It’s in her tone as she says my name and in the face she makes when she enters the room. My daughter wants to talk, and it’s about a problem that I’m powerless to fix.
My parenting plan, created even before my children were born, was to make sure they feel loved, but also to set limits so they know that someone cares. I would carefully feed their bodies and minds, while being relaxed enough to allow for occasions that are just fun. We would eat lots of veggies and just a few cookies.
As the villains in Scooby-Doo always said, “My plan would have worked, too, if it weren’t for those pesky kids!” It did actually work perfectly, for about 15 years. For that good run, I am eternally grateful. I’ll be giving thanks for that over the turkey this year.
The teen stereotype implies that my daughter should see me as an antiquated old bat, whose brain is quickly softening. However, unlike most teens, my eldest thinks that I have all the answers.
The problem is her problems. I’m a not-so-girly mother of girls trying to deal with girly matters. Her struggles are pretty much the same as mine were at her age. Unfortunately, when they were mine, I don’t think I dealt with them very well. Time and changes of scenery had much more to do with getting past some of these obstacles. If I had to do it all over again, I’m convinced that I would still have a really hard time with these issues, even if I could carry with me what I know now. Consequently, my advice to her is often to just wait it out.
That bites, I know. But kids learn from our example, not from our words. How do I create confidence in her where I lack it myself? How can I give her advice about friends when she knows that a fair share of my own have betrayed or at the very least disappointed me?
When she was little and would get upset, it was usually for an obvious and fixable reason. Now the problems are more abstract. They’re about feelings and relationships. Tears and drama are not my thing. They’re icky—unless it’s a movie, starring Tom Hanks. Never one to coddle or sugar-coat anything, I’m not sure what to do with this shy, honor-roll student who is always willing to give everything, including her heart, to others, at the risk of having it smeared on the ground like roadkill. I hug her and try to be the kind of mom who gently rubs her shoulder, but it’s not me. I’m more of a “that’s life, and we have to deal with it” type.
So where does that leave us?
It leaves me wanting to pick and choose. I would love to give her advice on how to get from Point A to Point B on her career path or on memorizing pages of information using mnemonic devices, but I want to stay away from the girly topics of boys and friends. That nagging voice, of the perfect mother I have always aspired to be, yells, “Shame!” At the same time, I am hearing, “You don’t know what you’re doing. You could do more harm than good by giving her advice.”
Popular wisdom says I should not offer advice, but rather just be there for her and listen while she figures it out for herself.
Thanks, I’ve tried that. This kid wants answers, and she will prod until she gets them—or until I snap. The breaking point is obvious. I feel it coming and I warn her, but for some reason that’s when she chooses to redouble her emotional outpourings. She wants an answer, even if I have to pull it out of my ass. I lose it, she cries, and I feel like crap while I try to bring down my heart rate and refrain from becoming a puddle of tears as well.
Why won’t she see the truth? I want to help her, but I can’t. Some people are more about practicality than emotions. That’s just who I am.
I know that if she stopped coming to me with her problems it would have me worried sick for a number of reasons. I’d wonder if she doesn’t need me anymore, if she’s gotten herself into some real trouble or, worst of all, if she just hates me. This is why my little fantasy that she stop coming to me for advice needs to remain just that.
I suppose that a parent who does not invest the energy into at least making an effort, albeit a useless one, is no better than a parent who is too lazy to set limits or discipline at the risk of not being friends with his or her child.
In the meantime, I will continue to urge her to find her own solutions through trial and error and attempt to keep my opinions on these delicate matters to myself, despite her pressing demands.
I think I fully understand, now, why grandmothers are so happy around their little grandchildren. If the time ever comes when I can fix it all with a kiss and a cuddle again, I will be sure to savor it. I might even throw in a cookie.