Tag Archives: Motherhood

Mother’s Day Postscript: Four Tweaks to help you Enjoy Your Teenage Daughter

zoe baby (19)

With my daughter in Brooklyn, some years back

Close your eyes and picture that sweet, little bundle of a girl you had twelve, thirteen, fifteen years ago—that tiny little thing you used to hold, oh, so close and hug and kiss a million times a day and she—not only let you—she soaked it up. When Mommy was a compliment, not an accusation. When you, and not a rectangular piece of metal, were first to learn her secrets and won the best of her smiles.

Remember that kid?

Open your eyes. You still have her. She’s just bigger, with a vocabulary to match—sometimes one that would put Drake to shame—and a peer group that’s more influential than you are.

We’re at a tricky time with them: just when your daughter and the most troublesome features of life—sex, drugs, booze, and general cyber-madness—have more access to one another—just when you have more reasons to want to protect her and tighten the controls, she has the developmental task of challenging you, breaking away and asserting herself as a separate entity from all you stand for.

You can’t control her; you can’t put her in time out like you once did. You can take away her devices, but that may amount to cruel and unusual punishment that may be more of a headache for you than for her. But you can improve your relationship and make both your lives easier by changing your responses to the behavior she dishes out.

Here are four common issues I’ve run into in my family therapy practice as well as in my interactions with my own teen daughter—and four tweaks to improve the outcome.

Issue #1: You personalize what she says and does.

Your daughter gets home from school, barely grunts in response to your greeting, grabs a snack and goes to her room, presumably to do homework. This irks you, so you go and knock. There’s no answer, so you open the door to find her earbuds in as she scrolls away on her computer.

You: I think I said hello.

Her: I said hello.

You: That was not a greeting.

Her: Hello, Mother. How was your day. Better?

You sigh. You leave. It’s the best you can get when she’s in a mood. But an hour later, when her grandmother pops by for a visit, your surly child becomes an angel.

“Nanna! Hiiii!!” She hugs Nanna and tells her all about everything—her favorite teacher, her favorite boy, the cupcake recipe she just learned on YouTube—the sort of tidbits you have not been able to pry from her lips in years.

Nanna goes home and it’s the cold shoulder for you all over again. Then, from the kitchen, you hear your daughter laugh in delight. You remember that laugh. You love that laugh. But don’t kid yourself. She will not be sharing the joke with you. She’s snapchatting with her friend, Samantha. You wouldn’t understand.

You do everything for your kid, yet everyone gets a better version of her than you do. What did you do wrong? Were you not around enough when she was little? Were you around too much, leading her to take you for granted? Were you too strict? Not strict enough? Did you favor her sister? Compare her to her brother?

Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter. You can’t change the past, but you can make the most of the present no matter what she’s mad about.

How to Flip it and give yourself a break:

Grow a thick skin. Recognize that your child is developing her identity—trying out new personas, trying to impress new teachers, mentors, friends. This is exhausting work. You—the most stable entity in her life—are the only one she doesn’t need to try so hard with.

That said, you are still her mother and deserving of respect. But keep your emotion out of it. You choose to let her hurt your feelings or not. When she stomps in with barely a grunt, try some levity. Say:

“Hold up my friend. Do-over. Repeat after me: Hi mom, how was your day? Mine was good. And for extra credit throw in a hug.” When she hugs you, say, “Ok. Love, you too. Now go get your snack.”

She may actually laugh.

Issue # 2: You kitchen-sink her.

You can’t stop picking:

“You owe grandma a thank you note.”

“You forgot to walk the dog.”

“When are you going to do something about your hair?”

“You are not going out of the house dressed like that.”

“I checked the parents’ porthole: why are you marked absent from global studies three days in a row?”

“Your room is a mess.”

No surprise that she ducks and heads the other way when she sees you coming. She knows you’re going to tell her she’s done something wrong or failed to do something right. One problem with this is that she will be inclined to tune you out, since everything she does elicits the same kind of complaint.

Another problem with this is that you can fall into the trap of failing to see and acknowledge her accomplishments because her flaws loom so large for you.

How to Flip it and give yourself a break:

Choose your battles, pick the most important issue or issues and make those the priorities. I think cutting a class trumps the messy room every time. If everything is a priority? Then space them out. Don’t deliver all your gripes at once.

Most importantly, look for opportunities to praise her efforts, just like you did when she was younger. Don’t forget to celebrate her successes–that A on a lit paper, or a the great assist in a soccer game–to balance out the criticisms.

Issue #3: Your worries shut down communication

You haven’t had a good talk in ages. Maybe years. Then one day in the car—when you are not asking her questions or looking at her, so her guard is down—she starts gabbing:

“So guess what happened yesterday when we were all at Samantha’s house? We were making a video with this guy Tony’s phone and then—”

You cut her off: “Yesterday? You told me you were at a Key club meeting yesterday. And I told you you couldn’t go to Stephanie’s house after that whole house party thing. And who’s Tony? You’re not supposed to be hanging out with boys when there are no parents home!”

Congratulations. You just missed out on an opportunity to learn something about your daughter’s inner life.

How to flip it:

The thing to do here is separate Rules Mom from Confidante Mom. Bite your tongue and listen to her with open ears, an open heart and an open mind. She is sharing a story with you, possibly sharing her feelings and opinions. These are gifts.

If she mentions worrisome behavior or dangerous activities, wait till the conversation is over and till there is a change of scenery to talk to her about that. For example, while you are making dinner together, you can say:

“I’m glad you told me about Tony’s video. It sounds like you guys had fun. But now we need to talk about a few things.”

And again, choose your priorities. Which matters more: That she lied about going to Stephanie’s house? Or that there was a boy there? You may also need to have a conversation to renegotiate ground rules about hanging out.

Issue # 4: You mistake her for yourself.

When you were your daughter’s age, you were passionate about the cello. You wrote for the school newspaper and volunteered at your church every day. You wanted to do these things. She has no interest in them. She tries sports and clubs, but only because you make her. She isn’t passionate about anything. This drives you crazy. You raised your children to stand out from the crowd like you did.

Or:

You were outgoing and sporty as a kid. You had a million friends, boyfriends too. Your daughter is quiet and bookish and has just one close friend. What’s wrong? Is she lonely? Why doesn’t she talk more? What about dating?

How to Flip it and give yourself a break:

Be accepting of who she is and how she is different from you. Then, be patient and wait for her to find what makes her happy. Find out what she likes and support it.

Here’s my personal story about this one:

I was a ballet dancer in my first professional life. When my daughter was five, I could see from her elegant posture and the shape of her feet that she had the potential to go even farther than I did in dance if she chose to pursue it. And with those feet and my genes, of course she would choose to pursue it—who wouldn’t?

Well, it turned out she wouldn’t. For years I tried her in different types of dance—from ballet to hip-hop. She’d show some promise in all of them, but no love for any. That’s the thing about children and passions: you can expose them to a dozen different disciplines, but you cannot make them fall in love. That requires the magic of what I call the experiential cupid. The out-of-nowhere spark that ignites a child’s interest and imagination. You can’t force it if it isn’t there.

So two years ago, I stopped trying to get my daughter to love dancing. She switched to gym and was instantly more confident and joyful. Now she plays on the tennis team at school and recently fell hook line and sinker for a brand new sport into which she is pouring her whole heart: ice hockey.  Something you couldn’t have paid me to try at her age.

I celebrate her new passion and am relieved that I saw how guilty I was for mistaking my dream for her own.

The Bottom line:

Your child is still that wonderful creature you used to hold, hug and kiss. She’s just a new, transitional version. Accordingly, you need to respond to her in new ways.

  • Do Listen as much as possible, without judgment, to what she has to tell you.
  • Do drop everything on those rare and inconvenient times when she’s being communicative. (Even if it’s one am. That’s when teens tend to be the most open.)

The more you are open, the more you refrain from criticizing or judging, the more she will give you and the better you will get to know this new version of her.

  • Do embrace her Individuality; acknowledge the differences in your temperaments.
  • Do remember this: as long as she is taking care of the basics—doing her best in school, staying healthy, avoiding negative influences, and making good choices—you can give yourself permission to relax a little about some of the other stuff.

In any case, when you change up your viewpoint, lighten up, let certain things go, it’s easier to appreciate the unique, magical young woman your teenage daughter is.

zoe and mom yosemite

Happy Mother’s Day to All!

Guest Post: Stella Padnos-Shea, “You in Our Bed”

Though I am not a frequent a blogger these days, I continue to be amazed at the power of the blogosphere. Some months back, I reconnected with a former colleague, Stella Padnos-Shea, a published poet and licensed social worker, who reached out to me out of the blue–through this blog, of all places. Today, I am happy to announce that she has agreed to a guest blog! (Read on.)

Stella’s theme of motherhood–its impact on a woman’s identity and sexual self-image–is one that I believe resonates for countless women with children of all ages. So, without further ado, here is Stella, in her own words.

You In Our Bed

by Stella Padnos

Tonight, like last night, husband tempted by the couch’s quiet:

that plush other woman, slightly concave in the middle

like my body once was, since expanded, shrunk, starved and fed–

Nothing between us but you in our bed.

 

The most pleasure I’ve felt has been the absence of pain.

I’d cheat on my husband again with an epidural.

Your debut: messy, requiring containment. Parts of my body

bagged and discarded.

Nothing between us but you in our bed.

 

Husband’s afraid of my body’s lower half

and I’m afraid of his fear.

Does a girl have to go back to the hospital to get felt up, pricked?

Nothing between us but you in our bed.

 

And so, sometimes, it is three in the sack:

Not a kinky college stunt or swapper club

But snoring husband, my wet breast, your mouth, your bobbing head–

Nothing between us but you in our bed.

Stella and her little one

Stella and her little one

I wrote this poem about two months after giving birth to my daughter Mirabel; she is the “you in our bed.” The evolution of the marital bed, from pre- to post-children, could doubtlessly become its own blog post/ series of essays/ manifesto, but here it will have to suffice as a poetic theme.

Motherhood is a radical new dimension in a woman’s life. Nearly three years ago, I bore my first, and likely only, child. What a joy, what a gift, and, still, what a deeply ambivalent change. My relationship to my body has undergone some evolutions/ convolutions in these short (yet very long) years.

Initially, those first six or so months, my body was primarily a host, a conduit. A source of food, energy, heat, and deep well of unconscious for the babe. As one of my half-sisters told me early on– It feels like you’re constantly jet-lagged. That was a true psychic and somatic experience, of feeling lagged, constantly weighted, slowed, knowing something urgent needed to be done to care for the baby, but you’re so damn tired and it sure would be nice to brush your teeth.

Then, somewhere, sleep starts to creep in longer stretches. Our baby was incorporating formula, and then solid food, into her diet. I was no longer primarily an udder with legs and unwashed hair. A successive image of my physical identity involved the question– Do I look like a Mom? Simultaneously, I don’t know exactly what that means, yet we all have some idea (forgiving elastic-waisted jeans, scrunchy as couture hair). A Mother is defined by her relationship to her children; can a woman, the same Mother, just be herself, independently? I still want to look like a “woman”: my version is creative, sexual, yet often a loner. How can I begin to reconcile the selves of female-dom? Well, one straightforward way in which I do is that I still wear weird clothes. If anyone sees me tempted by a Lands End flannel big shirt, please talk me down. The way we are perceived by others does, whether we want it to or not, influence our self-perception. Being a Mom in celestial print pants helps me feel more vital. But, of course, looks aren’t everything. I want to continue to fascinate myself.

Some weeks ago, I uncharacteristically got dolled up. Took a shower, put on contacts and make-up, wore a cute little dress. I saw a woman I know who cares for her grandchildren during the day; we know each other from local playgroups where I bring my daughter. She told me– You don’t look like somebody’s Mom, you look like somebody’s girlfriend. That was… something. A huge compliment, yes. And also a reminder that once we become Mothers, that sexy and playful self is assumed to dissipate. The message seemed to be that we are purely caretakers now. What a shame.

Stella Padnos-Shea’s poems can be found in Chest medical journal, The Comstock ReviewLapetitezine.com, and ldyprts.tumblr.com, an online collaboration with jewelry artist Margaux Lange. She has participated in the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont and presented at the 4th Annual Creative Writing Festival in Long Island. In an early incarnation, one of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Stella has also regularly performed her work at Studio 26 Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Stella has been employed as a college English instructor, jewelry maker, and therapist, and currently serves as the organizer for the political action committee of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. She is currently embarked, though, on her greatest and most challenging project yet: raising her toddler, Mirabel, while sustaining a marriage. Please find her virtually at Stella.Padnos@gmail.com, or genuinely in Brooklyn.

Taking Time to Relish the Moment

A proud moment; Zoe’s 5th Grade Graduation

Sometimes the best moments in parenting come when you’re not actively parenting at all.  I was sitting by the pool, reading Wild,the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, occasionally glancing up from my book to watch the antics of my eleven year-old daughter and her two friends.  I was at the beginning of the book, where Strayed is losing her mother to cancer, living in two time periods at once.  First: the past, where her mother was healthy and vivacious, telling Strayed and her siblings stories, singing them songs, teaching them about nature and using all her creativity to make them feel loved and grounded no matter how shaky their circumstances.  Second, the present, where illness was ravaging Strayed’s mother’s body, taking her far more quickly than doctors had initially predicted.  As I’m reading this frank, raw description of losing a beloved mother, of being consumed with the need to hold onto her, my own mother was thousands of miles away visiting Russia, the land of her father’s birth.Now I always worry a little when my mother travels.  I’m not specifically thinking that she’ll fall and break a limb on all these walking tours she takes, or that she’ll get sick and need medical attention in a country where she doesn’t speak the language.  I’m not imagining her plane will go down, or that her boat will hit an iceberg and sink.  Of course, all these fears go through my mind, as I’m sure something like them goes through hers when I take a trip.  But I always see my mother as resilient, able to handle more than most women half her age.  I see her as solid.  I see her as permanent, which—as I know too well from having lost my father—is a fallacy.  In any case, reading about Strayed’s pain, about her wish to have her mother longer, just to have a chance to hear her voice again, I wished my mother were around so I could hug her, have her tell mea story.

Of course, I’m closer to the age of Strayed’s mother when she died, than I am to the age of the daughter losing her.  And unlike Cheryl Strayed when she lost her mother, I am a mother.  So, as I sat there, reading by the pool watching my long-legged girl doing flips off the diving board, I found myself identifying more with Strayed’s mother,  than with Strayed herself.  Not in an entirely morose way.   Naturally, it went through my mind how devastating it would be to have to say good-bye to your daughter prematurely.  But that wasn’t where my mind dwelled.  Instead, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the brevity of life in a seize-the-day good way.  I felt urgent about the need to appreciate each moment that I am here with my children, to make the most of them, of myself, of our lives together however long that is.  I don’t think that way enough.

Between writing, household chores, arranging for home-repairs, dealing with the car, getting people ready for their Next Big Thing, be it camp, school or a family trip, re-starting my therapy practice after nearly three years, preparing talks—I am so caught up with the minutiae of my life that I am often at risk of missing all the good stuff.  The moments that matter most, those where I get to enjoy the people I love.

My kids during a great poolside moment last summer.

So I closed my book and just watched my daughter in the simple act of being her smart, silly, inventive self.  The girls had stopped their game of Marco Polo by now, because a younger girl, hoping to get ingratiate herself to the big girls—had lent them her enormous, inflatable seal.  Zoe and her two friends took turns trying get on its slippery back for a ride, more often than not, causing the seal to slip out from under them, pop up into the air, knocking them back into the water to the tune of their own hysterical giggles.  Finally, when each of them had mastered it and taken a turn riding around the section of the pool where inflatable toys are allowed, a new challenge arose.   From where I sat, I couldn’t tell what they were up to at first.  One of Zoe’s friends took hold of the seal’s head, the other its tail, trying to hold it steady as Zoe climbed aboard.   Now she crouched with her feet planted shakily on its back.  Her goal, it seemed, was to stand.  A few attempts ended with Zoe sliding off one side or another, but finally she got her balance—albeit in a bit of a squat—let go and, arms outstretched, shrieked that she was surfing!  Her friends cheered as Zoe toppled off the seal once again, creating a surprisingly big splash for a sixty-five pounder.

It was just a split second of victory, but the delight on her face brought tears to my eyes.  It is a snapshot of Zoe’s childhood that I’ll remember always, a moment I was around to appreciate, silently cheering her on.

“Ghost Blog” or “Please Stand By …”

Okay, so this post is mostly for my followers, who may or may not have noticed that I haven’t even touched this blog for a really long time.  The June 15 deadline for finishing a draft of my YA novel still stands, which is why I’ve been focusing only on that.   (Oh yeah and my kids.  And husband.  I meant kids and husband.)  This is just a quick post to share a few awesome things that have happened in the interim.

  •  The Edgemont school production of Annie, for which I was honored to do choreography, went off last week, not only without a hitch, but so splendidly, I cried at all four shows.  Both casts were fantastic, but the Friday cast was especially dear to me, because my own Zoe starred as the curly, carrot-topped orphan herself.  (Though not-especially-carrot-topped in this case!)  Her photo tops this post with friends in “Hard Knock Life.”
  • My unpublished-unagented-but-finished-for-now novel, Birch Wood Doll was named a finalist in the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel competition.  This was so exciting I actually screamed when I realized the email wasn’t a form “thank you but no thanks” rejection.

Dr. Susan Swartwout, the publisher of Southeast Missouri State University Press, who sponsors the contest, gave me some wonderful feedback which I will use when I revise again, which I have decided to do.  

  • Last but not least, a very special friend of mine who will remain anonymous just gave me the thrilling news that motherhood is in her future. 

Anyway, I’m on target to finish my draft and will return to more regular blogging, reading and commenting very soon.