My 15-year-old daughter won't talk to me anymore. We used to be able to talk about things, but now not at all. It's like an invisible wall has sprung up between us and I keep bashing into it like disoriented bird. She doesn't seem happy, she is much moodier than she used to be and I know a lot of it must be because she's a teenager, but it seems like other girls talk to their moms more than she talks to me. When I ask her how she's doing, she gets annoyed and has even accused me of not listening to her. Now, she can accuse me of a lot of things, but a nonlistener I ain't. All my life people have come to me to tell me their problems. It's like listening is the one thing I've always felt I could do right.
I've always tried to show my daughter how much I care because I really did have a mother who couldn't listen. It's taken me years to admit this, but my mother was truly incapable of seeing my side of things; all she could see was what I wasn't.
With things going downhill for me and my daughter, I find myself feeling sort of irked at the universe. First I get a mom who didn't and still doesn't frickin' realize what a piece of cake I was to raise. Whatever it takes to appreciate the fact that I was good, she didn't have it. I basically raised my younger siblings while she worked and returned to school. I know things were hard for her because ... I'm a wiz at understanding why other people can't give me what I need. Then I feel bad for needing anything of them at all, because can I see how hard things are for them. Because of my strange and oversized heart, I tried to make things easier for my mother, doing more and more and making her proud, the whole ball of overachiever wax. I did all this thinking that perhaps one day she would look down upon me and say something wild and unorthodox like, "thank you." But she never did. Her self-centeredness rendered her incapable of such originality. Fast forward. Now I have my own children and this daughter in particular who has the gall to accuse me of not listening to her. A daughter who, when I ask her how she's doing at the end of a long day, has the nerve to slap me across the face with the f-word -- "Fine," she tells me. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different if my mother had just once taken the time to ask me how I was doing.
-- Insane to Care So Much
Dear Good Daughter:
First, I want to say what I hear you saying. In this way I will show you how I am listening to you. I hear you saying your mother wasn't able to be there for you the way you were there for her. When you were young, you soothed yourself by trying to understand why she couldn't give you the mothering you needed. Even though others criticized her, namely your siblings, you ran to her defense. You became very good at seeing the various obstacles your mother faced and you told yourself her deficiencies were not about you. The belief you found most sustaining, was the belief you could heal her brokenness. In the end, when all the goodness you poured into her finally reached the top, a drop or two of it would be bound to spill over onto you. That's you, huge thirst, but miracle of miracles, you just need one drop. Unfortunately, you didn't even get that. The charity you invested in your mother wasn't retained. It was as if you were pouring your soul into a vase with a hole on the bottom. So, to add insult to injury, not only did you give her the best in you ... ahe wasn't able to appreciate it. There are words for how one might feel in your situation. Robbed, betrayed, foolish. You have a right to stomp your feet and admit that what happened wasn't fair. It wasn't . Flash forward. From the sounds of things, you are still pouring yourself out into others, your daughter perhaps, in hopes that you will get something back in return. And the same thing seems to be happening with your daughter that happened with your mother -- you're not enough.
There's one person you need to listen to who could turn this whole mess around. But this person is the one you have undervalued, the one you've overlooked. This person could quite possibly be the first to return to you that which you so charitable give. I bet you know what I'm going to tell you to do ... go on ... walk over to the mirror. Ask her how she's doing. I promise she won't say "fine."
Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to email@example.com. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-339-4179.