Of the many family dynamics I work with, it is often mothers and their teenage daughters. Mothers usually call the office, looking for counseling for their daughter.
“She’s not doing well in school.”
“Her friends and their social activities (like partying or sneaking out) make me worried.”
“My daughter is constantly arguing with me.”
“I think my daughter might have depression, anxiety, or both.”
What they end up learning is that I likely want to work with both of them. (I should note that these clients coincidentally tend to be single moms. If possible, I try to get the whole family involved if the parents are still together.)
Mothers and their daughters can have some of the most rewarding lifetime relationships. They also often feel like the most difficult ones, especially during the complex and trying times of “teenhood”. Many moms tell me that they had amazing, close relationships with their daughters as children, and now that those little girls are beginning to develop into young adults…well…not so much. This is, understandably, worrisome for them.
So what’s going on?
More than ever before, kids have access to many things from an early age: cellphones, the internet, social media; the list goes on.
While many of these platforms can be helpful – teens can learn about their feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression through online resources and well-established communities - these outlets also create intense levels of inferiority, perfectionism, and, not surprisingly: stress, anxiety, and depression. Being a teenager isn’t easy.
While as children, many girls felt safe opening up and sharing their worries and secrets with their moms, things start to change during adolescence. Peer pressure and the strengthening of friendships change teens’ levels of comfort and trust discussing tough topics with their parents.
And unfortunately, culturally, we haven’t done a good job preparing moms (or dads) to deal with these issues in ways that foster this trust and open dialogue with their kids.
One of the most common things I hear moms express is, “I always ask her how her day at school was, and she either says nothing or says, ‘Fine.’” Not the most open communication. While I commend moms for their interest and concern for their kid’s day, this isn’t the best way to get a teenager talking, and this is something we work on in therapy.
Something that teens tell me is that “every time” (a form of language we all need to work on) they try to tell their mom about a problem they’re having, the response they get leads to them feeling invalidated and prompts them to shut down. The more this happens, the less likely they want to open up.
In my work with moms and daughters, I aim to model the types of questions and responses that elicit honest conversations about real struggles. This helps teens learn how to communicate about their lives and helps moms learn how they can change the way they interact with their daughters to achieve the connection that both moms and daughters crave. Although it may not feel like it, parents are still the most important people in their teenagers’ lives.
The difficult truth is, as parents, you’re going to begin to hear your kids tell you things that make you uncomfortable, anxious, and worried. What I believe is that, the better equipped you are to hear these things and manage your own feelings, the better – and more honest – relationships you’ll end up having.
My hope is that I help establish trust and openness – on both sides. I acknowledge that all of this can be a truly daunting task. Let’s work together.