I am not sure when the relationship with my teen daughter went off the rails.
Perhaps it was at age nine when she decided she didn’t want to pick up after herself and no punishment impacted her behavior.
Maybe it was age 11 when she started telling half-truths to get out of conversations with her father and me.
Or, it could be when she turned 13, and she took the tactic of saying one thing and doing another.
For the past several years I tell myself that this is a phase, and I remind myself of the positive attributes of my daughter, which there are many.
But, sometimes I don’t like my daughter. Sometimes I am terrified of the person she is growing into, the comfortableness she finds in the lies and deception.
She is a young teen now and doesn’t enjoy being told what to do.
She is a strong student, a gifted athlete, and considered a leader at her school.
But sometimes we watch as she attempts to manipulate us, telling us excuse after excuse. Sometimes we catch her in out-and-out lies, weaving tales full of deception. Sometimes her actions seem so deliberate, so selfish, so incredibly insensitive, that sometimes although I love my daughter deeply, she makes it difficult to like her.
I’ve talked to other moms, veterans of the teenage years many times over. They assure me it is normal.
But the more I try to ignore the minefield of topics that set us off, the worse our relationship becomes.
We have our dance memorized to perfection. I move in with a reminder of a task I want her to finish; she responds with a curt “I know.” I start to lecture; she rolls her eyes. We push and pull until the thin thread that holds us together breaks, and I have an out-of-body experience.
I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but they don’t sound like mine. They are loud and accusatory. Mean-spirited and judgmental. Not appropriate for a conversation with a young girl.
I look at the beautiful girl in front of me and can almost see a small piece of her vibrant personality break off her tiny frame and disintegrate into dust. With each disastrous encounter between the two of us, a little bit of the sparkle leaves her dark eyes and her jaw becomes a little more clenched.
My intentions for my daughter are pure – I only want her to reach the endless potential I know she possesses, I only want her to become the person I know she is capable of growing into, I only want her to follow the same rules as her two sisters – but we clash at every intersection as the divide between us deepens.
And I watch as the happy little girl I once rocked in my lap become a shadow of her past self.
I’ve almost broken her spirit.
It is such a delicate balance parenting teens, wanting neither to be too controlling nor too permissive; wanting a child who is independent yet obedient; wanting to raise a resilient adult who likes you a little bit too.
But, there came the point when the incessant battling with my daughter became more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a productive relationship, and I no longer wanted to be the source of either of our pain.
So I gave my daughter the only thing left that I could muster: space.
I stopped needling her on the little things, such as cleaning her room or shoes left in front of the door and instead wrote down five chores she needed to complete each week. I praised all the goodness and bit my tongue at the shortcomings.
I stopped punishing her for every wrongdoing, and instead, let her spend more time with her friends. I enjoyed hearing her belly laugh ring through our house.
I stopped telling her what I thought she should be doing, and instead let her take ownership of her actions. It was difficult to watch her fall, but there were important lessons she needed to learn for herself.
And I tried to be a role model, with my words, with my actions, and most importantly, with how I offered love.
I am hopeful about our relationship. Her attitude still bothers me; she still senses my frustration.
But sometimes she bounds into the house after school and breezes by my cheek just long enough to plant a soft kiss. Sometimes we dance together in the kitchen while making our favorite chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes we laugh at silly jokes and talk about traveling to far off places.
And I see the spirit of a girl who can conquer the world.
If only a loving, well-meaning mother doesn’t get in the way.