As an older parent via adoption, I am desperate for suggestions that will help me stop butting heads with my 13-year-old. She just had her first period ten days ago. I haven't had a period for about four months. We are both quite hormonal and both strong-willed. Even asking her to flush the toilet creates drama. We also have a 10-year-old who is getting lost in all this, as she's quite passive and avoids any and all conflict. My husband has said (probably only half-jokingly) that he'd like to move to the garage for the next six years or so. Help!
Forgive me for smiling just a little as I read your email. Sometimes, I find the timing of life events -- like the hormone roller coaster you and your daughter are on at the same time -- to be so impossible that all I can do is just shake my head. You poor woman! I can hardly imagine how you -- and your daughter -- are dealing, and commend you for keeping a sense of humor about the challenges you're facing.
Here's my advice:
• First and foremost, let your motto be "This, too, shall pass." Your daughter's moods will even out, your hormones will stabilize and you will get through this rough patch. Make "This, too, shall pass" your mantra. Text it to yourself throughout the day. Post it on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror. Talk with parents who have lived to tell the tale about this difficult phase. Our parenting difficulties become intolerable when we imagine they will go on forever. This, too, shall pass.
• Don't take things personally. While you may be doing things that needlessly push your daughter's buttons, avoid the trap of taking your daughter's behavior personally. A friend told me that when he was chatting with his now 25-year-old daughter about how she was when she was 14, she confessed, "Dad, even if you were being nice and helping me fold my laundry, I felt like I wanted to lash out at you! It wasn't about you. I just felt angry and awful all the time, and you were a safe dumping ground for my crazy emotions." Your daughter has a developmental imperative to push against you as she individuates. It's not personal.
• Come alongside, rather than at. Imagine your daughter is walking around with an enormous button attached to her back that activates anger and defiance. At this stage -- both because she is dealing with life as a middle schooler and is flooded with hormones -- it will take very little to upset her. Try to avoid telling her what she should do. Be brief. Don't come across as desperate or needy. "It'd be great if you'd flush the toilet, honey," is far better than, "How many times do I have to tell you to flush the toilet after you use it? It's gross when I come in there to see what you've left. Can't you just remember to flush?"
• Strengthen connection. Believe it or not, your daughter needs you desperately. She is on a wild ride, and probably feels very uncomfortable in her own skin. The more she feels she can lean on you without being judged or scolded, the better she'll be able to relax. Look for things she enjoys that the two of you can do together. Bake, paint, hike or bike. Closeness will reduce some of the friction between you.
• Modify your expectations. I am not a fan of using war terminology when speaking about parenting ("Pick your battles!"), but I do think you would be well-served to let go of enforcing certain things on principle. If she doesn't flush the toilet, mention that you wish she would, but don't make it a power struggle. She may be itching for a fight. The less needy you are, the more empowered you will come across. I sometimes invite parents I work with to keep in mind these words: Amused and Indifferent. In other words, don't attach great meaning to every interaction. Expect her to be edgy and you'll be less disappointed if she is.
Trust me when I say that you will get through this. But in the meantime, make sure you have plenty of positive human contact with those whose presence is uplifting and supportive. You need and deserve it!
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