“And don’t forget you didn’t finish the laundry,” I yell defiantly.
I watch the slim profile of my daughter stomp up the stairs, her dark ponytail swinging side to side. I can hear her breathing through her nose, in and out, in and out, like a bull about to charge. I watch as she turns the corner, out of my view. I brace myself, waiting for the door to slam, yet thankfully I hear a quiet click of metal on the wooden frame.
I stand still, one hand clutching the railing, the other clenched so tightly I can feel my unshaped nails indenting my palm. I can feel the tension in my right shoulder blade. I slowly release the bite I have on my lower lip, my weak attempt at trying to keep my rage locked up inside.
Today’s argument with my teen daughter is no different from the ones we have almost daily lately. It could be about coming home late or putting her dishes away or finishing the one chore we asked her to do.
Sometimes it’s about her attitude with her siblings or ignoring the rules or a lie she told to get out of trouble.
My lectures seem to be on a continuous loop with no end in sight.
She is strong-willed. But so am I.
I hate the current state of my relationship with my young teen.
Each morning I wake with a new resolve to be a better mother, one who does not nag so much or finds innovative ways to motivate my teens.
But somewhere during the day, I watch as my daughter refuses to follow our house rules, chooses to ignore what needs to be done, walks a path that makes us worry about her future.
Sometimes we let her fail and succumb to the consequences of her forgetfulness or blatant disregard. Sometimes we assist with organizing her day or have long talks about her behavior where she sincerely apologizes.
Sometimes I remember that everyone needs a little help now and again.
And sometimes we seem to make progress, only to go two steps back the next morning.
I keep reminding myself to pick and choose my battles, but it’s hard when it feels like there are so many battles to choose from.
“Be more laid back,” I tell myself. “Not everything is a big deal or a teachable moment.”
But as she gets closer to adulthood each and every second, I worry.
Will she learn the skills she needs to succeed? Will she live life to her potential or will she merely get through a day? Will she engage in risky behavior? Will she believe in herself and know that she is loved?
I firmly believe that some kids are just easier to raise than others, but that doesn’t mean we love them any less.
I am startled as I see her small body appear on the stairs again, stomping down step by step, avoiding my eyes. She holds a white laundry basket in her hand, and I bite my tongue as I watch it collide into the spindles on my staircase.
Her shoulder bumps into mine as she struggles to turn the corner, and the metaphor is not lost on me.
My relationship with my daughter is like an unfinished chore, like the laundry you don’t feel like doing.
Something you don’t want to deal with, but you know needs attention.
I want her to be finished, now, so the petty arguments and fights can be done, and we can move on to the good stuff.
I want to enjoy her company. I want to help her chase her dreams.
I know I will always worry, but I’m a little bit exhausted from our relationship.
But what I often forget is children, especially teenagers, are meant to be unfinished. These young people are meant to continue improving and learning and finding their way.
So, as I watch my daughter begrudgingly do what I asked, I decide I need to change a little, too.
And as I look at her, I decide to change my mindset.
What sometimes feels like a chore instead should be approached like sculpting a masterpiece, letting the clay form where it is supposed to under my hands. I need to be gentler in some areas, firmer in others, and remember that the imperfections are what will make for a more beautiful end project.
I will try to slow down the process, however, knowing this beautiful piece of art doesn’t need to be finished just yet.
I have to fight the urge to “fix” my daughter, fight the desire to change who she is at this moment.
I have to fight the pressure to teach her everything I want her to know before she leaps into the world on her own.
Because children, especially teenagers, are meant to be unfinished.
But her laundry, well, that still needs to get done.
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Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting teens and tweens can be so hard, but there is more here to help you:
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