Hang on for the bumpy ride
My 15-year-old teenage daughter reminds me of a cat—since I am never sure if I'm living with a cuddly kitten or a ferocious feral animal. Her favorite phrase these days is, "Mom! I am in the middle of a crisis right now." The first few times I heard the word "crisis," I panicked. But I've wised up. "Crisis" for my teenager is another word for just plain life! As a longtime meditator, I thought being the emotional anchor for a daughter adrift on the stormy sea of hormones would be in my skill set, but wow, it's more of a challenge than I imagined. At eighth grade graduation, as my friend and I sat watching our girls poised toward womanhood walk across the stage, she turned to me and said, "Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride." Here's how to not only survive, but also enjoy the ride.
Take care of yourself—seriously
If there was ever a time for self-care, it's now. There's not much I can tell my daughter to do, but there's a lot I can show her. Our kids are watching our every move. Rather than harp on healthy eating and sleeping habits, keep yourself healthy and well-rested. "Self-care also means pursuing your own interests and taking some 'me' time too," says Elizabeth George, LCSW, a licensed clinical therapist specializing in adolescents and young adults. "By doing this, you not only model healthy habits for your daughter, but you ensure that you'll have the energy you need to help her when she needs you." Helping your teen manage her avalanche of emotions is one way to raise an emotionally intelligent child.
Hugs aren't just for teddy bears
Teenagers seem to live in perpetual stress. Between their internal hormonal shifts and external pressures of all kinds, their circuits are often on overload. A well-timed hug can not only offer a little mother-daughter connection, but can reduce her cortisol level and soften what can sometime be a tough outer shell. These are the nearly magical health benefits of hugging.
Try not to react so quickly
It's tempting to be reactive to our teen's comments. My daughter has a hard time hearing "no," and tries every angle possible to turn it into a "yes." As this back-and-forth carries on, I feel my blood pressure rising. Once I am charged up, I know it's time for a "mindful minute". Sometimes it's an actual 'time out,' where I excuse myself to go for a quick walk around the block or to another room to collect myself. Other times, I stay with the conversation, but feel my feet on the floor, slow my breathing, and respond rather than react, with less charge in my voice. Use these calming mantras in the moment to help quell anxiety.
Texting is better than talking
When I first heard that texting was a great way to connect with my daughter, I was suspicious. What happened to a good old fashioned heart-to-heart? When my daughter is really struggling and wants my support, she texts me—sometimes from the next room. The reality is that texting is our teens' native language. Teens can express more vulnerability if they don't have to look you in the eye (this can also work in the car). "Texting offers another line of communication that parents didn't have before. It allows for quick check-ins, and gives your daughter a chance to share her life with you—I got an A on my Spanish quiz!—as it happens," George says. "Your daughter may feel awkward answering a phone call from you in front of her friends, but she can easily respond to a text, helping you both stay connected." In fact, there are times that texting is actually more appropriate than calling. Some families also find that using Snapchat, an app that lets you add funny glasses and monster faces and speak in comical voices, is more likely to get a response than a plain text.
Good moods are golden opportunities
Sometimes I am slightly embarrassed by the breakfast service I provide for my daughter. Since I am a morning person, I wake up a few hours before she does. I prepare a pretty elaborate breakfast and make her lunch. We are in the habit of morning conversation, and this is pretty much the only time during the day she speaks directly and openly to me. I appreciate this precious nugget of connection and put my active listening ears on. "Teens won't say they want structure and stability, but they need it. Having those consistent moments when they know they can connect with a parent gives teens some predictability in what can be a chaotic time for them in terms of growth and change," George says. Here's how people with good listening skills tune in.
Cultivate a mom squad
A friend I admire for her parenting acumen once told me, "The best thing you can do when your daughter hits high school is to get to know her friends' parents." I am on a group chat with the mothers of my daughter's best friends. When the girls are out, we keep tabs on their ever-evolving social plans and make interventions when necessary. This little trick keeps the kids accountable and keeps the moms from having six anxiety attacks before lunch.
Relish your role as group mom
Recently, my daughter started referring to her friends' moms as Mama Elizabeth and Mama Camilla, and her friends call me Mama Jenn. It may sound a little bizarre, but it's actually a beautiful thing. Our girls yearn for guidance from adult women in their lives. Being a kind of surrogate mom to someone else's child is not only a great service to that child, but it also strengthens the connection you have with your own daughter. "Taking an interest in your daughter's friends shows her that you're interested in her life," says George. "Letting her friends stay for dinner or driving them to activities gives you insight into your daughter's world and opens the door for more communication about her life."
Give her an exit strategy
Let your daughter know that if she needs you, you will be there—no questions asked. "It's important to set rules and expectations but allow for some missteps," says George. "Teens have to navigate new situations and deal with peer pressure. If your daughter gets into trouble or feels scared or overwhelmed, you want her to know she can call or text you for help and that she won't be grounded for life." Back up your offer by providing tools in case of emergency, such as a debit card with a small amount of money to carry around at all times, and even an Uber or Lyft account for times when she's not comfortable with what's happening and you can't drop everything to pick her up. Here are the superhuman things that only moms can do.