So why is the mother-daughter relationship so notoriously hard in the teen years?
Why does almost every mother and daughter go through a trying time of conflict or distance?
Wouldn’t it be nice if she could just grow up to be a wonderful young woman without so much struggle along the way?
The 7 steps below will help.
But, first, let’s look at the “WHY” of all this conflict.
Differentiation: as tough as it is necessary
An important developmental growth spurt happens in every teen girl at some point during her teen years. Its called differentiation.
This is when your daughter really comes to understand herself as separate from you. Up to this point, you have been her primary model of what it means to be a girl and woman in this world. You have been her focal point and her idol. But now her attention reaches beyond her home and family.
Your daughter sees all the different ways of being a woman in the world. She’s curious and eager to figure out who she is as a young woman. To really explore her identity she needs to take the opportunity to recognize herself as a separate individual from you and her overall family system.
Your daughter is making space for herself
Some girls go through this at twelve, while others don’t show signs of differentiation until eighteen. No matter what the age, this change is often really painful for mothers. Daughters take a step back in abrupt ways that are difficult to understand.
They’re just trying to make space for their own process, but they don’t say:
“Mom, I love you and appreciate all that you have shared with me and supported me with, and now I need to do something completely on my own that does not include you.”
“ Don’t get your feelings hurt Mom. This doesn’t mean I don’t love you or want to be close to you anymore. It just means I want to know who I am outside or you and our family.”
“I’m going to experiment with some new ways of living. I know some of the things I do will scare you and make you uncomfortable. But don’t worry – I’m just experimenting. I will likely return to valuing what you have taught me. I just need to explore.”
Your daughter won’t post status updates on her differentiation process. Instead, she’s likely to be confused by her own need for distance. It’s an unconscious process that’s really difficult for her too.
As she is pushing you away, she’s also experiencing an intense drive to be accepted and liked by her peers. Likely, it’s stressful for her to balance being close to you and close to her friends. She still loves you, but she feels a great urge to differentiate. She does not have control over it. It’s as natural as growing taller at this point in her life.
Many daughters feel guilty because they can’t figure out how to please themselves, you, and their peers. This can create anger or just lots of big emotion for both of you.
What You Can Do To Minimize Conflict and Maintain A Close Relationship With Her
You can do a few things right now to help this “growth spurt” along
1. Don’t take it personally
2. Give her space to experiment – as long as she is safe
3. Be okay with her being different from you
4. Ask her questions about her new interests and support them
5. Give her language to explain what is happening
6. Hang out with her and with other mothers and daughters in a way that celebrates your bond and her individuality simultaneously
7. Have honest conversations with other mothers raising teen girls and ask for support when you need it.
You can make your daughter’s differentiation“growth spurt” easier if you resolve your own resistance to the process. I don’t claim this is easy, starting with the awareness of your discomfort is a great place to start.
If you pressure her to avoid change or experimentation you make the conflict bigger and often extend the time it will take for her to go through the process.
Further resources to help you survive – and thrive – through the differentiation process
If this all seems like you are going through a standard run of differentiation, sit back and relax! It’s normal and she’s just showing you she’s a healthy teenager.
Check in with yourself periodically to be sure you’re confident that she is safely enjoying the many adventures coming her way. It will likely take you both to places you didn’t think of!
When you trust in her processes of growing you’ll have a lot fewer arguments along the way.
If you are having a hard time relating to her or if you have concerns about her safety or mental health, please trust your instincts.
Consider contacting me or another trusted mental health professional for more guidance and assessment.