I don't know how to parent my teenager

Photo by Fran Ulloa via Creative Commons

After her dramatic entry into this world, I held my firstborn in my arms and felt her weight free of my body for the first time. This separation was the first step in a long walk toward total independence. As I inhaled her scent, ran my fingers across her velvet skin, and gazed at her scrunched-up little face, I asked: Who are you?  Who will you be some day? I sensed her individuality emerging even in those tender moments. She was her own person. Who she’d be someday was already determined by genetics. I was only there to provide food, clothing and shelter and to discourage her from choosing serial killer as a career.

While it took a number of years for her self to be fully realized, back then it was a far-off concept. Back then, she was pink and chubby. She cooed and gurgled and curled into me when I held her. Back then I thought we had an unbreakable bond. As I reveled in the reflexive squeeze of her tiny fist around my finger, I fantasized about a future with us lunching together, dancing barefoot in the rain and sharing secrets.

Never in those baby-powder scented days could I have imagined a person who’d recoil from my touch, who’d stuff ear buds in her ears to drown out my conversational chatter, who’d slam a door in my face before I could finish a sentence or who’d pull the plug so swiftly and surely on all lines of communication to render me unworthy.

I thought it would be different between us. I was going to be a different mother. She was going to be a different daughter.

I thought if I did exactly the opposite of what my mother did, those things that ripped a hole in our compatibility, that the opposite would result.

I thought wrong.

Maybe there is nothing anyone can do to prevent this inevitable phase. I have no idea how to parent my teenaged daughter. No clue. It’s gotten to the point where I dread the days she is at my house. Not because I don’t love her. I do with a fierce passion. I dread those days because they result in a tsunami of emotions that overwhelm the entire household. No matter how Zen I try to be with her, to just experience the frustration and ride with it, to avoid throwing fuel on the fire, to be the adult, the bigger person, it always ends up the same: one or both of us shouting or in tears. It always ends with me venting to my husband or one of my friends or the Internet.

Further complicating matters, she lives with me four days out of the week. So, the remaining days, she’s getting an entirely different message, living within an entirely different dynamic. It’s like a looping weather pattern, as our family travels in and out of the eye of the hurricane. Calm for a few days, and then an emotional onslaught so debilitating at times I question my strength to get through the day. And she’s a good kid, really. She’s not into drugs or drinking. She’s a solid student. I cannot fathom what I’d do if I had a juvenile delinquent on my hands.

I’ve been at the gym a lot lately. Sweating away my frustrations on the cardio equipment and weight machines. I’ve been meditating like a maniac, hoping the calm achieved might give me some added mileage.

I’ve been searching online for tickets to South America.

No. Not really.

Some of it is normal teen angst, I’m sure.

Some of it is the particular suckiness that is parenting through joint custody.

Some of it is a middle-aged mother who realizes her oldest child is a mental gymnast. She is very much her father’s daughter: He is the master of debate, the fan of forensics, worshipper at the altar of logic. I hate conflict and endless debate. They live and breathe it. This personality clash led to the dissolution of my first marriage. What, then, do I do about a mother-daughter relationship built on the same shaky foundation?

I’m waving the white flag of resignation: I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t have answers. I welcome heartfelt suggestions.

I leave you with this link to a smart piece I heard on PRI’s “This American Life.” Listen to Act III: family dysfunction has a long and colorful history.