ASK MOM - Mopey, snarling teen makes Mom feel disconnected

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Dear Mom:

The problem with my 14-year-old daughter is we really don't talk anymore. I try to make conversation, but unless she wants something, she generally snarls at me. As a result, I've gotten less interested in trying to push through what looks to me like a bratty, teenage wall. It frustrates me that I'm expected to jump over her hurdles. She shuffles around, slumped over, making everyone feel sorry for her, like she's abused or something.

When she comes home, my chest constricts, it's hard to breath around her.

She used to love me so much; I remember how she would run across the playground when I picked her up after school. When I think of how good it felt to have her little arms around me at the end of a long day, I want to weep. I miss her so much. I miss her laughter. I really don't know what happened. I was always there for her, yet I fear I've done something wrong. I wish I could tell her how much I love her, but it's hard for me to tolerate the emptiness in her eyes whenever I try to talk to her. My friends say she's just a normal teenager, but I don't know.

-- All My Fault



Dear All My Fault:

On some level, most parents blame themselves for their children's struggles. We can't help it; it's how we're wired. From the moment they enter the world, our babies are utterly dependent upon us to keep them alive. If all goes as planned, it doesn't take long before their unparalleled will to live transforms us from mere mortals into something verging on grand. This makes most parents feel very good. For a season, we find ourselves transformed into masters of the universe.

This is how it's supposed to work. They need us to be great, and we fall all over ourselves trying to make it so. What I'm describing here isn't really rocket science, it's just love. Our children teach us how to love.

But like everything else, children -- and your relationship -- grow and change. They go from feeling that Mom will always be there and always understand to adolescence, when they often begin to feel misunderstood.

Your daughter's budding awareness of herself as separate from you can be intoxicating to her, but it can also make her afraid. When she lashes out at you, she is lashing out at the realization you are no longer larger than life. You don't possess magical powers. Just like her, you come with flaws and vulnerabilities, with limited knowledge and understanding of who she is.

This is something through which all who love must pass -- a time of disillusionment, and it stings. One way to help your daughter as she slouches through this stage into maturity is to have compassion. For a time she may lose the hero she once thought you were, but you are losing the image of yourself as her hero. It's normal to mourn the passing of this season. But don't blame yourself because your daughter's eyes are opening. You've given her the courage to trust her own perceptions, to begin the hard work of seeing people, not as she merely wants them to be, but for who they really are.

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 HYPERLINK "mailto:catherinehicks@wwub.com"catherinehicks@wwub.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.

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