The Traumatic Teen Years

Post-Rupture Recovery

My sense of victory at taking charge of the homework situation died right there. I had never seen her so upset, and her rage was frightening. My husband, Zen master of step-parenting, put his arm around me and stopped me from running into her room and trying to make it all better. He advised a cool-down period, and reassured me that she'd only said all those awful things in the heat of the moment. But I was reeling with doubt. What if she really did feel that way about me? What if we never managed to heal the breach between us?

Mom Alert!

When you've had a major blow up with your teenager, don't try to resolve the issue then and there. Both you and your teen will need a little cool-off time, or you'll just keep pushing each other's buttons and escalating the conflict.

No matter how bad I felt, I knew I had to follow through on taking her to work with me, but I didn't want to set off another battle. That next morning, I sneaked into her room and crawled under the covers next to her, trying to convey my wish that we repair the damage we'd done to one another. She was awake, and she didn't pull away, so I knew she was as heartbroken as I was. We both were not ready to talk directly about the fight so I started to read from one of her kid humor books. After a few minutes we both started laughing, hugged and everything was okay. Then we headed off to my office as if everything was back to normal. And, in a way, it was—when we got there she still avoided her work, and I went back into nagging mode. Later we were able to talk more openly about our feelings.

Intuition to the Rescue

We could have gone round and round like this forever—I nagging, she resisting, with periodic blow-ups punctuating the whole affair. But that night I had a dream that put everything in perspective. In the dream, I was telling one of my old college professors about my troubles with a course I was taking. I didn't understand a thing that was going on and when I asked the teacher for help he belittled me, so I fled the room and didn't want to go back. My dream provided me with the insight I needed to help my daughter—I realized that my daughter just might be feeling that same kind of pressure with regard to her schoolwork.

The next day I took my new insights along with us to the office. When she started her old work-avoidance tricks, I let it go until lunch, when I planned on sharing my dream with her. I never got the chance—she opened up immediately and told me that the biggest problem she was having with her homework was the pressure I was putting on her to do it. Every time I nagged, she became blocked and simply had to put it off one more time.

The Contrarian Country of Adolescence

Much of a teenager's counterproductive behavior stems from just such contrarian urges. The teen years are a time of great confusion, and your child is feeling pressure from all sides: emotional, intellectual, social, and hormonal. Sometimes the only reaction available to her is to shut down—to dig in her heels and mulishly refuse to do what she's told. When that happens, pushing your teen won't help—it just makes a bad situation worse.

I asked my daughter how I was supposed to get her to do her work without nagging? She replied, “You are not, it is my work and I am supposed to do it on my own.” I felt relieved with this insight. It is easy to become so pressured by our children's issues that we forget that they have to figure things out for themselves.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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