Mothers and daughters often enjoy a close relationship in the early years before adolescence. Once a girl becomes twelve or thirteen, she may become moody, extremely critical of her mother, and withdraw from physical affection. If this is happening between you and your daughter, please don’t be too concerned.
Your daughter is becoming a young woman and is going through great emotional, physical, social, and psychological changes. This is likely to be one of the hardest and most complicated times of her life. Now is the time when she needs you the most and yet, it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to be close to you.
It’s easy to mishandle this stage of development as a parent. You have to keep your cool if you are going to be of any help to your daughter, and if you’re going to maintain the strong bond between you. Here are some things for you to consider.
First, try to understand why she needs to be critical of you. She has spent the first twelve or thirteen years of her life doing everything she can to be just like you. In order for your daughter to become a young woman, she needs to separate from you. This is an important and absolutely necessary and healthy stage in her psychological development. She needs to develop her own identity. The first step in this process is to be different from you, and her criticisms are a way of saying she is not like you.
Please don’t take these criticisms personally because they are really not meant to hurt you. Her behavior is about her personal growth – it is not about you. If you react with hurt or anger, or try to punish her for her behavior, you will escalate the conflict. You will push her further away than she needs to go. This is a time when you have to put your own needs aside and allow your daughter the leeway to explore who she is.
Next, do everything you can to maintain the connection between you. Remember that she still needs you very much even though she won’t really admit it to you. Find ways of being together. Offer to drive her and her friends on their outings, go for lunch together, or watch a favorite TV program together. These are called anchor points. They anchor her to the solid foundation of your relationship while she examines her own personality and tries on different ways of being.
Third, be alert for times when she wants to talk to you. These times do happen if you are patient and wait for the opportunity. Learn how to be a good listener. You must be able to be quiet. This is not the time to lecture her about how critical she has been of you, or to bring up concerns about your relationship or her behavior.
If you can keep silent and listen actively, you’ll discover a lot about your daughter. She’ll share her feelings, fill you in on the events of her life, and tell you about the issues she’s struggling with. When she wants your input, she’ll ask for it so don’t offer unsolicited advice. Instead, simply say, “Tell me more” or “How do you think you’ll handle it?”. By listening in a supportive way, the conversation will continue and you’ll have created a wonderful opportunity to be close to her and to affirm who she is.
Fourth, realize that most of your active parenting is done. Your role has changed from one of manager to one of consultant. Your daughter is now trying out everything you’ve already taught her and she’s finding out for herself how to make decisions and accept responsibility for them. Don’t rob her of this experience. Let her make her mistakes just like you made yours at this age. Trust that she has been raised well and that the values you have modeled for her are sound. These are the values she’ll come back to.
Finally, remember that you are the most important person in your daughter’s life. She may not tell you this right now but it’s true. You are her model for being a woman; you are the person who has shaped who she is and who she will become. Be very careful with your words – they have tremendous power over her. Use your words to encourage her, to express your belief in her and to tell her of your love for her. Don’t forget to tell her you are proud of her.
This time in your daughter’s life won’t last too long. If you can follow these suggestions, your daughter will be able to do what she needs to do to become the beautiful young woman she is capable of becoming. She’ll then return to you as a friend as well as a daughter.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., C. Psych.