In My Ideal World, This is How I’d Like To Communicate With My Teenage Daughter.

Blog post Larissa Dann.  17 October 2016                                  Shutterstock

Parenting a teenager can be tricky. On the one hand, there is the excitement, humour, passion and freshness of the emerging adult living with you.  On the other hand, there are the eye rolls, the ‘go away’s, (followed immediately by the ‘come here’s), and the silences.  How do you guide your teen gently to adulthood, when inside you might just want to scream?  How do you maintain a relationship of mutual respect?

I am helped when I try imagining life from my adolescent’s point of view. Then I realise that, sometimes, it’s even trickier to be a teenager. They may be as confused as us at their responses and feelings. Their brain is changing, and as a result they sometimes misread our emotions

An Open Letter to My Teen Daughter Who Is In The Next Room” (the Letter), describes parenting dilemmas familiar to many of us. Here is a mother who clearly loves her daughter. At the time of writing the Letter, however, she seems quite frustrated with many aspects of her teenager’s behaviour. 

After reading the piece, I wondered - how would the author’s adolescent daughter perceive her mother’s messages?  Would she find the sentiments humorous, or hurtful? How would such a letter affect their relationship?

This became my challenge.  If I were the ideal parent (which I’m not – just ask my kids!), how might I talk with this imagined adolescent daughter about the issues outlined in the Letter?  

So, I tried rephrasing the Letter with communication skills from the practical parenting approach of Parent Effectiveness Training (PET).  (You can read the full ‘translation’ of the Letter to PET language here.)

To help you visualise the scenarios, I urge you to read ‘An Open Letter’ first (it’s short!).  Then have a look at the skills and principles of PET, which describes the language and approach used in this shortened version of the ‘translation’.

As you read each article, you may find it helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • How would I feel if I were the mother?” followed by the challenging question,
  • How would I feel if I were her daughter?” Then, as you finish each article,
  • How would we feel about each other, and our relationship?

In My Imagination - The Letter, Rephrased, Then Put Into Action.

 “My Darling Girl,

I have a problem (well, a few, really), and I’m wondering if you could help me?  I’d like to find time to sit with you, so that we can discuss what is happening, and see if we can come up with some solutions.  Together.  I want to hear what you have to say, and I hope you will listen to my concerns.  And then we can both decide on the best solution.

I know that in the past, I have told you what to do.  I have used sarcasm, I have ordered you, I have not listened when you said “yes, but  . . .”, or rolled your eyes.  Now, I would like to try things a bit differently. Our relationship matters to me, and I hope that by changing the way I talk with you, and listen to you, we may feel even closer than we are now. I genuinely want to hear your side, and find a solution where we will both be happy.

This process is flexible.  We might decide something today that, when we put it into practice, we find isn’t working. But that’s OK, because we can come back and try to work it out”

Once I have my imagined daughter’s (probably sceptical) agreement, we find a time to talk that suits us both.

Before I start, one of the first things I have to do is let go of my expectation that she will change her behaviour, or change immediately. I resign myself to not addressing my list of issues in one go, and recognise that this process may take several discussions.

My daughter and I sit at the dining table. I begin to outline my concerns with an I-Message, and then ready myself to shift gears, before moving into problem solving. Importantly, I must avoid ‘you messages’, because my daughter is likely to experience them as blameful, and they may harm our relationship.   

I have a piece of paper with me, and explain that the paper is for us to write down our issues, and our solutions. 

“I have a number of concerns about the way the household is running at the moment”, I say. “Could we list them so that we can clearly see what we need to discuss?  Would you like to do the writing?”

She eyes me. “Sure”, she says.  “But you’re not the only one who has some issues.  I have a list of my own, you know.”

“Oh. OK.  You’re irritated that I’m only talking about my stuff, and you’d like to put your annoyances on the table too.” I have shifted gears by active listening to her feelings, and the facts.

Yes!

I begin. “Well, firstly I’d like to talk about family chores.  For me, it’s important that we share the household jobs, as we all live together and I think it’s important for us to all bunk in and help each other out.  Let’s list some of the things that need doing – and what we each already do (and that includes what you already do).  For example, there is unpacking the dishwasher or walking the dog”

At this, I my daughter creatively protests.

“Why do I have to do all the work?  I feel like I’m Cinderella, expected to do everything!  And why do I have to walk the dogs when you say?  Saturdays and Sundays are the only days I get to sleep in, but oh no, just because you think I have to be up, you lose it with me! You’re always quoting to me about “the evidence” saying I need nine and a quarter hours sleep because I’m a teenager.  You’re violating my human rights by making me get up so early!”

Hmmm. This is tough.  My initial reaction is to yell right back at her, perhaps to tell her how selfish I think she is being. 

But I don’t.  This won’t help our relationship, or help us work out how to find a solution.  I recognise that if I called her names or was sarcastic, our conversation would end, or escalate, and our relationship would be badly soured.

I need to put an emotional gap between her words and my response.  I need to regulate my own feelings.  Somehow, I have to temporarily let go of my stuff, and think about what is happening for my daughter.  This is ‘shifting gears’, and is one of the most difficult skills of P.E.T.

“You sound really annoyed and frustrated with me, and everyone, really!  It’s like we don’t appreciate what’s happening for you, how much you already do, and how much you need and enjoy your sleep-ins.  It seems like we just tell you what to do all the time!”

She calms down somewhat.

“Yes!  I don’t mind walking the dogs – just why do I have to do it in the mornings?”

She’s got a good point.  We agree that it doesn’t matter when she walks the dogs, just as long as they get their daily walk.

There is another issue, and I carefully choose my time.

“It seems like your Dad and I are really irritating you at the moment. I just don’t like the way you’re telling us.  I really object to being called a stupid idiot - I actually feel quite hurt when I hear those words.  And I worry about slamming doors – that someone may get injured, or the door will break.”

I imagine her response could be something like,

“Yeah, right!  And I wonder where I learnt to speak like that?  It couldn’t be from living here, could it?  It couldn’t be from watching you flounce off after an argument with Dad at all?  You’re such a hypocrite, Mum.  At least I don’t call you lazy or selfish!”

“Oh”. It’s pretty difficult shifting gears for this one. I note my immediate response, which is to want to defend myself. I put that wish aside, and instead actively listen to her strong feelings. “I’ve really hurt you by saying those words and calling you names.”

“You think??!!”

“I’m sorry.  Seems like we’re pretty good at hurting each other.  I don’t mean to put you down, or make you feel bad.  I just really don’t like the way you let us know how you’re feeling at the moment.  But I can see that I’m just as much at fault, if not more so, and that I’ve hurt you.”

“I’m sorry too, Mum.  I hate having arguments with you – I feel so bad afterwards.  But you just never listen to me!”

And so on.

In Real Life

In real life, I love being the parent of teenagers.  I love listening to their developing thoughts, idealism, wisdom, and compassion.  I love hearing about their world, their friends, and their schoolwork.  I love seeing their wonder as they discover new facets of life.  I deeply respect who they are, and who they will be. 

In real life, there are many challenges parenting teens.  I know that my behaviour drives those challenges, as much as my teen’s behaviour.

In real life, I aspire to communicate with my family using the PET principles. I often don’t succeed, but I am happy to have a template to guide my approach, and the skills to help repair the relationship. One of the most valuable PET ideas is that parents are human, and make mistakes.  This helps me to accept myself when I don’t say the right thing.  And accept my children.

In real life, my relationship with my children will evolve as they grow, remaining, I hope, respectful and positive.  For life.

Blog adapted from original article:“An Open Letter to My Child Who is in the Next Room”: Rewriting A Mother’s Letter to Her Teenage Daughter. Gordon Training International.  2016

Images Shutterstock

 

© Larissa Dann. 2016.  All rights reserved

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