There are new and unwritten Chapters at every stage and every age of life.
Like being a single divorced parent. And having a teenager at the same time.
Two brand new chapters being written by two people under the same roof at the same time. Hokey Dinah.
Recently I was asked how to deal with an attitude infused teenage daughter making life unpleasant for her mother (divorced) who had recently become close with a new male friend.
There was lots of love and attention for the teenager. In fact, Mom spent extra time with her daughter as they navigated the waters from being an intact family to one split apart. All was as good as can be expected as they adjusted to their new normal.
Take Care of Yourself
It was a year before Mom had much of a life for herself and when a nice man showed interest in dating her she was thrilled. Daughter was not.
“What about me? What am I supposed to do? I don’t like him being around. I like it when it’s just you and me,” complained the teen. And so began the guilt trip for Mom.
There’s no shortage of guilt when you go through a divorce with kids involved. You can guilt yourself to the end of your life trying to make up for the damage caused by divorce. And kids are damaged by divorce. There’s no getting around it.
Yet even in the middle of all that guilt my advice is the same as it was last week. Mom, always take care of yourself. First.
Kids learn in three ways: through education, experience, and example.
- You need to make sure they receive a good education.
- You must allow them to have experiences and realize the consequences (good or bad) of those experiences.
- And it is imperative for YOU . . . the parent . . . to lead by example.
A huge example of how we lead is how we take care of ourselves.
There’s a balance here. Kids require time and undivided attention. Often. But not all the time. Because if you do this right, your goal is to raise them, get them off the nest and out the door around the time they’re in their early twenties.
Which means parents have a lot more time without their kids than they do with them. So the parent, married or single, who gives up everything to raise kids often finds themselves without anything or anyone else in their life when those kids are gone.
Mother Nature Can Be So Cruel
And here’s another interesting thing about every teenager writing a new Chapter. They don’t set out to be obstinate and contrarian. Their brains are actually wired that way and it kicks in about the same time those teenage hormones begin to rage. Not only do their bodies physically change but their brains do too.
About a million years ago, good old Mother Nature came up with a little chip more complicated than any kind of software and it’s the reason why almost every parent of a teenager wonders what happened. Where did their sunny, happy little girl disappear to? And who on earth let this pimply boy with an attitude into their house?
Eons ago this was the time new families were formed because Mother Nature’s plan was to have us begin a nest of our own and reproduce. If teenagers were still attached at the hip to their parents, they’d never leave the nest. They are supposed to separate from you. Form their own ideas. Make their own decisions. It’s been wired into their brains way before any of us were around.
So you can thank . . . and I do mean thank . . . Mother Nature for this phenomenon. Think of it this way. If your 18 year old still had the personality of a three or four year old, it would be pretty hard to let them go, right? But once they hit that senior year of high school and their wired adult brain begins to kick in, they’re ready to go and you’re ready to have them go. I dare you to disagree with me.
How to Take Charge of the Situation
So how does a guilt-ridden divorced mom attempt to take care of herself by having appropriate adult friends, male and female, and at the same time give attention to a daughter who is having trouble accepting that she’s not the center of her mother’s universe?
Reassure your daughter of her place in your heart. A place that will never go away no matter who enters the picture. Make sure you and your daughter set aside time for just the two of you to interact. It doesn’t have to be an event. Maybe it’s just a stay-in night doing ordinary things and keeping yourselves available to each other.
Here’s the important part: Tell her you’re doing this to take care of yourself. To have a balance of people in your life just like she has a variety of friends. Some of those friends are more special than others. For the same reason she wouldn’t want to hang around with her mother every waking hour, you don’t want to hang around her either. It’s not a case of loving each other or not. It’s simply the way we humans socialize.
She might not like all of your friends. You probably haven’t liked all of hers. But you expect and respect the choices both of you make. And you trust each other to make the right choices.
So what if her attitude persists? What happens if she decides to push the envelope just a little further? And that snarky attitude continues?
Try this conversation, “Honey, you don’t seem to be in the best of moods right now. I get it because everyone gets moody occasionally. But you know what? When you’re in a grouchy mood it makes me grouchy and I’d just as soon stay happy. So go ahead and work out your mood in your room. Take as much time as you need. And when you feel like you’re up for it and want to be around, come on back, ok?”
Then give her a big hug, a kiss, and an “I love you” and spin her toward her room.
Here’s what happens:
1. You’re not mad. You’re not telling her what to do. You’re not insisting she flip a switch and change her mood. You are empathizing with her mood. Acknowledging it. But you’re not bending over backward trying to fix it. You are giving her the opportunity to spend some time working it out and letting her know she’s welcome back as soon as she does.
2. You’re setting the example of what makes YOU happy. The kind of people YOU enjoy being around and at the moment it’s not her. You are taking care of yourself without neglecting your daughter but leaving the door open for when she is civil to be around.
3. You’ve said this all in a very loving, caring tone of voice. And you always, always add the hug and the “I love you”. You’re not sending her off with both of you angry. You’re staying in control of your emotions (even though you might like to throttle her) and being specific of what you will and will not tolerate.
4. The choice is totally up to your daughter when to emerge from her room.
Your daughter is tossing out the hundred pound test line here and do not take the bait. Lead by example. Take care of yourself. Do what is best for you.
Because when she follows your example . . . and she will . . . she will always do what is best for her, even when you’re not around.