A Perverse Measure of LOVE?

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Mother and teenage daughter arguing about housework

SOOOO many moms of teen girls lament the friction between them and their daughters especially when previously their relationship may have been warm and delightful. So here are some of thoughts and tips which may may make things smoother.

  1. Teen girls’ emotions are often out of calibration.  So, let’s say the drama at the lunch table is a size 4 drama, but our girl’s response is a size 9. We listen to her complaints/report on the situation and can’t figure out why she’s so upset. It’s helpful to keep in mind the enormous amount of development the teen brain does particularly with regard to feelings and relationships. Let’s say we asked a girl to place three situations on a scale from 1 to 10 with a 10 being the most emotionally painful. “How would you rank a hangnail, breaking up with your boyfriend and your mom having breast cancer”, we might ask. We’d be surprised that she could have difficulty sorting through such seemingly (at least to us) simple considerations. Why do we care? Because in social situations, we generally respond at the same level of urgency as the speaker presents the need. So if our girl presents a friend’s careless comment as an 8 on her emotional scale, are we to respond with an 8 level of concern? Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Omigosh, you’d better move schools. Maybe leave the state! THIS IS serious!” hoping humorously to point out the out-of-calibration of her distress. However, a better, more helpful response might be something like, “I’m a little confused about this. Your voice and your tears make me think this is a pretty terrible offense. But the words you’re telling me don’t seem that bad. Something seems out of sync. Am I missing something? You seem to be feeling an 8. Am I getting that right?” Sometime when she is not swept up in a dramatic situation, you may want to explain further about calibration and about how people decide how to respond based on the level of distress of someone we care about. Maybe even introduce the term, “girl drama!”
  2. We (parents) get confused about the difference between a complaint (this needs to be FIXED!) and a rant/venting (I need someone who cares about me to hear me out). Read more about this in Untangled by Lisa Damour  https://www.drlisadamour.com/untangled/ . When parents hear their kid in distress, the reflexive reaction is to help. But the overwhelming urge in most teens most of the time is to manage their own lives. They are NOT seeking suggestions or solutions. And, it turns out that listening IS doing something to help. Being able to vent allows a girl to off-load her bad feelings in a safe place at the same time she begins to sort through them for herself. One mom I know, when her girl begins to carry on, simply asks, “Is this something you want me to do something about or do you just need a safe spot to rant?”
  3. It is a perverse measure of love that the person (people) we love most is often the person we most heartily abuse. Teen girls have told me before to tell moms, “Don’t take it personally.” But it’s hard when the venom seems so toxic and so directly aimed at mom. Still, when we think about it, we can often acknowledge that we are much like our girls. We are likely to say things to our husband or our kids which we would NEVER say to anyone else.

So next time that darling girl of yours is on a tear, try saying to yourself, “See how much she loves me! See how much she trusts our relationship! Wow, I must be a great mom!”  Then seek a quiet moment or a good pal and tend your wounds!