Betrayal at any age hurts. When you are a teenager, it is devastating. So when my daughter found out a girl she thought was a friend said something about her that wasn’t true, the world erupted into a fury of angst. Shortly thereafter, I learned that when it comes to parenting sometimes all we need to do to find the answers is to ask our kids the right questions.
My daughter was angry. Sobbing. Yelling. Heartbroken. I just wanted to comfort her.
I walked gently into her room where she had thrown herself under a mound of blankets and pillows. I touched her shoulder and began to speak in a quiet and loving tone.
My good intention to help calm her down was upended by emotional shrapnel as she launched into a furious tirade and screamed at me to get out.
I reeled back, slightly stunned. I just wanted to help! My feelings were hurt. That should have been my sign to walk away. In my experience, hurt feelings don’t lend themselves to a productive or wise response.
Instead, I did what moms do. I tried again.
Strike two. Irritated, she yelled at me again to get out of her room as I stood there, mouth slightly open, brows furrowed in confusion.
“Just give me some time!” she huffed.
By the time you have a teenager, you become a little more accustomed to those parenting moments that make you doubt your abilities. You know they will pass. You know that sometimes the best of intentions go awry. You know that stupid undeveloped frontal lobe is nothing but trouble. You remind yourself you get more right than you get wrong. This was not one of those times.
It was my move. I opted for a solid course of action that was more appropriate for a 7-year-old than a grown woman. I yelled back. Strike three.
I stormed out of the room but couldn’t shake the genuine concern I had over what had just happened. Seriously, I had no idea. Well, I mean before the storming out part.
I could have let it just go. Eventually, she would have come out of her room and been ready to talk but .. what about the next time?
After about 30 minutes, I regained my courage and knocked on her door.
“Can we talk?” I asked, walking into the lion’s den. She rolled her eyes and exasperatingly grunted, “What?”
“I’m sorry about earlier,” I started. No fiery words this time. So far, so good.
Then I took a deep breath and said the six words that changed the conversation.
“What could I have done better?” I asked.
- Six words that hung in the silence.
- Six words that said a hundred to her.
- Six words that made it clear I was on her side.
Her eyes scanned my face to see if I was joking. I just looked at her and waited.
“Well… “ she said,”if you really want to know…” I really did.
She proceeded to tell me exactly what she needed. Calmly, she explained why she reacted the way she did and why my response wasn’t helpful.
When she was done. I didn’t argue with her. I didn’t defend myself or try to explain my intentions. I hugged her and said, ‘Ok, I got it for next time. Thank you.” She called out “I love you,” as I made my way back to her bedroom door.
I don’t know if she will remember this incident one day or if it will be grouped into the general memory bank of the teenage angst years… but I won’t forget it. There is no parenting manual… but if there was, I’d put those 6 words in it. “ What could I have done better?”