I have a smart and strong-willed thirteen year old daughter. These are traits that will serve her well as an adult; but it is often difficult and exhausting to navigate our relationship on a daily basis. Nothing seems to be straight forward and everything is up for debate and discussion. I sometimes feel isolated and lonely as I try to figure out this challenging phase of adolescence on my own.
Throughout the process so far, I have identified a few supportive tactics that I am finding to be helpful. I thought I would share them with you.
Hold Your Boundaries
Guilt. The common theme of parenting. Am I doing enough? Am I turning into my mother? How can I do/be better? These questions, although valid, lead to doubting your own decisions and inconsistency in approach. Do not do this to yourself. Make a decision and stick with it. As your child pushes against your boundaries, trust your inner knowing. Hold fast. Know that your child will ultimately respect you and feel more secure if you are consistent, gentle and firm. The boundary that you set is real for you in that moment. Honour it. You can always reflect and regroup at a later time.
Create Space for Discussion
Although it is important to hold firm in the heat of the moment, the reality is my child and I are in relationship with one another, and it requires work and an openness to improvement. Sometimes I make mistakes and I need to correct them later on with acknowledgement, apology and discussion. When we are in a calmer space, my daughter is better able to explain her perspective to me; and sometimes it changes the way that I see it. This impacts how I respond at a later date. Flexibility and adaptability are key. There is no right way. Just what is right based upon what you know right now.
Be Loving and Kind
I always tell my daughter that no one can hear her when she is yelling, and yet, I find myself doing the same thing. It is amazing how triggering being a parent can be, and how quickly I fall back into the patterns of my own childhood, where yelling was the common response. I am actively working to be mindful about not raising my voice, or I ask for a specific amount of time (e.g. 20 minutes), if I need a time out to regroup. I hold onto my wise, adult centre in these difficult times, and provide myself with love and support, as well as my child.
Testing is Normal
I need to remind myself that my daughter is not purposefully being difficult, she is testing the waters of independence, which is normal and to be expected. As Lisa Damour writes: “Your daughter needs a wall to swim to, and she needs you to be a wall that can withstand her comings and goings. Some parents feel too hurt by their swimmers, take too personally their daughter’s rejections, and choose to make themselves unavailable to avoid going through it again…But being unavailable comes at a cost…Their daughters are left without a wall to swim to and must navigate choppy—and sometimes dangerous—waters all on their own.“
Take Care of You
I never planned on being a single parent. I did not sign up to do this on my own and it is hard. It brings up a lot of sadness, grief, anger and disappointment for a dream that is lost. This is the moment when I have to turn to myself for comfort and advice. I put my arm around my small, scared self and I say…Let it out. Cry if you need to. Feel all of your feelings. Try to relax. Breathe. Trust it will soon pass. Move your body. Go for a walk. Take a bath. Go to bed early. Breathe deeply. Ask for help. Talk to a friend. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You got this. I believe in you.