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Teen Parenting 101

Excerpted from

Trust Me, Mom-Everyone Else Is Going!: The New Rules for Mothering Adolescent Girls


All too often, mothers struggle through one touchy conversation after another and make a seemingly endless series of difficult decisions without ever getting clearer about their goals for bringing up daughters. Some focus on the "trees" of raising teenage girls; that is, they deal with rock concerts, first dates, drinking parties, driver's licenses, and body piercing. But they rarely step back and get a good look at the whole forest, perhaps because they are too busy putting out daily brushfires. Others become overwhelmed, floundering without obvious parenting objectives, or adopt rather rote or unthinking responses. Still other mothers panic and lay down the law. Yet it is more pragmatic to think through what you are hoping to accomplish with your daughter, tailoring your mothering approach to your own values and expectations, as well as to her unique personality and needs.

That way, when you utter that detestable little syllable ("No!"), prompting her to protest that you are "totally unfair," that "nobody else's parents have these stupid rules," or that you are "completely ridiculous," all of your preparatory thinking will bolster you. You will be able to take a deep breath and calmly review all your reasons for that decision. Identifying and clarifying your own principles before your daughter challenges them is therefore like depositing money in the bank. In a pinch, you can rely on those reserves.

Down Memory Lane

The first task is reflecting on how your own past is influencing your mothering. That is because, unlike your daughter's father, at one time you too were a teenage girl. You probably had the experience of being raised by a mother and negotiating a relationship with her throughout the teenage years. This shared experience may offer you the advantage of being able to relate better to your daughter during her adolescence and perhaps empathize more easily with her. But with this comes the risk of attributing to your daughter your own thoughts and feelings about mothering and being mothered, without really learning hers. That is why it is so crucial to sort through your memories.

For example, how did your experience of being a teenage daughter shape your expectations about what happens between mothers and girls during these years? At various times in the course of your growing up, you may recall thinking that your mother babied you, seemed appropriately in tune with your needs, was too intrusive in your life, or gave you the breathing space you wanted. You may purposely emulate what you admired and enjoyed about your mother's style and, in an effort to avoid replicating unpleasant aspects of your adolescence, consciously try to be different in other ways. Of course, while finding the most comfortable approach for you, you must also consider what best suits your daughter. In fact, it is often the match between a mother and a daughter, especially their temperaments, that shapes the partnership they form. As you will see in the following stories, it is helpful to become aware of how your parenting tendencies have been influenced by how you were raised.

When Ingrid, forty-seven, was growing up, she felt removed from a mother whom she perceived as rather cold and distant. She says, "I think if my mother and I were closer, if we had more of a relationship, I would have wanted to please her more." Looking back, she attributes much of her teenage misbehavior to her mother's attitude. "As it was, I couldn't have cared less about being rebellious," she explains. "I did whatever I pleased." Ingrid is not gleeful when she says this, but somewhat sheepish and regretful. Determined not to repeat this sort of hands-off parenting style with her own daughter, who is now ten, Ingrid says, "I try to be open with her and very involved in her activities. I stress how much I want us to talk, and hope she will feel comfortable coming to me with any questions or problems she has."

  • How did you feel about your own mother during your teenage years? Did you perceive her as understanding, loving, fair-minded, or knowledgeable?

  • Looking back, how do you feel about your upbringing?

  • How does this influence your mothering of your own daughter?

If you believe you were wild during your adolescence, you may now be bound and determined to prevent your daughter from having the same experiences you did. Heidi, now fifty, was a self-proclaimed hippie in the late '60s who is raising two daughters on her own. She says, "There's no way I want my daughters around the crazy stuff I was into. I'm going to keep track of what they're doing and who they're doing it with. They won't even go to the corner by themselves for a long time!" If you share this background, perhaps your greater awareness of the risks will make you stricter and more vigilant than if you had been sheltered as a teen.

  • Were your parents strict, from the old school, relatively permissive, or inconsistent?

  • Were rules established? Did you break them and, if so, how rebellious were you?

  • How are these issues affecting your expectations for your daughter?

Maybe you were a goody-goody during your teenage years, rarely giving your parents any trouble. You may have conformed easily to your mother's expectations, reluctant (or even afraid) to venture beyond the boundaries. If you were timid or self-contained, you may have avoided testing the social waters. In this case, you may be astounded by having a daughter who is boy crazy at thirteen. Denise, fifty-one, says, "I'm appalled! I refuse to believe this is my daughter who is constantly calling boys. She's practically obsessed with getting a date to the eighth-grade dance. I've even heard from other mothers that she sits on boys' laps at youth group meetings!" Particularly when their girls' behavior seems alien, many a mother has asked, "Where did my daughter come from?"

  • How different were you from your mother in terms of temperament and interests?

  • Did you try to gain your mother's approval? Why, or why not?

  • How aware and accepting are you of differences between you and your daughter?

If you were raised by overly restrictive parents, you may be inclined to give your daughter plenty of freedom. Remembering how trapped or angry you felt, you may bend over backward to avoid putting your daughter in that position. For some time, I worked with a woman who grew up with a harsh, critical, and occasionally abusive mother. Although Patrice had come to terms with her upbringing during a course of therapy in her twenties, when her own children became teenagers her distress returned. She could not bring herself to reprimand them, to set the mildest of limits, even to say no. As she described it, "I feel so mean if I disappoint my kids. I know it's bad, but I want to be so different from my mother that it's hard for me to discipline them." This is one of those instances when you must beware of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction.

Does Your Parenting Need Fine-tuning?

Your evaluation of your own mothering is undoubtedly influenced by what the experts describe as ideal. You probably try as much as possible for a balanced approach, aiming for that middle spot on any parenting continuum that is considered best for raising children. As mentioned in the last chapter, however, no mother is perfect. Like Patrice, who sees herself as a pushover and knows she should be stricter, you are probably inclined to err at one extreme or another in your interactions with your daughter. Most girls recognize rather readily their parents' natural styles and learn to adjust to their quirks. With the stress of your daughter's adolescence, however, these less desirable tendencies may occasionally be exaggerated, interfering with your ability to maintain relationship with her.

These questions are offered, therefore, to guide you in assessing how you might monitor your parenting approach and make adjustments, if necessary, during your daughters teenage years:

Am I Appropriately Involved in My Daughter's Life?

Each mother brings to the mother-daughter relationship ideas about how much participation is desired and expected. Partly, this will be based on your experiences with your own mother, as just discussed. For example, are both you and your daughter comfortable with how much you know about her friends, classes, and emotional life? Are you in sync around how much sympathy, advice, or homework help she wants? Perhaps you feel confident in this area. But when you go through difficult times or feel anxious, you may tend either to become overinvolved or, conversely, to withdraw from her.

Obviously, your participation in your daughter's life is one way you demonstrate how much you care about her. This loving concern not only helps her to feel comfortable exploring her environment, but also encourages her to develop sympathy, compassion, and emotional responsiveness and, therefore, to relate well to others. If your daughter is comfortable with your degree of involvement-that is, if she thinks you are neither too distant nor overly connected with her-she will perceive you as benevolent. Your daughter will then want to maintain your good opinion of her. To do so, she may be more eager to take your views and beliefs to heart and more motivated to embrace your ethical standards. Thus, your appropriate involvement also increases the likelihood of your daughter behaving according to your values.

At the other extreme, when mothers are indifferent, aloof, or even hostile, girls are uneasy around adults and less inclined to adopt parental values. Rowena, sixteen, says, "My mom and I have never gotten along. She's always criticizing everything I do. I know I can't please her, so I've just given up. Why bother?" Similarly, according to Lara, twelve, "My parents always lecture me and they think that'll get me to do better in school, but that just makes me mad. It's not like they're willing to help me. They say they'll get me the printer paper or foam boards I need, but then they don't."

Tags: Parenting and Families