How Do I Help My Teen Daughter With a Break-Up?

Unfortunately, as a mother you cannot fix everything for your daughter although that would be nice. She should, over time, get better at flexing her relationship muscles.
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Dear Dr. G.,

I am the mother of a very lovely 17-year-old teenage daughter. I have had up until now a wonderful relationship with my daughter. My daughter is a strong girl,a good student and a talented athlete. The problem is her boyfriend. My girl is a senior in high school and her boyfriend is a freshman in college. Before the boyfriend went away to college the two of them had a long talk about whether or not to stay together and they decided to try to continue the relationship by having frequent visits and by texting. Things seemed to be good between the two of them up until recently. At least that is how it seemed to me and my daughter.

Now here is where things got tricky. My daughter went to a New Year's Eve party with her boyfriend and they seemed to have a very nice time. In fact when he picked her up he brought her a dozen red roses. Well, lo and behold, the next day he called my daughter and told her that he needed a "break." Now, I wasn't born yesterday. We all know that a "break" really means a "break-up." My daughter is devastated. She did not see this coming. When she asked the boyfriend why he wanted this "break" he said that he needed more time for his friends. He also said that his parents don't think a 19-year-old boy is ready for a relationship. My daughter thinks that the parents recently found out that her son and my daughter have been sexually active and that they may have disapproved of this. Perhaps the parents were instrumental in the break-up.

Now my daughter is crying all the time. She has been missing some of her athletic practices and just seems so sad. I don't know what the right thing to say is. I have tried to get her angry at the boyfriend. That doesn't seem to help. I have tried to point out all of the good things that she has to look forward to and that also doesn't work. I got so frustrated that I told her that she could do better than the boyfriend. This really seemed to upset her.

Please Dr. G. tell me what I should be saying to my daughter. I expect her to bounce back but in the meantime I'd like to help things not make them worse.Thank you in advance.

A Speechless Mom

Dear Mom,

I feel so sad for your daughter. She must be upset not only about the "break" but also because she didn't see this coming. We all like to feel like that we know what is going on in our lives and your daughter was no doubt shocked about her boyfriend's behavior a day after getting flowers.

Who knows why the boyfriend wants a "break?" Yes, his parents may be part of the reason. Kids at all ages are very much influenced by their parents. Maybe the long distance nature of the relationship was getting too stressful and he wants to try to be focused on his college life. There are so many possibilities. It sounds to me that this boyfriend is ambivalent. Flowers are not usually followed by a request for time off.

The more important question is how to help your daughter return to the "new normal" of her life which currently is one without a relationship with this young man. I suggest strongly that you stop searching for the right thing to say but instead focus on letting your daughter vent. I expect that she will be upset for a while but that she will come through this intact because you say that she is a strong young lady with many strengths. You will always be at risk to say the wrong thing because your daughter likely has so many mixed feelings toward the young man.

I hope that your daughter will open up to her friends and that she gets lots of validation and support from them. Unfortunately, as a mother you cannot fix everything for your daughter although that would be nice. She should, over time, get better at flexing her relationship muscles. We are all painfully aware that break-ups are among the most painful experiences in life and that we all need to develop a set of skills to deal with them. Maybe this is actually an opportunity for your daughter to learn about how to handle "breaks" and "break-ups" including how she will handle things if the young man wants to resume the relationship. My best guess is that he will be back because he is both young and seems confused.

If your daughter feels that her feelings about this situation begin to affect her ability to function then by all means get her to a therapist. She may get a head start on how to ease the pain-pain which she will likely feel at other times in her life since she is just getting started.

Good luck. You sound like a wonderful mother.

Dr. G.

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