You hear it all the time when you, yourself is growing up from a little girl to a teenager to a young woman. “Haven’t you grown up” and “I remember when you were this high”. The comments are too many to note down here but you all get the idea and I am sure you all recall comments yourself. My little girl is no longer a little girl. She is one year and one month and three days from turning 18. Here in Australia that makes you an adult. You can vote, you can have sex, you can live on your own, you are legally responsible for yourself. Although, when you look at my “16 going on 17 years” old daughter, she is already there. Being at boarding school to finish off her two senior years of high school, as my husband and I live in another state, has helped her grow up even more. She is strong and resilient and, it does pain me to say this, she swears like a sailor on shore leave.
In reality, my mind and, a large part of my heart, wants her to be independent and strong, and resilient, and to not take on the crap that other people tend to dish out. But it is really hard to let go without getting emotional. My daughter was a little girl who just adored me. A very good friend use to watch us together and remark how she would just follow me around and copy everything I did. I naively thought that I had built this amazing relationship with her that was going to blossom and thrive richly as we both grew as women. This was not the case.
At 14 she turned. It really was as if my beautiful and sweet, caring and kind daughter who had lots of hugs and kisses to give, was swapped in the middle of the night, and, in her place, I found a rude, surly, potty mouth brooder who literally would recoil in abject disgust of me if I went anywhere near her. Trying to hug her was as if I had the Ebola virus! What makes all of this even harder to digest, although, at the same time I am eternally grateful for, is that this is not the case with her father. She just loves him. There are kisses and hugs for him. They have the same dry wit and joke around all the time. She even answers his calls when he phones. We now ring on his mobile because she is more likely to pick up if it is Dad’s number she sees on the screen. Never mine!
We have just spent the past weekend visiting her. I had these wonderful visions of long, tight hugs and tears of joy with smiles and pure happiness all played out. But alack … nothing! Niente! Absolute zero. Now, I would like to say that I thought I was okay with this. But in reality, I am not. Not really. My rational self knows that this is her emotional journey and one that she has to have. That this is her way of adjusting to the changes in herself. I constantly get told that she will come back to me when she is older …. blah blah blah … but sometimes I just don’t care and I just cannot rationalise it. Once again, I teared up and cried in the cafe where we were having brunch on Saturday morning. By the way, I am making the rounds of how many public eating places I can cry in. I got so upset that I lashed out at my husband … “This is your fault! You did not want another child!”. Yep, go and analyse that emotional knee-jerk response. I have often thought if I had been successful with my second pregnancy would I actually be so sad about this situation with my only daughter. Or, would I be busy parenting and working and being a wife to worry about it too much. Maybe having more than one child is not about repopulating the earth and keeping the human species alive but to deal with your first child’s break away from your apron strings? However at this time, and please allow me to clarify one more thing … I do not want to be that mother who wants her child with her always. I don’t want her to feel obligated to me in any way. I want her to be free to experience the world and to go where she wants to. I do not want her to worry about me, or her father, and to certainly do not want her to have any guilt in doing what she really wants to do. I want her to know that we are her sanctuary in case she ever needs it. The reality is that this pragmatic way of thinking just does not stop the heartache. If you search the Internet, there are mountains of material that talks about the Mother-Daughter conflict across the teenage years. This is my go to place for a reality check and to read the support that says that this is really all okay. Psychology Today advises,
A teenage daughter (already attached and sexually similar to her mom) expresses her need for separation and differentiation as an independent woman. “I’m not you, I don’t want to be like you, and I never will be you!” But beneath this statement of defiance is a more telling message that staying in conflict with her mother conveys. “I need to be independent of you and different from you, but still stay closely connected to you, so don’t pull away.” Witnessing these encounters in counselling is like watching a young woman fighting for her psychological life against the woman who gave it to her.
It all makes so much sense but how do I still allow myself to not feel so sad about the past already gone? It really just feels so surreal. There was once a time when I was not a mother. Then I feel pregnant and gave birth to this adorable little creature. I spent many years, which at the time felt like forever, raising her from a baby to a toddler, to a child to a preteen. And now it feels that it is all done. That there is nothing left for me to do. Like I said, it feels surreal. But in truth, on one hand, I do actually love my freedom. So I am being a little selfish here because I want it both ways!
The reality is that my daughter is going through what is known as differentiation. She needs to break away to have space to experiment with who she is. The first rule and the one I feel is the most important one is: do not take it personally. I myself, need to be very aware of not taking it so personally. I think back to all those teary moments in cafes. I am gaiing such success at breaking this first cardinal rule in such glorious fashion. It truly is a gift! I break it, over, and over again! So what set off the tears on Saturday? I wanted to know why she was once an Instagram friend and then she wasn’t. She kept telling me her screen name but I could never find her. Finally she owned up to “blocking” me. My daughter blocked me! The gut-wrenching blow! Then I wanted to know (actually demanded) why she had blocked me on Instagram. Her explanation? “I don’t like how you like everything. It’s embarrassing”. So I have promised that I will only ever look and never comment. It appears that my tears and heartbreaking performance have softened her and she has relented because a few hours later there was a request on my Instagram. I am back on! However, be careful what you wish for! Later that evening, as we sat on the plane waiting to take off, our daughter posted a black and white photo, which had a wonderful artistic edge to it, as she stood in a laneway filled with graffiti, with a cigarette in her mouth. I am not sure if it was lit. I tried to zoom in but could not tell for sure. It looked lit as it was bright but the way she was holding it tells me it was all for show. I hope! The location also got me wondering – it looked gritty and unsavoury for 16 years olds to be in. Now here’s the catch. I cannot comment. One of the conditions of being her “friend” is that I am not to like or comment in any fashion. If I comment my “Mum” status will ostracise me. It’s a conundrum! It’s just never easy. Oh … but don’t y’all worry … we will find out the truth of that photo eventually because our daughter tells us everything. Another contradiction to our relationship! I just know that my husband will gently bring it up in one of their many conversations to come … and he will tell me. The trials and tribulations of parenting a teenage daughter … and so I leave you with this quote:
“All I know is that I carried you for nine months. I fed you, I clothed you, I paid for your college education. Friending me on Facebook seems like a small thing to ask in return” Jodi Picoult – Sing You Home
Writing this has helped, and I hope that if you have stumbled across my blog and this post, it helps you too.