The surging hormones and emotional changes that frame our daughters' adolescence can feel like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes the "terrible teens" can dim the glow of the most confident moms. Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, co-author of I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate You!: A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict, offers her advice for bridging the mother-daughter divide during your daughter's teen years.
Q: In a recent interview you said that dads shouldn't step in when moms and daughters are having a conflict. Can you explain?
A: When dads intervene in a mother-daughter conflict, they usually end up doing one of two things: Either making the daughter feel ganged up on, or infuriating the mother because he sided with the daughter. Either way, dad loses -- and the conflict continues. If the conflict is truly between the mother and daughter, it's usually better for the dad to trust that they will work things out. It's a different story when the conflict is more of a general parenting issue. When family standards or expectations are at stake, dads and moms may choose to act together to enforce their beliefs.
Q: Do single moms with adolescent girls face different parenting challenges?
A: Single moms can face more challenges in raising adolescent girls. Besides the typical issues, single moms can be tempted to treat daughters as contemporaries or confidantes, sharing information or problems that aren't in the daughter's best interest.
When a mom is a teen's best friend, the teen may expect a life without limits. And when single mothers date, they're often subjected to their daughters' intense scrutiny and criticism, which come from adolescents' own hormonal urges, inner conflicts, and discomfort with all things sexual (especially thoughts of the words "sex" and "Mom" in the same sentence). Single moms have to walk a fine line between being close and being too chummy.
Q: What's the best way for mothers to handle a daughter's insulting outburst?
A: The most important thing for moms to remember during an outburst is to refrain from responding in kind. No matter what, moms need to stay in control in order to avoid having an argument escalate into a hurtful, ugly fight. To stop this from happening, moms might say, "I won't discuss this with you until you can talk civilly," and walk away. Later, moms and daughters can talk about whether there was any truth to the accusation. Most important, it's an opportunity for moms to teach their daughters that how they say something is just as important as what they say.
Q: Many teen girls complain that their mothers don't listen or respect what they have to say. How can daughters work on improving communication with their moms?
A: To improve communication with their moms, girls should choose their battles carefully (confronting their moms only when an issue is valid and important) and find a good time for a talk (not when moms walk in the door after work, after a disturbing phone call, or when she's rushing off to an appointment).
Girls should use a respectful tone of voice, and remember to listen carefully to what their moms say, too. Sometimes, they might have to say, "Mom, there's something really important I want to talk to you about. When would be a good time for you to listen to me?"
Moms need to be careful to not bring up these pointers for girls out of the clear blue sky, because they're likely to be met with rolled eyes. It might be better to wait until after a confrontation or argument and you're talking it over later. Mom can say that she is glad her daughter is bringing the issue to her attention, but she has some suggestions on how her daughter could be more effective--with people in general, not just mom.
To encourage her teenager, mom should make sure she does respond when daughters make an effort to improve their communication skills. Doing their part to improve communication will serve them well in other relationships in their lives.
Q: In your book, you tell moms not to act too "cool" with their daughters. Why do teenagers get upset when their moms try to be friends?
A: During adolescence, when girls are struggling to differentiate themselves from mothers and feel grown up, it's off-putting (to say the least) when mothers try too hard to be like teens! While they don't want to have the most hopelessly uncool mom on the block, they would be more humiliated by a mother who tries to look or act like a teen. Above all, adolescent girls need mothers to be consistent adults. The healthiest of relationships will be developed between moms and girls who respect the boundaries of the generations.