I sometimes think we should pass out signs to all the parents of girls at my daughter’s middle school and in her Girl Scout troop. The sign would say: Beware of the Teenage Girl.
Girl drama seems to follow teenage girls and their parents everywhere, including at home. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Parents, Colleen O’Grady says, are often given “powerless parenting messages.” The Houston therapist wrote the book “Dial Down the Drama: Reducing Conflict and Reconnecting with Your Teenage Daughter.” ($16.95, American Management Systems”
When a parent is engaged in powerless parenting, “Mom feels like it’s all on her shoulders,” she says.
O’Grady wants moms of teenage girls currently stuck in the drama to look at themselves, not just their daughters. She wants them to be role models of a healthy person to their daughters by practicing self-care.
When she reads other parenting books, the books talk about different techniques and theories, but she says, “they don’t pay attention to the person of Mom. We are the parenting tool; we are the model. It’s who we are.”
“There are cultural messages that keep Mom exhausted,” O’Grady says. Those messages include: “It’s selfish to pay attention to me.” “I just need to put myself last on the list.” “It’s my job to worry and stress all the time.” “Everything has to be perfect.” “I have to get everything just right.”
Being perfect is not possible. Getting everything perfect is not possible.
If you’re stressed as a mom worrying about all the things you have to do as a mom and worrying all the hypothetical things that could happen to your daughter, you’re not able to be the best you. Then you add that your daughter is also stressed as a teenage girl because the pressures on her academically and socially is even more than it was just 10 years ago. Both mothers and daughters also are overscheduled with little to no downtime.
It becomes one big ball of stress, with your stress and your daughter’s stress feeding off of each other.
“Stress is really a precursor to trauma,” O’Grady says.
Moms also become wrapped up in their daughter’s lives in ways that are not healthy. “We can get wrapped up around how they perform and how they are doing,” O’Grady says. “We can feel shame around other parents about our girls if we don’t feel that they are measuring up.”
Often, Moms can become hypervigilant, hypercritical of everything their daughter does.
Moms, O’Grady says, start out being excited that they are going to have a girl and think she’ll be just like them. They envision a world of being very close to their daughters. At first, their daughters let them dress them and want to do things with them, but the teenage years are all about separating from parents and creating their own identity. Suddenly, “they’ll hide out in their rooms and hope you’ll go away” or they’ll challenge everything you believe.
Because you’re so tuned into her and she’s so tuned into you,” she knows the kind of mood you’re in by how you open the door and you know by the way she puts her books down.”
What O’Grady wants moms to do is become intentional, rather than reactionary in their parenting.
“If either you or your teen are emotionally flooded, you can’t accomplish anything,” she says. “You’re just going to escalate the drama.”
Everything for both of you becomes extremes: “that’s the worst,” “you never do this,” “you always do that.”
Instead, it’s about taking the deep breath and parenting in a clear way, not out of fear, not as a reaction.
There’s no way to parent if Mom is stressed or exhausted. Figure out how to be present, how to be fulfilled. You might need to take a step back and come back to the problem later.
O’Grady also wants moms to stop parenting all alone. Seek outside resources and help. That might mean a therapist for you or for her.
It also might means that in addition to you being a healthy role model, your daughter should be surrounded by other adults who are healthy. They should have connections with teachers and coaches and other relatives who are not you.
And remember, your life cannot be only about the kids. You have to take care of yourself.
O’Grady should know. Her own teenage daughter is 21 and O’Grady started writing the book when she was 15. She had to readjust her parenting around the time her daughter turned 11. “I had to do something completely different,” she says. “I could see I had lost it.”
She says, she did some soul-searching and began doing what she tells parents to do.
She started finding positive experiences every day, even if it was just 20 minutes of doing something positive for herself.
She also found ways to reconnect with her daughter. The great thing about teens is they are full of life, full of adventure and hilarious, O’Grady says. “They can add a lot to our lives,” she says.
For her, that meant not going to the same coffee shop all the time, but letting her daughter help her branch out by creating an adventure of finding a new coffee shop to try together each time. “They can wake adults up from their doldrums,” O’Grady says.