Resolving conflict creatively becomes crucial to a healthy engagement between mothers and daughters. Ask her to put herself in your shoes and do your best to do the same for her. This will help bridge the seeming gulf that opens between you as she enters her teens.
Resolve to adapt and evolve both as her mother and as an individual as she grows and changes. Ask her to adhere to rules based on her safety, health, and integrity, and communicate your values in a loving way, and she will respect them and you. As you slowly hand over the power for making choices to your daughter, you can intervene in all the places where girls may lose ground.
On Your Mark, Get Set ...
Anticipate changes when your daughter enters seventh or eighth grade or freshman year (and every year after!) in high school. As her body changes, her mental, emotional, and social development will sometimes accelerate, and she will sometimes flounder as her body, mind, and heart try to find a new balance. Sometimes she will regress two steps in order to move forward three. The day after her first class dance in eighth grade, she may burst into tears when you ask her to baby-sit her younger brother. Although she swore she had a wonderful time, the challenge of relating to boys and to her girlfriends in a new way took a toll. Support her need to fall apart and to spend some time alone.
Your task as a mother is to prepare yourself by thinking about these issues before they arise. Inform yourself about the reality of the world that your daughter is growing up in and how different it may be from when you were young. Visit the middle school and high school that she will be attending. Talk with other parents who have daughters in the school. Ask them about problems that have arisen with drugs, alcohol, sex, and sexual harassment. Find teachers who will answer your questions about sexism in the classroom. Get a sense of the atmosphere in which your daughter will spend most of her time for years.
Ruth needs to let go, but she is afraid and trying to correct her past by restricting Leah. Beginning in sixth grade, Ruth refused to let Leah go to the well-chaperoned birthday party dances or to movies with a group of friends because she didn't want Leah out after 10:00 P.M. As a result Leah became more and more excluded from her friends' middle school social activities. By the time Leah was a freshman, she was seething with resentment and determined to find every avenue to escape from her mother's hyper-vigilance.
Ask Yourself the Hard Questions
In order to mother your daughter well as she moves into middle school and adolescence, you must be willing to confront your memories of your own adolescence. "How did my mother handle this for me? What did I appreciate and what did I detest about those years? What do I want to preserve for my daughter and what do I want to change? What were my parents' expectations? And how did I feel about them?"
To guide your daughter, you must probe even deeper. Think about when you first encountered or experimented with drugs and alcohol and what kinds of problems ensued. Remember your humiliations and your triumphs in high school. Were you a wallflower, the school slut, a jock, or a brain? Who did you go to when you got into trouble? How did all this influence your feelings about being a woman? Keep these questions in mind at each new encounter and try to sort your feelings out from hers. At any given moment, are you feeling sadness, humiliation, or joy for her or for yourself or both?
You also have to explore an area that is deeply personal for each woman. Ask yourself: "What does it mean to me to be a woman? What has my daughter learned from watching me? Why am I uncomfortable with the way she is dressing (or talking or acting) now? What memories does this bring up for me? What are my values, and have I conveyed them to her in a positive way?" My work with women over the years has shown me that we can ask these difficult questions and be more creative with the answers than we ever thought possible.
If you can recall what your mother did that you hated as an adolescent or the excruciating times when you weren't getting what you needed from her (or anyone else), the times when school was a living hell and you were miserable, you can begin to come up with responses to your daughter based on your own earned wisdom and the reality of her.