If you’re the mother of a teenage or preadolescent girl, it’s likely that you’ve been caught off guard by a provocative comment, harsh criticism, or overly personal question. Maybe it came out of nowhere. Or maybe it was thrown in the middle of an important discussion, which then stopped. Regardless, it’s probably clear to you that your daughter is a professional at pressing your buttons. It may have occurred to you, in fact, that his words have a unique effect on you.
You can feel them viscerally, almost like a punch that leaves you breathless or gasps. Decades of working with women and girls have convinced me that this is because teenagers are able to exquisitely detect mothers ’deepest sensibilities, take advantage of painful vulnerabilities or embarrassing memories, and raise issues too close to home.
Did your daughter ask you if you had ever smoked marijuana? How many people have you slept with? Why do you always change the subject when she talks about a particular topic? Or why are you “in pain” with a certain relative? Teenagers are wise when it comes to raising mirrors that increase our most glaring flaws. No wonder we react so strongly.
However, while we feel the impact of teens pushing our buttons, we recognize that the way we respond right now really matters. Every interaction with have with our teen or preadolescent becomes part of the fabric of our evolving relationship. When we are disturbed or hurt by our feelings, how we react shows whether we can trust ourselves to stay in control and act appropriately. As mothers, our job is to help them become more aware of their feelings and express them in a kind and direct way.
So while we may decide to ignore an occasional sarcophagus comment or a humorous insult, it’s up to us to know where our daughters’ provocations come from. Still, we are human. At this point, our first impulse may be to get angry, to put ourselves on the defensive, or worse, to go on the offensive. But if the goal is to create a strong, close mother-daughter relationship, these six strategies can help you respond in a more useful way.
Recognize the signs of activation. First, it is important to be aware of what your mind and body are experiencing. Everyone is different. Your reaction can be physical, emotional, or behavioral, ranging from mild to volcanic. You may feel dizzy, angry, nervous, sweaty, or speechless. Or you may hear words that are beginning to come out of your mouth that are not characteristic, or that may sound like you are channeling someone you would least like to emulate. This finding can be a gentle but firm reminder to pause before doing anything else.
Take your emotional temperature. This is a good time to assess how emotionally active you are. If the push of your daughter’s button aroused a feeling of fear or risk, stress hormones probably flooded your brain, activating your fight or flight response and sending your frontal lobes paused.
To make sure you can think clearly, empathize, and use good judgment, do what works best (e.g., deep breathing, meditation, a distracting activity) to calm your central nervous system. Postpone conversations. Although it may seem urgent to respond to your daughter’s provocation, it’s best to wait until your central nervous system has calmed down so that your reasoning brain can be in line again.
Instead of dismissing or denying his comment, he responds in an affectionate and respectful manner, encouraging the conversation, saying, “This is a good question. Let me think about it and I’ll answer you.” talk more when you find out how to explain how I feel ”or“ Let’s talk about it on Saturday when I leave work, so we won’t rush ”.
Maintain emotional control. As an adult, you are in charge of managing your feelings when you talk to your teen. To avoid torpedoing conversations, keeping them together is key. In this way, you are shaping how to respect each other and focus on resolving conflicts even in the midst of disturbing discussions.
When your daughter does what you consider an outrageous accusation, for example, saying, “Please tell me when you felt this way” is preferable to “When did I ever do it? How dare you!” Share information carefully. The exquisitely sensitive antennae of the girls capture the duplicity of the mothers. That is, they can smell a lie from afar.
If you want your child to tell you the truth, it’s best not to miss it. Young adults whose parents lied to them as children are more dishonest and have more adjustment problems now that they are older. But it is not necessary or prudent to reflexively tell the whole truth to your daughter.
Consider what is best for your age, emotional maturity, and needs in this situation. You can say, “I’m uncomfortable talking about this with you. But that’s what I can tell you …” or “We can talk more about it when you’re a little older.” Know when to stop talking. You don’t want to let things get in the way. In fact, it feels good to take things out of our chest, clean the air and decide to do better in the future.
But despite these desires, adolescents and preadolescents often do not yet have the emotional stamina to hold on to awkward conversations long enough to overcome the conflict. If you see that the discussions deviate from the topic, turn into intolerable insults or oaths, or just go nowhere, your daughter may be overwhelmed. If so, give her a chance to get emotionally charged by suggesting “Let’s take a break” or “Why don’t we have a snack?” or “What if we take this again when we both feel calmer?”
These six strategies will not stop your daughter from pushing your buttons. And they certainly won’t stop you from being surprised or shocked by something she says. But having these specific and practical actions in your parenting repertoire can help you manage these difficult situations with the utmost confidence, grace, and effectiveness. Adapted from Anything But My Phone, Mom! Raising emotionally resilient daughters in the digital age.