It seems like overnight my only child and best friend can't stand me. How is it that my 16-year-old girl can treat me so poorly when I have done nothing to provoke her? She doesn't share anything about her life. She is very rude and disrespectful to her father and me, and she can even come off like a big bully at times. I get hurt and angry and I almost can't stand her. Help!
Terrorized by Teen
Many parents of teenage girls would tell you that your daughter's behavior is normal, and they wouldn't be wrong. It's fair to say that, in many respects, your daughter is "on schedule" with her belligerent and disrespectful attitude.
But that doesn't mean that you and your daughter have to be at war in the ways that you've described. The good news is that even if it seems like the only person capable of changing what's going on between the two of you is your daughter, you can make changes in your relationship, with or without her cooperation.
First, let me say in big, bold letters: Your daughter cannot be your best friend. Perhaps the two of you have been very close, but it is not appropriate for a child to perceived her parent as her closest friend. You are her mother. While the two of you may become like best friends as she moves further into adulthood, you have to create boundaries with your teenage daughter that clearly establish for her that you are her parent, not her friend. Pleading with her to be nice, or lecturing her on how you've done nothing to deserve her mistreatment, will only come across as needy and weak, fueling her contempt.
As you step into the role of being a caring parent who is able to support your daughter without needing her friendship, you will begin earning her respect. Until you do so, she will push you away with her disrespectful behavior in an attempt to differentiate herself from you. This is why she withholds information about what's going on in her life; she is trying to claim more independence and separation, and she believes you'll force unwanted advice upon her if she tells you what she's going through, rather than making yourself available for what she needs you to do: be a calm, caring sounding board to help her learn to work through her problems.
If your daughter speaks rudely to you, simply look at her with "that look" and ask her if she'd like to try a do-over. Don't get emotional or list the things you do for her that she doesn't appreciate. Simply state that she will need to try speaking to you more politely. If she rolls her eyes or walks away, don't follow her; let her begin to get a sense that your standards have shifted. The clearer and stronger you are -- without being wordy or whiny -- the sooner she'll get the message that she needs to clean up her act.
In addition, don't overlook the fact that hormones cause some teens to have awful mood swings. The less reactive you are to your daughter's rudeness, the better you'll be able to help her identify when she's "not herself" so that she can start taking responsibility for her actions and apologize when she's "possessed" and unleashes her dark side onto you and your husband.
Be clear, strong and, most of all, parental. Teenagers still need their parents as guides and advisers -- not friends. The more you define yourself as her parent and show her what is and isn't acceptable, the sooner things between you and your daughter will improve. Best of luck! The teen years are a wild ride, but it will get better.
This article first appeared in Susan Stiffelman's "Advice Mama" column at www.parentdish.com.