By Debby Shulman
There is nothing like a little teenage tumult, a bit of adolescent anger and an array of attitude to make an otherwise patient mother reassess her parenting technique. It seemed that without warning, what was working for 14 years had suddenly backfired and I was left feeling like everything I did and said resulted in the rolling of the eye balls, the forced, thumping march back to the bedroom and the (overly) exaggerated slamming of the bedroom door.
Blindsided by what was happening, my two older boys had been somewhat easier in this area of development.
I tried different things to predict the behavior, deal with the sneer and to try and figure out ways to tap into that hormonal chasm.
So I tried “Hip Mom” which included late night trips to McDonald’s – we could be alone in the car, I could listen intently without interruption about what was troubling her and we could gorge on sodium and the crystal meth they put into their diet coke. That worked for about a week. Then I tried the “Sympathetic Mom” where I ooohhh’d and ahhhh’d over different stories that centered around tales from the hallway and who had posted something stupid on Facebook. That didn’t provide the results or the respite from the unpredictable outbursts either.
Finally I tried “Friend Mom” and we all know how that one ended … I crashed and burned; a victim of my own criticism about how mothers should never, ever be their daughter’s friend.
There was no way I was going to survive that costume change. I was completely lost and desperate to find a way to communicate with the stranger that was currently sleeping in my daughter’s bed. I did not like her, I cowered when she walked into the room, I caved to things I knew I ordinarily did not approve of, and I skulked away if it looked like she was going to blow. And then I woke up, took a good whiff of what was going on in my house, and returned to normal.
Honey, the bitch was back.
Boot camp was in session and I was the drill sergeant from hell. There was going to be no more coddling, no more ‘Talky-Feely Mommy’ no more special meals because she had turned vegetarian in a fit of post-camp traumatic distress.
Nope … I was going back to what had worked for years and years without so much as a hiccup. Back came the rules, the demand for respect and the absence of something that looked and smelled like Mom but acted way too nice. I was so happy to be back … but I did have one issue that I had to address that was definitely something I had been doing that needed some retouching: I gave too much advice. Who knew? Jewish mothers are bred to give advice; we give advice on things we have absolutely no knowledge of, we offer up words of wisdom without being asked, and we truly believe we are always right. That was something she did not need and did not want. A close confidant said to me, “Stop advising and just start listening.”
Um … How could I have not thought of that myself? Probably because I was too busy talking.
So I did. I caught myself several times dispensing my age-old wisdom on the perils of high school, (“Oh honey, here’s what you need to do…”) and then I stopped. I caught on. She wanted someone to listen and intervene when she asked. She didn’t want to know what I thought she should do, she wanted to figure it out for herself and simply tell me about it. I started nodding my head a lot and asking what she planned to do about the Issue du Jour. I stayed quiet until she asked out loud, very clearly, for advice. And during this whole process, I maintained my role as Chief Executive Officer of Her Life.
I was still in charge, I was insisting that she maintain a level of respect that was acceptable to all of us, and I held her accountable for everything from leaving her crap all over my house to her grades.
Okay, so it’s not all working yet, but I have hope.
I am also aware of doing this in my friendships. Not everyone wants advice — they’ll ask for it. Sometimes my friends need an ear, or a coffee, or a really strong drink. They will let me know if they want to hear what I have to say and in the meantime, while I was already a very decent listener, I have become a more empathic one.
Perhaps it is the time in my life where it is clear that we (adolescent daughters and menopausal mothers) are all dealing with a lot stuff we just don’t understand all the time.
Being able to talk about it and not expect anything in return except having your friend just listen is what it is all about.; sage advice from my close friend who offered wonderful wisdom when I actually asked for it. It’s working.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.