Mother and Daughter Argue

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson.

Question: During the last few months my 12-year-old daughter and I have gotten to the point where we can't be in the same room without getting into an argument. We've always been close, but now she thinks that everything I say or do is either mean or stupid. How can we recapture that warm mother-daughter relationship we used to have?

Answer: In many families, one of the closest-but also most conflict-ridden-of relationships is that between a mother and her adolescent daughter. Even in the healthiest families, a certain amount of tension between mom and daughter is common. Moms and daughters often have had an intimate, emotionally expressive relationship, so as the daughter prepares to go out on her own; she may need to push hard to make that necessary separation. Sons also separate, but may be more likely to do that by going off with their buddies or channeling their energy into activities. Girls, on the other hand, often use words and emotions to actively engage mom in working through the separation. As necessary as this process is, it's not much fun for mom-daughter, for that matter.

Unless your daughter is exhibiting more serious behavior problems or having increased difficulty in school -in which case you should seek professional help-the following suggestions should help you both move through this stage toward a renewed closeness:

- Agree to really listen to each other's feelings. As parents, it's tempting to try to convert kids to our point of view, but often a teenager just needs to be heard. When we respect them enough to listen, they are more likely to listen to us.

- Let your daughter know that you trust her to make good decisions. (My kids-now young adults-tell me that when they knew I trusted them, they felt compelled to live up to that trust.)

- When you see your daughter going in the wrong direction, express concern and offer guidance, then back off for a while and give her a chance to think about what she'll do. As kids get older, many times we can't force them to do what we want. We can only encourage them. And teens are more likely to make the right choice when they feel that it really is their choice.

- Deal with problems as they arise, and don't hold a grudge. Of course, it sometimes will be necessary to impose a swift and reasonable consequence (loss of a privilege, for example) when your daughter violates a household rule. But then move on and expect her to do better the next time.

- Make time to have fun together. In time, your daughter will pass through adolescence, and the warm memories you create in the midst of these trying years will carry you through to a new adult relationship. Catch a movie together (daughter's choice), take her and her friends out for Saturday brunch, have her show you the latest dance craze and play her favorite CDs for you. And don't plug your ears!

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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