I am a single mum of a teenage daughter, who I adore but life with her has become a constant battle. She doesn’t want me to have any authority, but on the other hand doesn’t take any responsibility herself. I know this is normal for teenagers, but it’s exhausting and I feel constantly rejected and miss the closeness we used to have. I’m trying encourage her to take responsibility for doing her homework or getting to school on time, but it feels a very long way away. I largely blame the phone. I take it from her at bedtime, and I try to take it in the afternoon too so she can concentrate on homework, but she can get unbelievably nasty. She says I am controlling, calls me names and tells me she hates me. I had quite cold parents who didn’t take much interest in me — my mother once said “we’ll never get on” and I used to be afraid of my mother’s frequent angry outbursts. I have tried not to repeat those patterns, particularly the anger, because I don’t want my child to be scared of me, but instead perhaps I have gone too far the other way and become a bit of a doormat. Do you have any advice? Eve, Fulham
Wow, I think a lot of parents will read your letter and really identify with it. Many parents of teenagers have the same dilemma: how to parent without projecting our own childhood-related issues on to our kids.
You are very insightful: you can see that your childhood experiences with your parents have had an effect on how you are raising your daughter. When you were a child your parents’ authority felt harsh and angry, so you have tried to protect her from those fearful feelings you had. Your mother’s comment that she and you will never get on has perhaps pushed you into being more of a supportive friend to your child, which makes it hard to be a parent who has to set boundaries sometimes.
In being the “friend parent” you have been left wondering whether you have become “a bit of a doormat”. It must feel as though history is repeating itself, despite the fact that you feel you are doing everything you can to avoid this. When your daughter tells you she “hates” you must fear that she and you will never get on. This must make you feel that you have really tried to give your daughter a different experience of being parented, only for it to backfire. But, woah! Stop there a minute, it really hasn’t.
Your teenager doesn’t like being told what to do: normal. She battles with you about her phone use: normal. She has outbursts of frustration when you try to set limits on her behaviour: normal. At the same time she is triggering your deep-seated childhood issues: also normal. So my advice is: stop overthinking it.
It is natural that you find each other annoying but you fear your own anger because it brings back your feelings of your emotionally cold parents and your mother’s rages. However, teenagers are annoying and they do make you angry at times and you have to get used to this.
It sounds to me as though you are on the right track. You’ve set limits about the phone. Now you also have to start being clear about your behavioural red lines, for example — no swearing, no aggression, no threats. Don’t engage with the disrespect, just walk away. She won’t like it, but, tough! Nobody said life would be fair, and that’s a life lesson everybody needs to learn.