Point of View: Mothers and Daughters


When mothers look back at baby pictures of their daughters, we remember the days when our little girls looked to us as though the moon and the stars radiated from our very being. So it is a mystery to many of us when, at 10, or 12 or 14, they begin to speak to us as though we are the dumbest people on the planet.

I remember looking at my nine-year-old daughter standing in our kitchen thinking, this child is perfect. She hasn’t given me a moment of anything except happiness every day of her life. God, or the spirit who controls all, must have overheard my thoughts and said, “Really, well get a load of this.” And within two years, my beautiful baby had turned into a mean girl. She developed a permanent look on her face that my dearly departed mother would have referred to as a “puss.” I’m not sure she smiled in my presence for the next six years.

So what is it between mothers and daughters?

Mothers really know a lot. We know how to read labels in supermarkets, careful not to buy anything that could poison our offspring. We are on the lookout for food that could cause our kids to develop a fatal illness in 40 years. We promise to buy organic produce. When organic becomes ridiculously expensive, swallowing our guilt, we revert to grocery store fruits and vegetables. We learn how to negotiate the minefield of our education system,  kissing butt so our children get the one good teacher capable of bringing out the best in our precocious second grader. We work all day, run home and make dinner, and try to convince our children that another dinner of macaroni and cheese isn’t the healthiest choice for the seventh day in a row.

Still, our daughters speak to us — when they must — with distaste.

It’s normal to worry that your daughter may never like you again, may never act grateful for all you do for them. When my daughter was a teenager, I solved this by doing my best to ignore her. I forced myself to tell her three nice things every day, even though it took most of my brain power to come up with one. I closely monitored her coming and going while at the same time pretended to have little interest in her life.

While she slept, I carefully went through her backpack looking for any signs of trouble. When she received letters from an inmate at an upstate prison (true story, a high school buddy who enjoyed conducting burglaries) I carefully steamed open the letters and read them. They were innocent enough, and I ignored them, carefully resealing them for her reading enjoyment. That is until one asked her to send a picture of herself , which I assumed would be hung up on the little criminal’s cell wall. I did confront her about that and to my knowledge no picture of my child graced the wall of any prison.

I’m sure many readers will be horrified about my invasion of privacy. But the only really important job you have as a mother is to ensure that your child is alive at the end of the day. A mother of a teenager should aim to develop skills similar to an undercover FBI agent, making sure no threats are incoming.

Surliness, slammed doors and the silent treatment, traits our daughters would never inflict on anyone else, especially their fathers, are part of the teenage years. Don’t take it personally. Remember you have friends and other family members who actually like and respect you. One day if you play your cards right, your daughter may actually become a human being you want to spend time with, and she with you.

Teenagers basically want to be left alone. The only opinion that seems to matter to them is that of their friends. Don’t be fooled. They hear everything you say. Your values are their values, even though they hide that fact very well. Your love and approval are what really matters when all is said and done.

Go about your business, leave them alone, don’t pry just verify. Verify they are polite and respectful to their peers, the teachers who deserve it, and shopkeepers. Teach them to care for others by your example — they see how you treat others, how you do your job and how you show up every day no matter what. Let them know they can be mean to you, even act like you are the biggest dope they know, but that you will still be there for them (though this caring, no matter what, expires after age 35).

The payoff comes when your daughter has a teenage daughter who posts a note on her door that says, as my granddaughter recently wrote, “No Mom aloud (sp) until Lily says you can come in.”

Soon the day will come when the words coming out of your daughter’s mouth, as she speaks to her teenage daughter, will be the very same words you said to her so many years ago. And as the French like to say, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”