Inspired by an email from a friend last week asking about parenting her soon-to-be-teen daughter, I found this post from a few years ago that still speaks to how I feel today about my teenage daughters. I hope it inspires you to listen less to negative talk about the teenage years and enjoy your teen daughter more!
When my third daughter was born thirteen years ago, the warnings started coming in. “Girls are easier than boys when they’re little, but just WAIT until they’re teenagers! They’re SOOOOO hard.”
I heard horror stories about yelling, irrational behavior, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and many other issues some parents faced with their teenage daughters. In preparation for the years to come and to be informed while working with our teen campers, I attended talks on the topic and read many books about adolescence, including: Queen Bees & Wannabes (Rosalind Wiseman), Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (Mary Pipher, Ph.D.), Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Rachel Simmons), The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers do the Things They do (Lynn Ponton, M.D.), and The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (Madeline Levine, Ph.D.).
Just reading the titles of these books is enough to send shivers of fear up the spine of any parent of a soon-to-be teenager. But I wanted to learn different opinions and issues on the topic of adolescence. In the end, I didn’t get through every page of those books, but I learned some useful tidbits of information. I ended up parenting my girls the way that felt right to me, which was building a close, nurturing relationship. I was fortunate to have a great role model in my own mother, who nurtured me through childhood while keeping life fun, so it came naturally to me to smother my girls with affection and spend a lot of time talking with them. They get hugs every day and are tucked in every night (sometimes they have to tuck me in now, but it still counts!).
As of last week, I am now the mother of three teenage daughters (ages 13, 16, & 17). I LOVE HAVING TEENAGE DAUGHTERS. And I hope you understand that those capital letters mean I really, really love this time with them. I think other moms of teenage daughters must love it, too. I just haven’t read about much of the good stuff, so I thought I would share with you what I love about having teenage daughters. And hopefully those of you with younger daughters will be inspired to look forward to, and not fear, the teen years.
I like the way our relationship has evolved over the years. When they were younger, I was in charge, providing the structure to their days and rules to follow. It was a lot of work. Now, we’re in more of a democratic state, where they understand that we need their help to keep our home functioning. There’s not a strict bedtime, but each of them knows how important it is to get a good night’s sleep (I’ve drilled the brain research into them!). So, they get themselves to bed at a decent hour. They get themselves up each morning, pack their own lunches, and, in the case of the two older ones, drive themselves to school.
These days, a T.V. show, movie, or podcast that I would never have allowed them to watch or listen to a few years ago becomes an opportunity to discuss values and difficult issues. We talk about things that we wouldn’t have discussed when they were younger. They know my opinions, but they also know that they have the freedom to form their own. (Side note: Things we talked about when they were very young, like how disgusting and unhealthy smoking is, really sunk in. Apparently, kids really listen to you before they turn ten, so get a lot of good discussions in early!)
They share stories about their peers and what they are experiencing. I don’t freak out when they share a story about something disturbing that they saw or heard. Usually, it’s something similar to what I saw or heard when I was their age. We talk about it.
My teenage daughters do not yell at me or treat me disrespectfully. They willingly do chores and offer to give me extra help. They thank me for making dinner. They get along well with each other and have fun together. Yes, they get in bad moods sometimes, and so do I. We’ve talked about coping strategies. I’ve shared what helps me, and they’ve learned what works for them. I’ve always told them it’s normal for girls to have mood swings, so they don’t feel crazy when it happens.
I wish I could tell you the exact reasons why my teen daughters are the way they are. The younger ones say they watched their older sister(s).
Last week, I interviewed my oldest daughter, who will turn eighteen in January. I asked her why she turned out so well and didn’t fit some of the stereotypes of teenage girls. She had these nuggets of wisdom to share:
“Kids turn out the way parents expect them to. If you’re positive about your kids and treat them with respect, they’ll fulfill your expectations. If you expect them to be rude and disrespectful, then they’ll fulfill that, too.”
“Movies and T.V. shows set a really bad example of how kids treat parents, so not letting us watch too much when we were little was good. You also need to have a good example at home in your family.”
“Being around nice teenagers at camp, who were good role models, helped, too.”
“You need to find friends who are nice to their parents.”
“Teenage is an awkward phase for parents and kids. It’s better when it’s a relationship based on mutual respect and more of an adult-like relationship.”
So, there you go. Words of wisdom from a teenage daughter who has been pleasant to live with throughout her teenage years and is incredibly responsible.
My most recent teenager (the one who turned thirteen last week) had this wisdom to share when I asked her what parents of younger kids should do to make sure their girls are nice as teenagers:
“Girls whose parents are nice are nice.”
“You can’t let the talking back slide when they’re little.”
“Don’t give them everything they want.”
“Teach them to be grateful.”
If you have a teenage daughter and you’re struggling in any area, I hope you’ll take the time to reconnect and have fun together. And, if you have a younger daughter, I hope you’ll listen to the words of wisdom shared by my girls and not fear the upcoming teen years. These have been some of my favorite years as a mom.