Where Our Stories Intersect

For a long while now I have refrained from blogging much about my teenage daughter, feeling that her privacy trumped any need I had to vent.  It is foolish, though, to suppose I would be able to completely remove the impact of her choices, experiences, and behavior from my day-to-day life and struggles of being a mother.

Increasingly, parenting this child has started to affect everything I feel about being a mother, even to my younger children.  Her story is starting to change my story, and in response I need to express a little of how that makes me feel.

I am, first of all, fairly dumbfounded.  I think I have expressed this here before – my complete wonder at how quickly my daughter seemed to erect a mean, thorny wall to keep me out.  I didn’t see it built in stages, it was almost an overnight construction.  I have always been reluctant to subscribe to popular Child-Rearing Inevitabilities to explain or excuse unacceptable behavior (I especially hate phrases like “boys will be boys”), and I felt – with effort – we might be able to navigate through the teenage years with relatively few scrapes.  I laid the groundwork early; I talked often and openly with my daughter.  Our communication was something others would often recognize and praise.  I myself felt a righteous pride in how hard I worked to be a good mother, how much I thought about her feelings, her perspective.  I never wrote her off, I always treated her with respect and taught her to respect herself as well.  I am not saying I was perfect – I sometimes yelled, was less than patient, not always very charitable.  But overall, I really felt we had built a strong foundation.

Now I’m hoping that foundation will weather the storm currently raging within our relationship.  For the past 8 months she has attempted to systematically push at every boundary we’ve ever placed as our expectations for her.  The way she behaves towards us, her siblings, her commitment to school, her commitment to living church standards – all have suffered from her deliberate attempts to either toe the line as closely as possible, or simply step over them altogether.  Her choices have left her almost unrecognizable to me at times.  It has hurt and confused her siblings.  It has left a spirit of animosity and contention in our home.

If I had expected some challenge to boundaries (and I did…I am not a *complete* Pollyanna when it comes to parenting!), I definitely did not expect her reaction to our attempts to discipline her.  Even when all we are trying to do is sit down and talk with her, she turns cold as ice.  She will not respond when asked a question, she will not comment or share how she feels.  She looks past us with a glazed look, or when she does meet our eyes, her attitude is totally dismissive – like we are little, tiny, inconsequential ants.  I cannot tell you how that kills me.  I would almost rather her yell and steam and rail against us.  That would at least mean she was connected to the situation, that she was engaged, and that we were located somewhere with her on that rope in tug-of-war.  But as it is now, she’s nowhere near us when we try to communicate with her.  She is beyond feeling.  I have retreated to my closet in tears so many times because of this.

There are moments when I see small glimpses of the girl I knew.  Without being asked, she will do some random chore at home and then make sure that I know it was her.  I don’t think she draws attention to herself to solicit praise – I think it’s her way of saying, “*I* did this for *you*.”  And I still see some very tender exchanges between her and her siblings – moments when she forgets her self-absorbtion and shows that she values these relationships.  Very infrequently – but still, I treasure the occasions – she will actually show signs of attention while we are reading our scriptures or having Family Home Evening, and she will make a comment or ask a question or share a thought.  And she still shares trivial tidbits of her day with me every afternoon after school.  It’s never very deep or personally revealing, but I always listen intently, because I’m eager for anything she is willing to share without prompting or prodding.

I know there are easily-said words of encouragement to fit this situation – “it will pass,” “it’s just a stage,” “it’s totally normal.”  I’ve said these same things to myself a thousand times, and though they sound almost hollow by now, I still believe they are mostly true.  It’s just that it doesn’t help much with the daily manuevers required to keep the peace with her.  I get mentally and emotionally exausted trying to balance all that I am to her – I want to be stern, yet loving.  I want to teach her to do Heavenly Father’s will, yet allow her the right to free agency.  I want to guide her without restricting her spirit.  I want to attend to her without leaving myself drained for my other children.  This is unbelievably hard work.

In some ways, it is liberating to admit that we are having such a struggle at home.  But honestly, it’s a little embarrasing, too.  I feel like such a failure some days.  Why can’t I anticipate every small situation that must be met or averted or undone?  Why can’t I reach her when I try to talk to her?  Why can’t I seem to figure out what will get her to connect, to speak to us, to help her get outside her own head?

I spend an inordinate amount of time feeling sad about this whole situation.  I feel I’ve lost someone I knew and loved – there is a strange grieving process I’ve entered.  I am sometimes tempted to take the situation at face value, and I wonder aloud if things will ever change dramatically for the better.  These are admittedly some pretty pathetic thoughts.

On days when I’m feeling much more optimistic, I think of things I’d like to try in an attempt to change tack:  listen more than I speak, be more forgiving and choose more carefully what situations NEED to be addressed, be less critical, be *much* less vocal to the other children about my troubles with our daughter (they do NOT need to feel like they have to choose sides!), pray, pray, pray, and pray, and simply love this child to death.  Refuse to let her push me away.  Express my love to her frequently, be affectionate even if it seems unwelcome.  Include her in family activities (don’t let her use some lame excuse to get out of it).  Put her in places where she will feel the Spirit.  Praise her worthy attributes.  Recognize her efforts to help others.  Give her opportunities to serve.

The challenge for me is to be stronger than the hurt I feel, the confusion that consumes me, and the insecurity I feel about my ability to actually succeed with her.  Gone are the days of the ready praise for me as “the best mom on earth!”  No more scribbled drawings of me and her holding hands, a big, wobbly heart drawn around our scene.  It is infinitely harder these days to get a giggle or even a sincere smile from her, and a vanilla cone at Sonic does little to serve as a bonding experience.  The stakes are much higher now, and however my heart breaks, I need to believe that I still have some influence over her story, and mine.  I need to believe that it will still end with a Happily Ever After.

  • Jamie

    Aww, Stacey, I’m sorry you’re both (all) going through a rough time right now. Parenting is not easy… it seems there is always a new phase with new difficulties to overcome. And the teen years are especially rough (for both parents and the teen). Perhaps the recent transition to Texas has been hard on her too.

    Anyway, I don’t have any advice, but I think that you are on the right track with some of your ideas on how best to navigate this difficult season — PRAY, encourage her, keep the lines of communication open as much as you can, and just hang in there.

  • LCM

    I think I recognized early on, that my parents lost control of a few of their kids and my mom beat herself up, is mormon guilt worse than every other kind or does my mom have a knack for making it worse? I resolved to parent in a way that I knew I had done everything I could and then recognize they do have their own choices. I also REALLY worry about when my girls get older. I see some of the behaviors that my YW exhibit and I think, will I be able to deal with that from my own girls?
    Admitting you have problems at home only makes you human, and more likeable. Is there anyone she could talk to? A favorite aunt, someone who can listen and presumably offer good advice.
    Oh and definitely don’t talk with your kids. My mom does that now, like I am an awful person and calls me “her”. And I am one of the good ones!

  • Jen

    If there’s anything you can think of that we, as her YW leaders, could do to help out, just let us know.

  • Melissa

    Thank you Stacey! I have trouble putting my thoughts into words, but here you have done it for me. I have seen and felt the “ice” enter the room when I talk with our oldest. I have seen the glazed look. I have watched as loving words for his siblings have become all sarcasm. I feel the hurt and grieve for the way he *used* to be and long for that child to come back. It is embarrassing to admit to problems like these in our home, but by doing so we as Moms can know that we are not alone even in this. Thank you!! I do have a funny story that my child’s middle school sent home last year and talks about this with humor…I read it often! I will have to make a copy for you.

  • Hey, thanks for visiting my place! I am scared to death of teenagers moving into my house. I don’t know that I am even doing enough to prepare, as you did, for the rough patches. It looks like you are doing all you can, and that things WILL improve, if this is teen angst. Angst is exhausting, and she will have to tire of it sometime. Could there be something else at work? Could something have happened that she isn’t talking about? Maybe she could talk with a young Women’s leader about stuff if she won’t talk to you.

    Do hang in there. It sounds like she is lucky to have a Mom who cares so much, and is willing to work so hard.

  • There is a book called Christlike Parenting (I forget who wrote it) that addresses this very scenario. I read it long before I had a teenager and I need to dig it out and read it again but it is a great book for helping parents know just how to act in this situation. It can be so darn painful and bewildering so it is nice to have guidance like this. I am sure they have it at all LDS bookstores. Thanks for visiting my blog and good luck with your girl–I live in dread of when mine gets to that point!

  • lusciouschaos

    Okay my 12 year old daughter bit my son on the shoulder and an hour later was all over making sure I wasn’t “too hard” on him. I know what is coming. I do believe they are listening even when the eyes are rolling. If you quit talking they would become frightened–it would mean you have given up and don’t care.
    All the best,
    Another Stacey

  • Mom

    Stac…I hear you…….so does Miss H. xoxoxoxoxo

  • Christina

    Ask any mother of an Aquarian girl and I’m sure they will tell you the same story. Our #1 trait is detachment, right or wrong, it comes easy. I can’t even begin to explain why or how it happens, it just does. But take it from me, your sister and a now adult Aquarian woman…. we hear you 🙂 No matter how much the bounderies are tested… or better yet…catapulted over, she hears you. No matter how much you think you are talking to a wall, keep talking!!! My self confidence, faith, love, and moral fiber comes directly from Mom never giving up, even when she was *convinced* I wasn’t listening. I’m giving you back a gift you gave to me years ago…. “You MUST do the thing you think you can not do” . Just a part of it, but you know the rest 🙂 I love you my sister! You are an amazing Mommy, never doubt that! xoxoxo

  • Hi, I couldn’t just lurk and go on as my heart breaks for you and your daughter. You didn’t say how old she is and you didn’t ask for advice, so I will be careful to comment. My oldest daughter is 18 and we have been through small versions of this. I wonder if your daughter has too much influence outside of the home. For us, that was a problem. I respectfully disagree with Beeswax’s suggestion that she talk to someone else. She needs to draw closer to you. Deep in her heart she wants to. If you offer her an alternative she will continue to pull away. I pray God shows you what has caused the barriers and how to destroy them. Much love~

  • Naomi

    Hey, I’m back
    Sorry I have some catching up to do. My advice for you on this one (from the “other perspective”) is be consistent. You have rules and consequences that follow the breaking of them. They’re in place. Don’t stray from them. I think you were on to the “listen more” put a band-aid on your lips and open your ears. If she comes to talk to you it’s because she wants you to listen- not necessarily solve the issue. (if she confides something in you, however, don’t punish her. Help her rebuild. by confiding her heart is repentant)
    Stacey you are a GREAT mom. Don’t let the adversary try to make you think anything different.(I am saying this with great volume and emphasis)
    Go ahead and grieve. Your first is flapping her wings getting ready to fly away. She feels comfortable walking all over you because you have given her such a good secure environment. She knows you’ll love her NO MATTER what. Stretch Hefty BAG Stretch.
    I praise your efforts as a mother. Your relationship is changing, This is hard, she is trying to figure out where she fits and where she wants to fit. There will be things you have to turn over to the Lord, period. BE STRONG and unmoved by the wind her little wings make.
    Love ya, miss ya. Sorry about missing your birthday. Hope it was great! I’ll blog later.