Mother-Daughter Turbulence in the Early Teen Years

A few weeks ago, I was welcoming students to an overnight for a middle school comprehensive sexuality class when a mother dashed in without her thirteen-year-old daughter. “Sarah won’t be here for a while,” she said. “I kicked her out of the car and told her to walk the rest of the way.” She went on to explain her daughter had been outrageously disrespectful and hateful on the drive over, and she’d finally had “enough.” Seemingly overnight, her sweet child had turned into this moody, sullen, hypercritical stranger.

I admit I’ve never directly experienced this phenomenon. I didn’t acquire an on-site mother until age twelve when my dad remarried. I was so thrilled to have a mom that I had zero interest in mouthing off to her.

Besides, I raised sons, not daughters. Sure, at thirteen, they kept their distance from me in public. Who wants to run into a kid from school at the grocery store and be seen with your mother? Best to walk several paces ahead or behind to stave off the potential embarrassment.

And sure, we had plenty of disagreements. But since I was not a guy, I don’t think my sons had the same need to disparage my every thought and action along the way to carving out their own identities.

If I’ve never personally experienced mother-daughter turbulence in the early teen years, however, I sure have been a frequent witness. I still remember one single parent friend lamenting the change in her newly adolescent daughter: “It’s like living with the enemy. I still love her, but I can’t honestly say that I like her.”

Fortunately, this stage usually turns out to be temporary. At age thirteen, for example, my niece could barely tolerate her mother. Why did she have to have this fashion-challenged psychiatrist who didn’t even wear makeup for a mom? Miraculously, now that my niece is sixteen, mom dissing is a distant memory. She recently told me, an unmistakable note of pride in her voice, “My mom’s totally awesome. Three of my friends called her on Mother’s Day to thank her for being like a mom to them.”

So, I guess the good news is that while the mother-daughter ride may be incredibly bumpy during the early teen years, the acute turbulence doesn’t usually last. Seat belts, however, are always advisable.

Dear Readers:

Do you have any stories/anecdotes/reflections on mother-daughter relationships? I’d love for you to share them. All comments welcome!




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