I went to lunch with a friend of mine yesterday who has a 13-year-old daughter. While discussing their current relationship and how tense it can be at times, my friend kept expressing feelings of inadequacy as a parent to a teenage girl. But how can that be? She was once a teenage girl herself, and not too long ago. Why is this relationship so challenging and defeating?
My answer? There’s a hidden wall blocking you. Not a wall between the daughter and mother, yes that is there too. But another wall with just yourself that I like to call your Frosted Glass. Let me explain…
Your child is experiencing something new—and often: new emotions, new responsibilities, new stressors. She’ll have new fears, new unknowns, new friends, and grief over lost friends. It’s a lot. The last thing you want your child to feel is annoyed, angry, inadequate, shamed, disappointed, and not heard or understood.
So, what can you do as the parent? Straight from the source, your daughter (or son) wants to make it clear that they are not you. You are not the same person. This needs to be understood.
What if I told you that there is a wall between the two of you that only you can tear down? This wall is somewhat see-through, like frosted glass, and separates you from your former self, which in turn, separates you from your teen because it keeps you disconnected from what it is like to be a teenager. You can see yourself on the other side, but it’s all a bit fuzzy. You can see a shape, you can distinguish colors, but you can’t see the details, just like frosted glass.
You can remember your teenage years, but because of your growth and experience, you are unable to see the details of associated events—the very real, intense emotions you felt, the dynamic of relationships you were in, the stress you felt at the time and reactions you had in those distant moments. You can now look back at some of these memories and think of how you would do them differently. You now have knowledge that has made certain situations easier to deal with today. You can probably remember something as hard or sad, but you can’t literally attach and feel today the emotions you felt at the time. Although you might abstractly recognize the figure on the other side of the glass, it just isn’t completely clear.
Each year that you grow further from your teenage years, the glass becomes more frosted. This is a good thing. It symbolizes growth, strength, and healing. However, this comes with a negative (as most things do, right?). With that distance, you are unable to truly connect with what your teenager is going through today.
Not only do you have years of experience but add in that today’s culture is extremely different from when you were a young teen, and you are not the same person as your child either. Some of us still forget that: Your child is an individual person, not part of you. There will be things that you just can’t understand, and they may react to situations differently from how you did. Maybe you can remember or relate in the abstract, but you don’t actually know what they’re going through.
Instead of lecturing, trying to relate (through one-ups or put-downs), or dismissing your teen’s problems, try offering an empathetic ear. Listen. Validate their feelings and concentrate on those feelings rather than the content.
The best thing with the frosted glass is that you can see the image. You can remember your own story and heartache, so it gives you the ability to understand, empathize, and connect with your child when they are feeling something big. You just have to remember that it isn’t about your heartache; it’s about theirs. By expressing empathy and listening intently, you’ll have a higher chance of forging a connection with your kids. Sometimes that can turn into a conversation where you do share your hardships and your memories, and they get to see a version of you that they weren’t allowing themselves to see before.