As my daughters grew to be teenagers, a chasm started to grow between the older one and me. I would “advise” her to practice her violin, do her homework and I would check her grades online. As soon as one of her classes started to drop, I’d pounce on her.
This, I believed, was motherly love.
She started to distance herself from me. When we spoke, it quickly escalated with me on offense and her on defense. She started to stay out later and later and we rarely talked nicely to each other. I asked myself over and over, When will she grow out of this? And then I found electric cigarette paraphernalia in her room. I freaked out. The younger one asked, “Don’t you see why she’s acting out?”
Wake up call!
One night, I decided I would do a 180. I would do the opposite of everything I had been doing. Before, I was completely hands-on. Now, I would be hands-off. I wouldn’t ask questions or tell her what to do. I would just listen.
And when was the last time we had fun together? I decided we would go on a date – just the two of us – once a week. It didn’t have to be fancy, just as long as we had 1:1 time together.
After she put aside her suspicions (and why wouldn’t she be suspicious of my motivations?), we started to go to a coffee shop every Sunday before she went to work as a server in a Thai restaurant. She would tell me about rude customers, her rude boss, good coworkers, and not-so-good coworkers. She told me about her friends, about how she would miss them when they went off to college and she would be a senior in high school “all alone.” I didn’t give advice or suggestions. I just listened.
I learned more about her on one date than I had in the six months before my 180.
Gradually, we joked together again. She opened up. “Mom, I have something to tell you.”
I braced myself.
“Right now, I’m getting an F in math.”
“Do you know what to do to raise it?”
“I trust you don’t want an F and that you will do something about it if you care. If you don’t, you won’t. No big deal.”
She walked away completely flabbergasted.
She got that F up to a B on her report card with no additional words or actions from me.
Now, she is three months from 18 and I am completely confident she will be just fine – not just in school or college – but in life. She has a great head on her shoulders. She’s a people-person and completely capable.
And she knows she can come to me at any time.
“Happiness is a living thing. You need to feed your happiness in order to have happiness last. It’s like love. If you don’t feed your love, it will die. Understanding and compassion are the foundation to happiness.”
Thich Nhat Hanh