3 things you can stop doing right now to improve your relationship with your teen daughter
Recently someone asked me if there was anything in particular I would say is a common theme in parent relationships with their teen daughter that is actually not helpful. I spent some time thinking about some of the feedback I have received over the years that tends to line up with research and here are 3 patterns you can stop doing that will improve the connection to your daughter.
It's easy to get caught up in them but with some active attention you can make changes that will help.
Stop trying to be her best friend
It is not healthy or realistic to think that your teen daughter will reveal every detail of her life to you as she might to a best friend. This can be heart-breaking, especially for moms.
The teen years are about appropriate separation and independence. You want her to be able to manage more of her self and life without you involved in every step. This should increase each year.
She needs you to be her parent. She needs your guidance and wisdom and needs you to be stable and strong. She needs consistency in the relationship, and to be able to explore her views about herself and the world.
Girls know when her parent is trying to be something other then a parent and they don’t like it. Yes, she is growing up and thinking more and more for herself but she isn’t a grown-up and needs you to be that in her life. She needs you to have your own life, with your own friends. She can’t be your everything. She feels it when you put her in that role and she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings but she wants you to stop.
It's common in divorce situations for one or both parents to depend too much on their daughters for emotional support. She feels it and it pushes her away. Worse, she may end up believing she needs to take care of her parent and takes on a care-giving role.
Stop invalidating her emotional experience
This is one of the hardest yet most effective relationship game-changers. Her emotional experience is her emotional experience. It’s not good, bad, right or wrong… it just may be different then yours or others.
When you tell her to stop feeling something that she is already feeling, it is incredibly hurtful and damaging to the relationship. If she is scared and you tell her she shouldn’t be, it confuses her because she IS scared.
You are MUCH better off validating her emotional experience and saying very little then to tell her how she should or shouldn’t feel. Teen girl's emotions tend to be all over the place because she is developing and learning about her emotional experience so it makes sense her emotions might be up and down.
Validation isn’t agreement. It’s about communicating to her that you hear her and you are trying to be empathetic to how she might be feeling in any given circumstance based on who she is and her history.
Validation reduces her anxiety; invalidation increases it and makes her emotions worse. You will build a much deeper connection by learning how to validate her emotions.
Think about how it makes you feel when you are upset and someone tells you to get over it or that you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Or worse… that it is stupid for you to feel that way; especially if they say these things to you a lot. Does it make you want to talk to that person more? Probably not.
If you can learn to listen more, talk less and reflect her emotions instead of trying to change them, you will be very surprised at how it can help.
Stop planning her life for her
Girls can begin to feel this pressure in middle school and it typically gets worse over time. Almost every parent has some vision for his or her child. That is very normal and intentions are often good. A common problem is that parents have a difficult time letting their daughter choose her path. That can be very scary!!
People pleasing daughters will not tell you NO and will not tell you that the pressure is too much but they will pull back from you just enough that you aren’t as connected as you could be. It's protection. She is too scared to use words so instead she uses distance. If your approach is overly aggressive, expect this response.
She needs the space to explore her self and what makes her tick. This will help her develop a plan based on who she is and what she is about. If mom and/or dad are constantly in her ear about what she should or shouldn’t be doing this can create a lot of unnecessary anxiety and can cause her to be delayed in many life skills.
It’s important to think about what you really hope for her life. Feedback is good if it’s helpful. If you observe her strengths, its great to give her that info. But if she is super creative and drawn to design and you think being a nurse is a solid career so you push nursing, you may end up weakening your relationship with her.
Arguing over these issues can just make it worse and push her away. I've worked with girls in their late 20's who allowed their parents to dictate their life and the result is deep depression and anger. She may give up the control freely in her teen years and then become extremely resentful in her 20's when she has felt life has been planned for her and it's not turning out well.
Sometimes it's just one parent that has strong opinions about her life direction. It's OK to express it but be careful to watch how she is responding to it.
All of these are common parenting problems that when resolved will greatly improve the quality of your relationship with your daughter. The answer is simple, but the implementation is hard. When you do them, she will feel the shift and it should cause her to relax in the relationship with you.