Dear Dr. Yael:
We have been having a very difficult time with our oldest child who is now a teenager. When I ask her to do something she answers me in a chutzpadik manner, leading to an awful fight. Besides the terrible influence this is on our other children, I get very angry and end up responding to her in ways I later regret.
This cycle seems to just continue. I love her, but after our fights I cry myself to sleep. She is very respectful toward my husband, who tries to help by defending me. He feels torn between the two of us and is constantly trying to make peace. Whenever he asks our daughter to do something, she runs to do it. He is calmer than me; thus his personality makes him better able to deal with her. In short, I am in a terrible place with her.
My daughter is frum, is a good girl with friends, and is an excellent student whose teachers rave about her.
I know that the problem lies with me, as I had a terrible relationship with my mother. Unfortunately she passed away at a young age, and I live with much guilt. Yet, I find myself speaking to her the way my mother spoke to me.
I sometimes feel that Hashem is punishing me for the way I treated my mother. Please help me understand how I can change our relationship.
Since teenagers can be challenging, it is wonderful that you are seeking help to repair your relationship with your daughter. Many parents have a difficult time relating to their teenaged children, and wonder what happened to their sweet young child.
The difficulty lies in how teenagers perceive their surroundings. They often see the world as revolving around them and cannot understand why parents are always asking them to do things and putting limits on what they can do. The key for parents is to try to understand their teenaged child’s feelings and to speak with him or her in a concise and loving manner. Teenagers do not have patience for lectures and will tune out much of what you say.
For example, if you want to ask your daughter to help watch the other children and she says she can’t, you may want to go into lecture mode. Instead, say something like, “I really need your help, but if you can’t you must have a really good reason because you are usually very helpful. So I understand.” Your daughter will likely be astonished, as she was probably expecting a 10-minute lecture as to why she is being selfish and that she needs to work on it. She might say that she has the time to help after all. And even if not, she may begin to react to you differently.
Whenever you speak with your daughter remain relaxed and use a loving tone of voice. Tell your daughter how much you love her and how much you want to have a good relationship with her. Explain that because she is your oldest child she will sometimes be assigned more jobs than the others and that you will make every effort to be fairer when distributing those assignments. At the same time, you will try your best to give her more privileges.
Ask her what you can do to strengthen your relationship with her. Say something like, “I am sure you do not realize it, but I feel bad when you speak to me without derech eretz. Knowing that you are an amazing girl who gives us so much nachas, I do not know what to do to help you speak to me in a nicer tone. I notice that you have a lot of derech eretz for Abba, so I am not sure what I do to encourage a different reaction from you. I want to have a loving and giving relationship with you, so what do you think both of us can do to begin improving our relationship?” Hopefully this will result in a constructive conversation between the two of you, leading to positive change in your relationship.
Also, suggest a secret word that either of you can use when feeling badly about something the other is saying. This can help both of you realize when you are talking to each other in an unkind tone – and give you a chance to change. Try saying this: “Maybe it would be a good idea if we both try to talk differently with each other.”