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The cold, hard truth is, well… I can be a bit cold and hard. Not in a “Mommy Dearest” kind of way, or anything as dramatic as that. But I do acknowledge that I can be impatient, judgmental and quick with a caustic comment.
As such, the universe saw fit to gift me with a daughter who’s my exact opposite. While I’ve been sweating the small stuff since birth, she came out of the womb smiling. I walk around with my stomach in knots, trying to find solutions to problems that haven’t yet materialized. Meanwhile, my daughter keeps on the sunny side of life, whistling cheerfully and trusting that things will ultimately work out. You couldn’t find a more Pooh Bear-and-Rabbit combo.
Trying to guide such a blithe soul through the world has proven to be one of my biggest challenges. Where I’m goal-oriented, analytical and meticulous, she’s easy-going, whimsical and prone to forgetfulness. The breezier she gets, the more I dig in my heels in an attempt to tether her.
My goal is to raise my daughter to be responsible, self-sufficient and smart. However, my reality is that ever since she crossed over the teenage threshold, all I’ve actually been doing is stressing her out.
The minute she turned 13, I went from ‘mom’ to ‘school marm,’ teaching my own rigorous course of AP Adolescence. Hygiene, relationships, personal safety, grades, life skills … I started unloading all of it onto her, all at once. I wanted to make sure she was ready to handle anything life could throw at her. (Pretty realistic, huh?) And since she’s so blissfully blasé, I felt the need to push harder and faster in order to make it all stick. It’s been more like playing an intense game of Tetris than parenting.
Somewhere in my late 30s, it seems I decided that maturity and misery go hand in hand. Like, you’re not “adulting” correctly unless you’re agonizing over finances, work, health, education and all the negativity in the news. So, following that (admittedly warped) line of logic, my daughter couldn’t possibly be maturing properly if she’s still so consistently happy-go-lucky.
Thankfully, I’ve come to see the glaring holes in that thought process. After a year spent nagging and finger-wagging, I finally realized that it isn’t a taskmaster my daughter needs, it’s time.
The Quest to Become a Warmer, Mellower Mom
I had an epiphany: I can’t treat my daughter’s personal growth like it’s a checkable item on one of my to-do lists.
My ultimate goal is to help her to blossom. But my old techniques—constant goading, nitpicking and hand wringing—were wearing me out and eroding her confidence. So, I’ve slowly started to focus on our similarities, rather than our stark differences.
For instance, we both love music. When I worried that she wasn’t communicating with me about middle school drama that was affecting her, instead of forcefully poking and prodding, I had the idea to start making her Spotify playlists. I fill them with unique and fierce female singers known for being open and honest about their emotional ups and downs — ladies like Fiona Apple, Lianne La Havas and Mitski. This idea has gone over well and has spawned quite a few school commute sing-alongs and heart-to-hearts. She’s even started reciprocating with playlists of her own (I was not ready for the emotional gut-punch delivered by those “Dear Evan Hansen” songs).
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My daughter and I are also big readers. I find that things she reads often stick better than things I say. So, I’ve instituted regular visits to her favorite comic book store, where the female manager is always eager to share her picks for empowering teen girls. (There’s more than just busty babes in capes on the shelves, these days!) Likewise, whenever I pop into the library, I hunt for graphic novels that highlight weightier real-life issues in a creative, relatable way.
I’m happy to report that, so far, both of these nag-free approaches have been working. Now, when my daughter hits an emotional rough patch, not only does she have her safety net songs and books to help soothe her, she’s also started writing songs and drawing comics of her own.
My next step towards creating a kinder, gentler mother-daughter dynamic has been to flip the script, as it were. When it comes to stress management and embracing positivity, she clearly has a lot to teach me. Now — in the vein of the old “sleep while baby sleeps” adage — I relax while she’s relaxing. Once dinner and homework are all wrapped up, I’ve been trying to avoid my No. 1 anxiety trigger, Twitter, in favor of soothing activities like jigsaw and crossword puzzles. I’ve yet to attain Oprah-levels of calm from this new practice, but at least I’m sleeping a little better lately.
Oh, and I forgot to mention — my daughter has made a few recent strides without any intervention on my part. For example, she dramatically improved her algebra grade all on her own. Plus, she’s gotten more confident and adventurous in the kitchen lately. She makes a mean gruyere and spinach frittata, I can tell you that.
We’re definitely still a work in progress. Her bathroom’s a hazmat area and her upcoming science project deadline is filling me with a sense of impending doom. But I’m reflecting on my latest life hacks and her own personal victories and, for the first time ever, I’m starting to acknowledge that the glass can be half-full.