A Note from Mary Margaret West: With Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday (don’t worry, you still have time to get your mom a gift!), we wanted to take this week to celebrate, encourage, and help moms. I asked my mom to write today’s post about raising teenage girls! If you’re a leader, I hope you’ll share this week’s posts with moms in your life. I am so thankful for my mom, as well as all of the women who are like a mom to me!
Raising a teenage daughter is a challenge and a blessing. To raise her well you must love her well, and that can get tricky at times.
Loving your daughter well does not mean giving her everything she wants and trying to make her happy. Remember, she is a teenager and she will not be happy all the time. Emotions run rampant, and highs and lows are to be expected, certainly monthly(!), often weekly, and occasionally daily.
A dear friend has a teenager and they just went through a challenging situation. After a year in a new school, the parents decided (for many good reasons) that they needed to move her back to her former school for next year. They prayed about this decision, definitely felt that it was in her best interest, and carefully shared this news with their daughter. Her reaction was explosive – many tears and words of disappointment and rejection of this idea. She wanted no part of it. I met with the mom and heard all the details. My suggestion was, “give her a few days and see if she doesn’t come around.” While she did remain distant for a few days, she ultimately accepted her parents’ decision. Within a week she was having a sleepover with friends from her old school and there was all kind of celebrating when she announced she was coming back! The bottom line is that she is relieved and happy and grateful that her parents did the hard thing. This is an example of loving well which usually includes being strong and mature and decisive.
Being a good mom is not easy and every situation does not work out the way we would like, but I would advise any mom not to let a teenager rule and reign in the home. While we want to train them to make good choices, they are not capable or prepared to make all the decisions. That is why moms must be moms and not best friends to their teen daughters. It is our job to draw boundaries and create security for our daughters. They may master the pouty look and attitude, but many times they are relieved when we say “no” or “not now”.
Another friend with a teen daughter is having her own struggles. This friend is a sweet, mild-mannered, gracious individual. Her husband has a similar personality; they are a delightful couple, strong in their faith and full of love for their children. Their teenage daughter has a totally different personality and a rebellious spirit. She does not respond to the parenting methods that worked well with her older siblings. This situation is one that many parents face. How to love and parent well is not easy and never comes naturally.
These are just two stories; we all know many more and wonder how we can ever be prepared to survive and hopefully thrive in our relationship with daughters, especially during the teenage years. Having completed my journey there and walked alongside many friends raising teen daughters, I have a few suggestions that I hope will be helpful.
The better you listen, the more she will talk. This is hard for moms who like to talk and want to give much wise counsel to give their daughters! That would be me, and it was hard to learn to bite my tongue and just listen. I can’t stress this enough. Just listen, and wait, and listen some more. Do not fill all the white space with your words. This takes a lot of discipline, but it reaps good rewards. It is frustrating when you try to get her to talk and you only get one word answers to your questions. Oftentimes, the more questions you ask, the more she will close you out. BUT, if you are accessible, she may approach you in her own timing and in her own way. Be sensitive and ready to respond when she is ready to talk. My experience was that my teens wanted to talk at the most inconvenient times for me. But this was a sacrifice I learned to make because it was worth it. After school I would ask about the day and typically get a small or insignificant reply. Over dinner, nothing huge would come out. But just let me get ready for bed, exhausted, turning the light out 11:00, and here would come the knock on the door and a child ready to talk, often for a long time. I quickly learned that when she is ready to talk, I must be ready to listen!
Part of listening well is also learning not to overreact to anything a teenager tells you. I learned this from my husband who was in student ministry for years. When your daughter is telling you something big or horrifying or totally unexpected, learn to keep a straight face and not interrupt. To repeat myself, the better you listen, the more she will talk. When she feels free to tell you what her friends are doing and saying, and how she is feeling and or reacting, you need to be there to help her. The more she talks the more you will understand the pressures and challenges she faces every day and you can be better prepared to come alongside her and point her in the right direction.
Pray for your girl daily. Pray about the things you know she is facing and also the things you don’t know. Ask God to speak to her heart and draw her to Himself. Ask God to make you sensitive to her needs, her fears, her challenges. Don’t hover but be accessible and available. The more specific your prayers the more specific you will see God provide, often in ways you never could have orchestrated. Prayer unleashes the power of God in and around your girl.
Growing up is hard to do, especially during the teen years. One way you can prepare your daughter is to encourage relationships with others who will speak truth into her life and influence her. Be sure she has access to grandmothers, aunts, godly friends of yours, coaches, women at church who are mentors/teachers to students. A few of these relationships will make a huge impact on your teen girl. Send your girl to great Christian camps during the summer where she will perhaps meet new friends who love Jesus. Peer pressure can be positive or negative. When you offer your daughter (and perhaps a friend) the opportunity to go to a great camp, she may come home fired up by some great positive peer pressure. I remember my daughter coming home and telling me things she learned from her college age counselor. Often these were truths I had been trying to teach her for several years, but she ignored me because I was mom. When she heard same truth from someone else, she got it and embraced it. This is another time you learn to keep your mouth closed and never say, “Well I already told you that!” Just be grateful for answered prayers!
Find a few things you and your daughter both enjoy and spend time together. When she starts to prefer her peers over you, accept that; it is part of her growing up. But don’t abandon her! If it is shopping, going to lunch, hiking, going on a picnic, or watching TV or movies together, make the time to spend time with your girl. You will not regret it. When you can, include a good friend of hers on an outing or beach trip. You are making memories and providing lots of opportunities for conversations that may be pivotal in her maturing. Some of the best and most meaningful teaching times come when you least expect them, often when you are just hanging out together with no particular agenda.
POINT HER TO JESUS
Above all else, point your girl to Jesus. You will not always be there to listen, counsel, meet her needs, or save the day. While your role as mom involves providing, guiding, training and preparing your girl for grown-up life, the day will come when you won’t be around. The best gift you can give your daughter is introducing her to Jesus as her personal Savior and Lord. During those teen years, she needs to start leaning on Him for direction and discernment. While she is still in the home, you can help her learn how to study the Bible and apply God’s word to her everyday situations. When the biggest disappointments come, you want her to know God loves her and He will give strength to go on Life is hard during the teenage years, and you want your girl to be attached to the source that will never leave her and never fail her and always provide for her needs.
Loving your girl well requires patience, tough skin, determination and ability to forgive her and yourself when things get off-track – and they will. Knowing when to love with mercy and when to love her tough love, demand wisdom and discernment from God. One of the best parts of raising a teenage daughter is that you have to practice what you preach. In order to teach her to depend on God you have to depend on Him. The result is that you both may grow closer to God and to each other through the journey of the teenage years.
Shugie Collingsworth hails from Newnan, Georgia – known to outsiders as the “City of Homes,” and to locals as the town where everybody has a nickname. A graduate of the University of Georgia and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Shugie has a unique ability to blend life stories with biblical truth and her distinctive flavor of straight-talk Southern humor. With a speaking and teaching career spanning more than three decades, she has spoken to thousands all over the world on marriage, parenting and women’s issues. When you hear Shugie speak, you will laugh until you cry and come away changed with a fresh, gospel-centered perspective on life – just as if you had it delivered to you by a character right out of The Help. She and JB have been married for 36 years, they are parents to three grown children, and are grandparents to one sweet grandson!