I have a friend who studied city planning and the purpose of bridges.
She explained how bridges are needed as a city grows and expands. They connect one part of a community to another and offer a safe passage.
We related this concept to raising teens – and why bridges matter in the parent-teen relationship. As a child grows up, their world expands and separates them from their family and familiar territory. They need bridges that take them home and safely back to the people who remind them of who they are.
As a writer for teen girls and a mom of three teen daughters, I’ve long looked for ways to build bridges between their hearts and mine. I’ve seen how disconnect begins when we try to give guidance without awareness of their thoughts, desires, and feelings.
Teenagers don’t care what we know until they know that we care, and one way we earn a voice in their lives (and build bridges that last) is by listening, empathizing, and putting ourselves in their shoes to understand what it’s like to be them.
So how do we tap into that inner world? How do we unlock the mystery of a teenage daughter? Clearly, every girl is unique, but as I surveyed girls on what lingers below the surface, they agreed on some common things they wish their mothers knew.
Years ago, I spoke to some fifth grade moms about teaching our daughters to build each other up.
I’d just been to a University of Alabama gymnastics meet, and what stood out to me was how these gymnasts cheered as their teammates did crazy acrobatics. Every time a girl nailed a tumbling pass, her teammates went berserk on the sidelines, screaming and jumping up and down. All I could think was how different our world would be if girls could always join forces like this and see themselves as part of the same team.
One mom, a successful entrepreneur, raised her hand when I finished my spiel and said, “Ladies, we’ve got to teach this to our daughters now. I have 50 female employees, and we just had to have a big pow-wow over this very issue. These are grown women who can’t get along, and it creates a very unpleasant work environment.”
It hit me then why it’s essential to teach our daughters early how to deal with drama and conflict. Little girls who can’t get along become big girls who can’t get along, and as they get older, the problems and stakes rise higher. How well we coach our daughters through the ups and downs of relationships has long-term consequences. It could make all the difference in whether they succeed or fail in their friendships, their marriage, and even their careers.
Through my work, I meet a lot of moms and daughters, and one conclusion I’ve drawn is that every community faces the same issues. The most common dilemma I see and hear about is the deep pain that evolves when girls hurt other girls.
I was pregnant with my third child and waiting to see the doctor.
In the waiting room, an older woman asked me if I knew the baby’s gender. As I told her it was a girl – my third daughter – she and two ladies nearby exchanged glances and moaned. They all had adolescent daughters, and with despair in their voices they told me:
“Just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re really in for it!”
I’d heard this cliché before, and I chalked these mothers up as Debbie Downers and forgot about their gloomy forecast until I started to hear this script again…and again…and again. You see, when you have four daughters like I do now, that is the #1 narrative that older moms share.
For years my goal was to prove them wrong. I promised myself, My daughters won’t be like that. We’ll always be close, and I will not look like these stressed out, strung out, exhausted moms in the throes of raising teenagers.
This goal seemed doable until my daughter started middle school and we started to fight – and I became the stressed out, exhausted mom of a teen girl. From the back of my mind, I pulled out the narrative that I’d heard too many times to count.
Those moms were right! Everyone has warned me about teenagers, and now their predictions are coming true! The answer, I assured myself, was to navigate this new teen territory by digging in my heels and firmly taking control. Otherwise, this daughter and her three sisters would walk all over me.
After all, it was my daughter’s attitude, moodiness, and sass that had disrupted our once loving dynamic. If anyone needed to change, it was her, not me.