Imagine walking into your teenager’s bedroom, stepping over their clothes and looking for clues of who they are and what interests them right now.
On their nightstand you see books. Two books you recognize because you bought them for their English class. The third book is new, one chosen by your child, and with growing curiosity you pick it up. Your heart stops and you feel a sudden pang as the title jumps out at you.
Dealing with a Difficult Mom.
Wow. That hurts. You know you’re not a perfect mom and that your relationship with your teen has room to grow (like any relationship), but seeing this book – and all the highlighted passages – triggers a new voice of self-doubt. In a blink, you question everything you once believed to be true. You ask yourself:
Is this really what my child thinks of me?
Is this a phase – or am I that terrible?
If I am terrible, who else thinks this about me?
Are we this far gone? I thought we were doing okay.
What now? How do I act normal after this painful revelation?
You still love your teenager, of course, but this moment cuts deep. You won’t forget it, and your instinct is to protect your heart, put up a guard, and keep the conversations topical to avoid more rejection.
The people we’re closest to have the most power to hurt us because we deeply care about what they think. As a result, the wounds can run deep, especially among family. Whether we act like it or not, we care what our children, parents, and siblings think of us.
And if you’re raising a teen, you may understand the warnings. As rewarding and fun as the teenage years can be, this is also a stressful, exhausting, and challenging season as we try to keep them alive, give them space, set rules and boundaries, help them make good choices, hold them accountable for poor choices, stay calm when they test, teach them how to stand on their own two feet, and cope with the intense emotional turmoil of letting go.
Still, I’ve often wondered why the conversations are overwhelmingly negative. The scripts get passed down from one generation to another, causing parents with babies and little ones to dread the teenage years. Parents commiserate over the agony, but the truth is, our teens are listening. They pick up on subtle clues and look for signs of what we really think about them. They hear how we talk about them and are aware of our social media posts.
And just as we might feel hurt seeing the Difficult Mom book on their nightstand, I imagine they’d feel the same seeing our parenting books with covers and titles that perpetuate the negative narrative. If my daughters walked into my room and saw a book titled Dealing with a Difficult Teenager, it would not warm their hearts, help our relationship, or inspire connection. If anything, their instinctive reaction would be self-preservation.
Protect your heart. Put up a guard. Keep your conversations topical to avoid more rejection.
Dr. Gary Chapman, in his brilliant book The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers, shares soul-stirring truth, including this one: “Show them love, and they will listen to your wisdom.”
I believe most disconnect between parents and teenagers begins when we 1) adopt and accept the negative mindsets and scripts perpetuated by society and 2) get so blinded by pride or showing them who’s boss that we fail to see and love them as real people. I’ve made this mistake, and it never ends well.
All it does is make the teenager close up and make the parent feel bad.
Too often, we vent about our teens to anyone who will listen. We unleash on our kids – calling them a spoiled brat or a pain in the butt – and lose credibility. I understand a parent’s breaking point and the need to voice frustration, and that’s why we all need safe places to vent (to a spouse, therapist, or steel-vault friend) so we can talk unfiltered and share a laugh as we admit what we wanted to say to our child versus what we actually said.
The challenge for parents is to admit our pain but not stay stuck in despair. Like many parents, I’ve cried, prayed, sought counsel, engaged in negative scripts, worried, stressed, doubted my decisions, and concluded that anything I do right is only by God’s grace. When I’m weak, and He is strong, and only through Him can any of us parent with a spirit of strength and hope, not passivity and defeat.
The messages we send to our teenagers matter. One thing I knew as I wrote this book for moms of teen girls was how I wanted to counter the negative scripts. I wanted an optimistic yet realistic perspective on the mother/daughter relationship and a book with a beautiful cover that we’d feel proud for our daughters to see.
When my publisher suggested Love Her Well as the final title, it hit home. I could imagine my daughters walking into my bedroom, seeing the book on my nightstand and thinking, “Aw, that’s sweet. I guess my mom really is trying. Maybe I should cut her a break.”
Donald Miller said, “Nobody will listen to you unless they sense that you like them.” With teenagers, who are highly attuned to opinions (especially their parents’) and already self-critical, being seen through a positive lens can change their self-image and attitude. By loving our teenagers well, we earn a voice in their life that builds a stronger relationship and empowers us to help them reach their highest potential.
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My new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter is getting a fantastic response as moms read it and tell all their girl mom friends to buy it. 2020 has challenged families, and this book is packed with advice to help you connect with your teen. Consider it for a Christmas gift or a 2021 book study. You can find it everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible (where I narrate the book!)
My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for studies. For more, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram and the Girl Mom podcast.
Posted by Kari on November 30, 2020