My 13-year old Can’t Stand Me

“Dear Kerry,

I am in a really hard corner of parenting – my 13 year old daughter, who I have loved and adored since the day she was born – cannot stand me. Everything I say is met with eye rolls, every request I make is countered with a snarky “Why don’t you do it?” All she seems to care about is her phone/iPad and her friends. How can I get her to connect with me – we used to have such a great time together!”

Mom of a 13-Year Old Who Can’t Stand Her

Dear Mom Whose 13-Year Old Can’t Stand Her,

You are in great company with a lot of other good, loving parents whose young teens can’t stand them. It is a young teen’s developmental task to start the process of becoming independent.  Think of them like little birds: if the little bird doesn’t decide that the nest is intolerably crowded and scratchy and smelly, it would never be able to leave the safety and comfort of its family and take that leap. And we ARE raising them to eventually be independent and go out on their own, right?  Right.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not terribly painful for us as parents.

Limits need to be put on nasty behavior.

If you focus on the disrespect and give it a lot of attention while you try to stamp it out, then you are just putting emotion and intensity exactly where you DON’T want it, which is on her misbehavior. One big risk of this is getting pulled into your teenage self where the two of you might end up sounding like two teenagers bickering with each other. Something to try instead is to focus on what you DO want.  If your daughter makes a reasonable request in a polite way,  answer “yes” when possible.  If she is snarky or demanding, the best thing to do is be unavailable to provide services until you are treated with respect.

Staying calm is essential.

It might sound like this: “Sorry, sweetie but I don’t think it sounds like fun to take you to the mall when you are treating me this way. Maybe another day when I like how you’re speaking to me.”  And now here is the tricky part…. stick with it!  Think of yourself as simply hanging up a “closed” sign on a shop door. No drama; just hang up the sign.

This is when you get to teach her three important things:

When she’s nasty to people, life is not sweet.

You respect yourself enough to set limits when she doesn’t treat you well.

You are modeling for her to do the same with people who are disrespectful of her.

The cool part about this strategy is that you are actually setting tough limits on her nasty behavior even though it doesn’t sound like you’re punishing her.  Basically, she was snotty to you and because of it, you are delivering a tough consequence of not taking her somewhere.

This is parenting in a way that is simultaneously strong and kind.

A couple more examples of being “unavailable to provide services when she is disrespectful”:

“I love you too much to buy you that skirt until you’ve made amends for how you just spoke to me.” 

“I’ll be happy to return your phone to you after you’ve been polite and pleasant to everyone in the family for an entire meal.”

“I make school lunches for girls who show appreciation.”

How to get her to connect with you.

First, you are entering into a chapter of parenthood where sometimes our job as parents is to learn to tolerate a little more space and independence from our beloved, aggravating, precious children into whom we have poured so much of ourselves.  It doesn’t feel natural and it’s not easy… but that might be what she needs for now.  Focus on having a 10:1 ratio in your communications with her: a minimum of 10 positive comments for every 1 negative comment or nag, reminder or command.  Watch for those moments when she wanders in and starts chatting with you.  Drop what you are doing and be present for those sweet moments that come on her terms, when she is open and willing to connect.

Just listen.  Be curious.

Learn about how she makes sense of things. Silently repeat these three words during those times: LISTEN, LEARN, CURIOUS.  Don’t teach unless she’s asking for your opinion.  Look at her.  Smile at her. When she is done talking, let her be done. You are teaching her that you are OK to come to you in times of need, no matter what she tells you.  This is crucial for keeping the door open as she gets older and even more independent.

Lastly, invite her to spend one-on-one time together doing things you both enjoy. Put thought and effort into offering fun times together. If she opts out, let her… but make sure she knows that you are available for her. If she opts in, remember the 10:1 rule.

I’m heading into the adolescence of #5 out of 6 of my kids and stepkids and I wish this chapter was easier.  It’s just not. But if you practice the 10:1 ratio and don’t take her behavior personally, this too should pass.  Having a parent coach and good therapist has been a sanity-saver for me as I’ve navigated the teenage years with a herd of boys.  Remember that the best thing you can do as a mom is to keep yourself in balance.  Putting in the time and effort to be in a good state of mind so that you can be warm and open, able to laugh, able to cry, able to set healthy limits and be at peace is a worthy investment.  Whatever your state of mind is around your family … it’s contagious.

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Kerry Stutzman
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