It’s no secret that the relationship between a mother and her daughter is typically a complicated one. Moms often get a clue they’re in for a wild ride the first time they see their little girl emotionally stomped on by another child or they catch a glimpse of their own insecurities in the eyes of their mini-me.
But it’s when adolescence hits and girls turn away from their moms and toward their friends that things get really tricky. Moms find themselves grappling with the hurt of rejection while fiercely trying to protect their daughters from the pain they themselves may have experienced as a teen.
On top of that, communication between the two often comes to a screeching halt — and along with it, the steady stream of insight into what’s going on in a girl’s life.
Is it possible to tear down this wall of silence during the teen years?
The short answer is yes, by fostering true connection through authentic communication. Authentic communication encourages both moms and daughters to truly see each other for whom they are; to drop the expectations, lose the defensiveness and hear each other in a meaningful way.
Simply put, it’s the stuff that great relationships are built on. And when it comes to moms and their teen daughters, it can be a serious game changer.
Here are 5 strategies for creating more opportunities for authentic communication in your mother/daughter relationship:
1. Start with a clean slate
I don’t know of a parent who hasn’t engaged in “accidental parenting,” i.e., going down a road they had no intention of going down only to find themselves stuck in dynamic that’s not working.
Beating yourself up for choices you’ve already made is a waste of energy. There’s no going back, so instead, give yourself permission to wipe the slate clean and commit to making a conscious shift going forward.
2. Drop the expectations
Often the thing that hurts or disappoints us most in our relationships is when other people don’t meet our expectations about how they should behave. The more tightly held our expectations, the more hurt and disappointed we become.
The problem? We have zero control over other people’s behavior — a fact that’s never truer than it is with our own children. Yet because they’re “ours,” we often cling to our expectations even more tightly.
By letting go of your ideas about how and when you and your daughter communicate, you’ll be more likely to find peace with what is, instead of dwelling on what should be. Then you’ll open the door for new, healthier communication patterns to emerge.
3. Respectful listening
In order to keep the lines of communication open, daughters need to feel emotionally “safe” in coming to you with their issues. Teen girls crave being heard, not lectured. They don’t want their every experience turned into a “teachable moment.”
Respectful listening means tuning in to what our girls have to say and, more importantly, to what our girls are feeling. When you do respond, start with empathy, not answers. Repeat back what your daughter said to you; verbatim is fine: “You’re feeling really stressed out about PE class tomorrow.” By repeating her words back to her, you’re showing her you hear her and you acknowledge how she’s feeling.
4. Stay calm
The ability to stay calm, no matter what your daughter shares with you, is critical if you want her to keep coming back to you. And unless she does, you may not find out about the really important stuff, the kind of stuff that makes parents look back and ask themselves, “How did I miss this?”
Helping your daughter feel safe enough to share may mean biting your tongue or going to your happy place to stave off an emotional reaction in the moment. But it’s crucial, even when (or perhaps especially when) she comes to you with a situation that makes your internal alarm go off.
Resist the urge to jump in — “You and your friends did what?” — and instead, stay calm, nod and thank your daughter for sharing. If it’s the kind of information that requires action on your part, take time to regroup, so that when you do bring it up, you can do it in a non-threatening way.
5. Share your stories
Girls love hearing about other teens who went through difficult situations and lived to tell about it; there’s something comforting in knowing they’re not the first person to feel isolated or misunderstood. So it only makes sense that they’d want to hear your stories, too (yes, even the uncomfortable ones).
There is no quicker way to break down the barriers and give your daughter a chance to see you for who you are than to let her know about the challenges you went through as a teen and how they impacted you then, as well as how they influence the woman you are today. Take time to be vulnerable and share, and chances are your daughter will see you in a whole new light.
Debbie Reber is an author, speaker and life coach whose passion is empowering teens, 20-somethings, parents and writers. Her most recent book for teens is Chill: Stress-Reducing Techniques for a More Balanced, Peaceful You. To find out more about Debbie, visit her online at debbiereber.com.
Connecting with your teen through writing
A great way to reconnect and build a foundation of authentic communication is through writing. The book Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms by mother-and-daughter duo Meredith Jacobs and Sofie Jacobs provides a fun, engaging approach to open sharing through advice, plenty of journal space and writing prompts to get the conversation flowing.