My 16-year-old daughter Shira has always been a creative, out-of-the-box girl. She is the artsy type and has never fit the mold in school or camp. As a toddler, while my older daughter was playing princess dress-up, Shira would create all sorts of interesting looks for herself. I would tell her how beautiful she looked but secretly I just didn’t get it. Not much has changed, and today she is using her clothing to make some type of statement about herself. I think it is important to her that people know she is different. This is a source of friction between the two of us, and she has become more of an adversary than a daughter in the last year or so.
I happen to have great taste in clothing and have dabbled in different areas of fashion since my twenties. My home is impeccably designed. I take pride in my appearance and understand trends and fashion. You can imagine how difficult it is for me to allow Shira to walk out the door looking so odd. She is always in her long, flowy skirts and chunky sweaters. My mother once said that she looks like a head mounted on a pile of fabric.
My other children appreciate my style and ask me for my input. I take pride in their appearance because the truth is that your children are a reflection of you.
Fast-forward to my current situation. Since the start of school, Shira has been moping around the house. We got into a terrible fight and she shouted horrible expletives at me complete with “I hate you!” and a character assassination. This hurts me, and now I mope too. It is also unacceptable in my house, so she is being punished until she apologizes. Her best friend’s mother, who is my good friend, told me that Shira has confided in her about what is going on at home. I was shocked that she is mixing in to my relationship with my daughter. Completely inappropriate! Knowing that my daughter and friend are in cahoots with each other sickens me. It is such a betrayal. I am not a happy camper right now, and with the chagim approaching I want to get this sorted out. Thank you.
Dear A Mom,
Conflict is painful. I am sorry you find yourself in turmoil with your friend and, more importantly, your daughter. Anyone can understand your wanting to sort this out with the chagim right around the corner. Hearing “I hate you,” complete with a “character assassination” and expletives from a daughter is like a knife in the heart. From one mother to another, I feel your pain. Beneath the layers of the specifics of your story lies what I think is a fairly common parenting hurdle—when a child’s behavior, personality, choices, etc. are disappointing.
Every mother has a dream for her child or a vision of who that child will be. The dream may be to be an A-student, a doctor, an athlete, the prettiest girl in school, a talmid chacham, etc. Yet another parenting hurdle (they are endless, aren’t they?) is learning when to let go. The only body of knowledge I have is the e-mail you wrote me, so I imagine there is much I don’t know. Solely based on what you wrote, I think it may be time for you to let go of your ideal Shira and practice acceptance of the real Shira: chunky sweaters, flowy skirts, and all.
Perhaps you agree with what I suggested. In that case, skip the rest of my response. If you do not agree and are having an adverse reaction—i.e., Jennifer does not understand, or this is just plain wrong—keep reading. While respect for parents in non-negotiable, allow yourself to step into your daughter’s shoes for a moment. This was a one-time offense, so perhaps she reached her boiling point. I wonder why she is boiling. Where are these words and feelings coming from? What are her feelings regarding this issue? Have you ever wondered what it must feel like for Shira to be a disappointment to her perfectly dressed mother? Taking a genuine interest and stepping away from judgment may allow you to connect with your daughter. I imagine she feels judged and unable to please her mother, which is a recipe for a rocky mother–daughter relationship.
I don’t gamble, but I would bet you aren’t changing your style anytime soon. I would put just as much money (if not more) on the notion that Shira isn’t changing her style anytime soon. As she gets older, her style may evolve more and you may disagree about other choices she makes. You can remain stuck, locking horns with your teenage daughter at every turn— every time she gets dressed for school, or goes out with her friends, or when she gets older and gets dressed for a date. That would be your choice and you can continue choosing it, as you have done this past year. In making that choice, you are missing out on getting to know Shira for who she is, not her fashion choices. There is more to her than her wardrobe. She has interests and aspirations, fears, and an entire life that you will be excluded from if you continue squabbling about her clothing. I wonder how much of this is about your concerns about what others think of your daughter and, consequently, of you.
You have another choice. In the words of Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, “Let it go! Let it go!” We don’t choose our children. Hashem gave you a creative, out-of-the-box child. She will probably never get into the box. All that is left for you to do is figure out how to coach her in maximizing her unique set of interests and talents. If your biggest battle with this child is a Bohemian-chic wardrobe, count your blessings and keep it moving. You may want to explore this button of yours that is pushed by your daughter’s taste.
It must have felt awful for your friend to have intervened in the way she did about such a personal matter. You can choose to remain angry with her or you can reframe and think, “That was probably uncomfortable for her and yet she cared enough about me and my daughter to say something. Maybe they are not plotting against me. Maybe my child was suffering and I was unable to see it.” It takes a village to raise a child, and as a parent there are often things we do not see about our children or ourselves. Perhaps this uncomfortable situation with your friend is the catalyst for a better relationship with Shira in the new year.
Wishing you and all readers a happy and healthy sweet new year.
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.