Our relationship with our children is utterly unique and utterly exasperating. While I feel a love-without-conditions for my kids, there are chapters in our lives together in which that love is challenging to practice.
My daughters are 12 and 14 today, and I can say with total certainty that I am certainly baffled by 12-year-old girls. 2 years ago, my older daughter bewildered me with her sudden hatred of the very sight of me. Everything I said or did was mortifying, and there was no way we were going to make eye contact or touch. Hugs, forget it. I recall coming into her bedroom with laundry and saying something to her, and she looked up with clear repulsion and said, “You can go now.”
Wow. I was incredibly hurt. I couldn’t figure out what on earth had made me an object of intense dislike so quickly. I tried over and over to engage her. Needless to say, those efforts were a waste of energy and a disappointment.
I talked to a friend of mine whose daughter was older; she offered some wonderful insight:
- It’s not about you; don’t personalize your daughter’s behavior or words.
- Your daughter doesn’t know what she’s doing or why.
- Give her plenty of space.
- She’ll get through it.
I did commit to giving her more silence and more space, which of course was the opposite of my instinct–talk at her and move closer to her.
My friend was right on; the more I responded with quiet, the softer my daughter became. The more space I gave her, the closer she came. This process took months and all the patience I could muster. I made a conscious decision to call her “honey” and “sweetheart” as often as I could, with a loving, calm tone of voice. Now that she is 14, there aren’t many moments of conflict between us. I miss her when she’s gone and enjoy her company.
Now my baby is 12, and this transition is potentially more hurtful than the previous one. My youngest has always been extremely affectionate, chatty, and exceedingly loving to me in particular. In truth, it stings like crazy to feel her rejection, as natural and necessary as it is. I’m writing this list of “Things to Remember” not only to keep myself on course with her, but also because we all have people in our lives we love who, at times, behave in a way that is quite unlovable.
- The behavior doesn’t reflect the essence of the person you love. You don’t need to understand the behavior–or talk her out of it, either!
- The behavior is not a reflection of whether or not that person loves you. Believe the love is there even if you can’t see it.
- Pay close attention to your impulses. Chances are, when you feel like talking, you ought to be quiet. When you feel like getting closer, you might be better off stepping back. And sometimes, the opposites are true.
- Use terms of endearment. Those terms soften the hearts of the speaker and the one spoken to.
- Remember everything always changes. This isn’t a forever thing.
12-year-old girls offer an opportunity to truly experience the counterintuitive nature of true wisdom. Last night, I said goodnight to my baby girl, who was looking not at me, but straight ahead, as if willing me to evaporate. I leaned in and kissed her cheek, and said, “I love you, sweet girl.”