By Kari Kampakis
My oldest daughter Ella is a high school senior set to graduate this spring.
She is ready – yet I am not. Honestly, it would be easier if I didn’t like her, but as things stand, I know I’ll miss her like crazy.
She is the oldest of four sisters, the leader of the pack, the guinea pig that her daddy and I learn on. With each new season she enters, we become typical first-time parents, making the common mistakes as we attempt to find our way.
One mistake that I initially made was buying into society’s narrative about teenage girls. When my daughter was just a baby, I began to hear the warnings from well-meaning moms and strangers.
Enjoy her now while she’s sweet and easy, because you’re in for it when she’s a teenager.
Girls are so dramatic – my son is a lot easier.
Teenage girls are nightmares. Just try to survive the season.
I like to feel prepared, yet these gloomy forecasts just made me scared. Again and again, I heard the same script, and it led me to dread the teenage years. It made me believe that my peak parenting experiences would occur in childhood – and it was all downhill from there.
Today, 18 years later, I’m in the foxhole of those warnings. I have three teenage daughters and a fourth daughter not far behind. I know the stress, the struggles, and the secret battles in a mother’s heart. I am knee-deep in adolescence, yet the biggest truth I see is how this next generation needs us. They need the love, support, and guidance of adults who have their back, and if our sole goal is to “survive” them, we will miss a major opportunity to connect.
More than ever, this connection matters because our daughters face a world that is harder and meaner than the world that shaped us. They’re the first generation of teenagers to be more stressed than their parents (at least during the school year) according to the American Psychological Association. They may look worldly and self-sufficient, yet they still have emotional needs. They need the wisdom of those who have walked before them, but they’ll quickly shut down in the presence of adults who only see the worst in them.
No relationship is perfect, and in any parent-teen dynamic, conflict is inevitable. While I used to believe all conflict was a sign of things gone wrong, I now see it as a learning ground. After all, conflict is a part of life. Most pain in the heart of a teenage girl relates to conflict with peers and family. When girls never learn how to resolve conflict, it can set them up for problems in future relationships like marriage.
As psychologist John Gottman reveals in the article “America’s Top Couples Therapist Says All Successful Marriages Share This Trait,” the number-one predictor of success in marriage is how well two people can resolve conflict.
“In every good relationship,” he writes, “couples have repairing skills, and they repair early.”
When my daughter was a baby, I wish the moms ahead of me had emphasized the importance of listening, empathizing, picking my battles, and loving my daughter well even in times of conflict. I wish they had said: “You’re likely to lock horns at times, and that is normal. That is part of her growing up and trying to establish her independence apart from her family. Instead of letting your pride or anger create a gulf in your relationship, listen calmly. Teach her how to have respectful conversations and choose her words wisely. Apologize when you’re wrong, and forgive her when she’s wrong. Most importantly, circle back around once you’ve had time to think. Repair any damage that was done so that little resentments don’t become big resentments and create unhealthy habits and dynamics.”
In my rookie days with a teenage daughter, I only wanted to prove I was right. I blamed every fight on her and chalked it up to the narrative that teenage girls are difficult. It took some soul searching and self-reflection to realize how my reactions played a major role too. By changing my approach, I could connect with my teenage daughter and still do my job as her mom.
I recently released a book to help mothers like me. It was inspired by my mistakes and also the things I’ve learned about preparing girls for the real world, helping them stand on their own two feet. Our daughters live at home for 18 years, yet our adult relationship with them may last 30 or 40 years. What happens in adolescence sets the stage for what’s to come. Rather than “survive” them, we can aim to finish strong. We can be wise with the time that is left while our daughters are under our roof.
As I look at my soon-to-be graduate, I realize the brevity of the teenage years.They pass by incredibly fast, and looking back, I don’t regret one sacrifice I made, one apology issued, or one minute I spent with my daughter. I thought I loved her as a baby, but what I feel now is exponentially stronger. I’m so proud and thankful to be her mom.
I wish I could hold on to my daughter forever, but since that’s not an option, I’ll support her as her biggest fan. I’ll enjoy her senior year even as every “last” event makes me teary. Though it’s tempting to dwell on the past and get lost in childhood memories, I’m reminding myself to stay present. I’m soaking up the gift of today, because where we are now – on the brink of a new journey – is an exciting, hopeful, and remarkable place to be.
Excerpt from: Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter by Kari Kampakis.
A Mother’s Turning Point Moment
My husband found me on the closet floor, crying like a baby.
I’d hit a rock-bottom mama moment, and I couldn’t catch my breath to explain what was wrong.
He knew nothing about my struggle because I’d kept it to myself. I honestly thought it would pass. For months my then thirteen-year-old daughter and I had been locking horns, and the tension between us was continuing to escalate.
That morning before school, we fought again. She stormed out the front door, and though I considered apologizing for losing my temper, I held back because of pride.
After all, it was her attitude causing our problems. Her moodiness and her sass were changing our once-lovingdynamic. Ifanyone needed to change, it was her, not me.
Everyone had warned me about the teenage years, and now their predictions were coming true. The only way to navigate this new teen territory, I assured myself, was to dig in my heels and firmly take control. Otherwise, this daughter and her three sisters would walk all over me.
Yet an hour later, in the peace of a quiet home, I regretted that morning’s fight and every silly fight before it. What kind of mother yells at her child without owning up to it and making amends before she leaves? What if a tragedy occurred that day and my last words to my daughter were hostile and harsh?
I hated how coldly I’d been acting toward her, and as that truth sank in, as I quit making excuses for why she needed a firm reprimand, I fell to my knees in my closet, begging God to help me restore our rocky relationship.
My husband heard my breakdown and came to comfort me. Thankfully, he was working from home that day, and he waited patiently for me to share what I’d been wrestling with inside.
I feel like I’m losing our daughter, and I don’t know what to do.
Deep down, I worry that I’m jeopardizing our relationship in some irrevocable way. I feel a big pressure to get it right because if ever there was a time when I want us to be close, it is now, in middle school, when not feeling loved or understood at home might make her more easily swayed by peer pressure.
She is changing and so is our relationship, and what used to work no longer does. What I can’t figure out is how to balance loving her with parenting her. How do I correct the attitudes and behavior I don’t like while keeping a strong mother-daughter connection?
It felt good to be honest, and though my husband and I could not immediately solve the problem, I realized a few things when I admitted my struggle.
One, I missed my close relationship with my daughter and the easy rapport we shared. Two, I needed a new approach to parenting her, one that didn’t widen the gulf between us with every disagreement.
And three, if I wanted to reconnect with her, I had to take the lead. For teenagers, engaging with parents isn’t a top priority. My daughter would never come to me and say, “Mom, I wish we were closer. It bothers me that we’re not.”
My breakdown on the closet floor was my wake-up call. It is when I finally admitted that my daughter was growing up, and our relationship had to grow up too. To remain part of her life in this new season we’d entered, I needed to bridge the gap between her heart and mine.
This is what inspired my search of how to love a teenage daughter.
Taken from “Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter” by Kari Kampakis. Copyright© 2020 by Kari Kampakis. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson Publishing, thomasnelson.com.
Kari Kampakis is a Birmingham mom of four girls and author of Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter, available on Amazon and other fine booksellers. Her books for teen and tween girls, Liked and 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, have been used widely across the U.S. for small-group studies. Find Kari on Facebook and Instagram or visit her blog at karikampakis.com.