As we come up to Mother’s Day, I have decided it’s time to celebrate that often dreaded period of motherhood: a daughter’s teen years. If this is the life phase you happen to be in, I’m sure you’ve found yourself in this situation: you’re standing around with other parents at a backyard barbecue and the topic of parenting teen girls comes up. There is some eye-rolling, quite a bit of sighing and a fair dose of judgment. The best you can hope for is to just get through the teen years, just survive them, is what people usually say. You may have even found yourself nodding along in agreement. But this Mother’s Day I want to hit the pause button and inject a new word into that conversation: love.
When I ask girls for feedback after an Enlighten Education workshop, they say they loved the way we made them feel; they loved us; they were inspired by the power of the love we showed them. At first I was surprised by the prevalence of the word love in their feedback. Such a bold world, so large, so intimate.
I have come to believe that it is the fundamental secret to Enlighten’s success. Without big, bold in-your-face love, there can be no connection between us and the girls we work with. No sense that we care enough to want to fight to make things different for them. Our love gives them a safe place from which they can explore their world.
The song I play when we start work is always the Potbelleez’ ‘Don’t hold Back’, with its cry ‘Is there anybody out there, feeling something?’
How ironic that in a society saturated in sex, shopping and self-centredness, the one thing that can still truly shock and delight and make girls feel anything is simple, old-fashioned love. I have had people baulk at my frequent use of the word love and look bewildered when girls use it so freely when they are with us. When did love become something to shy away from, and what price will we pay for not being brave enough to openly, unapologetically love our children?
Too often we assume that our daughters know that we love them; that our love for them is instinctive and so needs no explanation. Rather than receiving messages of love from adults, teenage girls often get the message that the rest of the world sees them as hard to handle, troubled, unlovable. The sugar and spice of girlhood turned bad. In books, in movies and on TV, teen girls are Queen Bees, Wannabees, Bitchfaces, Princesses, Divas, Mean Girls, Drama Queens.
It is time to look at teenage girls through new lenses.
They may be some of these things at times. Yet they are also so much more. They can be hilarious, brave, captivating, creative, intelligent.
When I look at teenage girls, I see:
- The 14-year-old who works at the ice-cream shop near me who always wears pigtails and different novelty hair clips – horses, skulls, ballerinas. Her hair is a source of never-ending surprise and childlike playfulness.
- The 16-year-old who is my friend on facebook, whose profile page declares her to be a fan of Blu-Tack, Minties, Dory the fish from Finding Nemo and Bubble O’Bill ice-creams – and also features her reflections on gender differences and learning Italian.
- The 15-year-old who had a baby, as a result of being raped, and turned up at the school carnival the next week to join in sporting events and cheer on her classmates.
- The 13-year-old who asked me if there was make-up back in my day, too.
- The 14-year-old who sends me copies of her drawings of a fantasy world she has created, and badgers me for contacts in the publishing world as she wants to create her own line of products, ‘beginning with a book series and then obviously working my way up to films and merchandising’.
- The 14-year-old who sends me poems she has written on what being beautiful really means and on how she will survive being bullied and emerge a shinier girl.
Try not to let the slammed doors, angry silences or sarcastic asides of adolescence blind you to your daughter’s essential lovableness. Don’t be distracted by the toxic culture our girls are immersed in, for there is a risk that it can blind us to an even more important reality: the lovableness of all girls.
Don’t be afraid to show your daughter you love her.
You can show your love in such simple ways, in everyday moments, like these:
When it’s really cold and rainy, I come home from school and my mother’s got a cup of hot chocolate and pancakes made for me and my PJs ready to get into. Then we sit under a nice blanket and watch movies all night. — Gemma, 16
My mum writes me little surprise notes and sticks them in my lunch box sometimes. I love them so much, I stick them in my school diary. I’ve never told her that I look forward to seeing them so much, as she’d probably do it all the time then and somehow that would spoil it. When I feel sad during the day, I look at the letters and smile. — Michelle, 14
I love when me and my mum go shopping together, and after buying many things we will sit in a cafe and just talk. I feel comfortable to talk to her about my life, friends, etc. and it just makes me feel better that I can trust my mum and have that time with her. — Steph, 16
I love it when my mum touches me. That might sound stupid but we’re both so busy, we don’t touch very often. When we do, it feels like home. — Gemma, 15
You may feel that a good relationship with your daughter is a long way off. If it is not working for you both yet, love her anyway, and love yourself. And if she seems unlovable at times, remember that it is often those who are the hardest to love who need our love the most. Sixteen-year-old Stephanie shared this wisdom with me: ‘I don’t believe in loving someone because they are perfect . . . I fall in love with people’s flaws, because that’s what makes them different to everyone else.’
Don’t airbrush the issues that may need to be addressed with your daughter; part of loving is setting limits. And don’t dwell on the mistakes you both may have made in the past, either.
Just move forwards and fall in love.
Flaws and all.
Special Mother’s Day Book Offer!
This post was adapted from the final chapter of my book primarily for mothers, The Butterfly Effect. To celebrate the bond between mums and their teen daughters, I’m offering a special price on orders of The Butterfly Effect and the companion book for young women, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo. Order before 30 May 2012, and you will receive signed copies of both books for $50, including postage. (The price is normally $34.95 for The Butterfly Effect and $19.95 for The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, plus postage.) This offer applies only to orders for delivery within Australia. To order now, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Heart image by Louise Docker from Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons)