I knew the parting had begun when a “playdate” became “hanging out.”
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Have you ever been turned into an audience? That is how my tween daughter, Lindsay, and I started feeling a few years ago when my teen daughter, Lauren, began squabbling with her mother more frequently.
During one of their particularly heated exchanges in our upstairs bathroom, Lindsay sat on my bed with me and said, “This is interesting to watch.” With a chuckle and a pass-the-popcorn gesture for me to move over so she could enjoy the show more comfortably, she added: “It’s like a movie … a movie called ‘Girl Pain.’”
Yes, and there will be many sequels, I thought, and little did Lindsay know that she would soon become a co-star as well. As for the rating? I suspect the films’ language will go from PG to PG-13 to R sooner than I’d like.
This scene popped into my mind while reading Lisa Damour’s helpful new book titled Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. To prepare before your tween or teen daughters become women, I suggest getting thee to a bookseller and reading it. The help begins on the opening page:
“We need a new way to talk about teenage girls, because the way people do it now isn’t fair to girls or helpful to their parents. . . I’m here to tell you that life with your teenage daughter doesn’t have to feel like a tangled mess. There is a predictable pattern to teenage development, a blueprint for how girls grow,” she writes, italics included.
Indeed, Damour provides a roadmap for parenting daughters through seven “strands of development.” The most bittersweet for me is “Parting with Childhood,” perhaps because my youngest recently started this rejection-of-the-parent process. I knew the parting had begun when a “playdate” became “hanging out.” In fact, one day she demanded that her mother “do the baby voice” when addressing her, but then said: “I’m not a baby.” As Damour counsels, however, this stage of development enables your daughter “to practice leaving her childhood relationship with you behind for several years before she actually has to strike out on her own.”
The later chapters explore ways to help build your daughters’ emotional intelligence, assertiveness, critical thinking, independence, and self-care. The section on middle school “drama” and popularity will make you think Damour has somehow been shadowing your daughter at school and hiding behind your curtains at home. Overall, my favorite formulation from the book involves honor: “Honoring your daughter’s complexity while reminding her of yours will keep the lines of communication open when you need them most.”
Yes, my new mantra (in my mind) during difficult parenting situations is “Honor my daughter’s complexity!” Sometimes I even throw imaginary arms in the air and bellow (to myself) “Complexity now!” Such perspective helps me remember that even though “Girl Pain” viewings may continue at my house for several more years, I shouldn’t forget about “Parent Pleasure” as well.
For example, there are upsides as my daughters become women, parting with childhood and leaving my influence behind. I became aware of this one day long ago when I was watching television — and sharing popcorn — with then five-year-old Lauren. As we began eating, I noticed her shoving many pieces into her mouth at a time, so I asked: “What’s the rush?”
She looked at me and said, “No rush. I just like eating it the way you do.”