she has to chart her own path and maybe can't do the walk with you. But if she knows you're always in the background available to help if asked, the tether remains. It's just gone underground for a while.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst with a recent book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, with helpful guidance about teenage girls. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius, libraries, and wherever books are sold.