When the mom-daughter dynamic suddenly changes

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 16, 2012 06:00 AM

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[This letter has been condensed. BFM]
Hi there,
I have an 11 year old daughter. Her father left when she was 1...I am from a family with two parents and was at a total loss as to how to go about this divorce thing, however, I knew for sure that I wanted my daughter to have her father in her life. In the past 10 years I have really bent over backwards to accommodate him, even giving him the keys to my home so he could be with her on certain days.
....He has always paid me child support. However, he says, this money means that I have to do EVERYTHING for her, this is what he pays me for! He won't bring her to and from his place every time he has her, I do it every other week etc.

Through all this, he will openly make fun of me, where I'm from (EU), my cooking, my child rearing skills to his friends in front of my daughter....Barbara, I think you get the picture here. It is a rotten place to be as a mother and I try my best to not put my child in the middle, however, recently she has seen me kick her father out of my home for being totally rude and very disrespectful to me. I explained to my daughter that no one is allowed to treat me like this, not my mother, not her and not her father. She was angry with me for a while then she understood.

She and I have a good relationship, however, she is hitting 11 and the hormones are kicking in. The other day she told me that she thinks her dad is much smarter than me and that his conversations with her are so interesting, much more that mine. I only talk about her and her life and school and what she wants and does etc, where as, her dad talks to her all about his life and his issues and that is much more interesting.

How do I handle this?
Please help.

From: Nora, Cambridge, MA

Dear Nora,

You're absolutely right, the hormones are kicking in, and when that happens, it affects the growing brain as well as the changing body. Mostly, it fuels the preteen to separate from both parents and, especially, for girls to distance themselves from mom. In your case, you've got a double whammy because you are not only the mom, but also the primary, responsible parent. It's not that she doesn't love you or respect you or want you to be part of her life. What she wants is not to be taken for granted. What she wants is to feel that you respect her. So pretend this is what she said to you:

"Mom, I'm not a little kid anymore. I'm someone who has thoughts and opinions about all kinds of things, and I wish you'd treat me accordingly."

Forget about the awful conversation the two of you had -- there will be more of them, I promise! -- and for goodness sake, put aside all issues you have about her father. He may be symbolic for you, but what's going on between you and your daughter would happen regardless of him. This is about how preteen daughters push their mom away in order to forge a new relationship based on their cognitive and emotional growth.

When the time is right, tell her something like this:

"You know, I've noticed that you're really getting a lot more mature, especially in the way you think. Sometimes I forget that you're not just my little girl. I'm sorry for when that happens." Then move on, keeping this in mind as you go forward, don't make assumptions about or for her the way you've been able to do all her life. Ask first.

PS. That link above? Not to be pushy but: If you've got a daughter, you want to read it.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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5 comments so far...
  1. If Dad lived with you and was the best thing since sliced bread, your daughter would be telling you how much she likes her friend's mom, or Grandma, or the sitter, better than you and wishes she could live at Jane's house where everything would be so much better. The grass is always greener with some other adult who's not the one who every day is making you do your homework, brush your teeth, and go to bed on time.

    Just make sure that your relationship is about a few things besides the homework etc. and eventually she'll remember that there is more to you than that.

    Posted by di March 16, 12 02:48 PM
  1. At this age, your daughter is going to begin challenging you on everything. She also is smart enough to know which buttons to push to make you upset. She knows and has witnessed all of the difficult emotions between you and your ex-husband. Therefore, she is using the piece of information she has to really hit you where it hurts. My advice? Don't react. If you don't show an emotional reaction to her insults, she will try a new tactic.

    "The child psychologist who thought she had all the answers to parenting until she became one herself." www.themommypsychologist.com

    Posted by Heather Harrison March 16, 12 07:25 PM
  1. Barbara's answer was great. Another thing I read in this is that your daughter is tired of your conversations just revolving around her. I went through the same thing with my mom - I felt like her life revolved around her kids and it put a lot of pressure on us. She's growing up and craving a slightly more adult relationship with you.

    Posted by lemna March 17, 12 07:54 AM
  1. Divorced father here, custody of the teenage girl at the time of the divorce. I believe the answer is spot on. Kids need to talk smack, (tough, like they got the world figured out). As long as it doesn't involve driugs or other dangerous behavior, no sense in getting excited. They are just building courage to go out in the world on their own.

    Posted by bob albert March 18, 12 08:03 AM
  1. Although Barbara and the commenters are right in what they say I think they miss a significant problem raised in the letter. The mostly absent father constantly puts the custodial mother down, and seems to encourage the daughter to view her mother poorly. children want their mostly absent parent to love them, and when one parent resorts to forging a bond with the child by making the child betray the other parent, it's terribly damaging. And difficult for the parent who is truly concerned with her daughter's welfare to address, since ripping apart the father would do further damage to her daughter.

    Posted by Elle March 24, 12 10:45 AM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. If Dad lived with you and was the best thing since sliced bread, your daughter would be telling you how much she likes her friend's mom, or Grandma, or the sitter, better than you and wishes she could live at Jane's house where everything would be so much better. The grass is always greener with some other adult who's not the one who every day is making you do your homework, brush your teeth, and go to bed on time.

    Just make sure that your relationship is about a few things besides the homework etc. and eventually she'll remember that there is more to you than that.

    Posted by di March 16, 12 02:48 PM
  1. At this age, your daughter is going to begin challenging you on everything. She also is smart enough to know which buttons to push to make you upset. She knows and has witnessed all of the difficult emotions between you and your ex-husband. Therefore, she is using the piece of information she has to really hit you where it hurts. My advice? Don't react. If you don't show an emotional reaction to her insults, she will try a new tactic.

    "The child psychologist who thought she had all the answers to parenting until she became one herself." www.themommypsychologist.com

    Posted by Heather Harrison March 16, 12 07:25 PM
  1. Barbara's answer was great. Another thing I read in this is that your daughter is tired of your conversations just revolving around her. I went through the same thing with my mom - I felt like her life revolved around her kids and it put a lot of pressure on us. She's growing up and craving a slightly more adult relationship with you.

    Posted by lemna March 17, 12 07:54 AM
  1. Divorced father here, custody of the teenage girl at the time of the divorce. I believe the answer is spot on. Kids need to talk smack, (tough, like they got the world figured out). As long as it doesn't involve driugs or other dangerous behavior, no sense in getting excited. They are just building courage to go out in the world on their own.

    Posted by bob albert March 18, 12 08:03 AM
  1. Although Barbara and the commenters are right in what they say I think they miss a significant problem raised in the letter. The mostly absent father constantly puts the custodial mother down, and seems to encourage the daughter to view her mother poorly. children want their mostly absent parent to love them, and when one parent resorts to forging a bond with the child by making the child betray the other parent, it's terribly damaging. And difficult for the parent who is truly concerned with her daughter's welfare to address, since ripping apart the father would do further damage to her daughter.

    Posted by Elle March 24, 12 10:45 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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