As we continue with Live Happy’s 90 Days to a Happier You challenge, join contributing editor Susan Kane for part two of her blog series as she works to improve communication with her teenage daughter Coco.
Whenever my daughter Coco and I get into a fight—when I feel the tears hot behind my eyes and see no way to restore our relationship back to a fun, loving one—I reach for the notes from my sessions with Michele Gravelle, my 90-Day challenge coach. Usually, I find some nugget of wisdom that allows me to go back to Coco and make things OK again, or at least better than they were.
The most surprising, upsetting and possibly most effective suggestion was for me to keep a journal and jot down whatever is going through my mind right after an interaction with Coco.
Looking at my emotions
I didn’t think I was capable of having a less-than-loving thought about her. Was I feeling little peeved? Sure. But having to record my thoughts in the heat of the moment forced me to face just how angry I really felt. I wasn’t just angry….I was ANGRY. “It’s not always the words you say,” Michele told me, “but it’s your tone, your posture, what she sees in your face.”
When I realized that Coco was seeing that rage directed at her, I sobbed. Since then, I have been able to stop myself before getting so mad. I remind myself first of how much I love her, and also that she is the kid in the relationship and I’m supposed to be the grownup!
Self-compassion and self-forgiveness
I was hard on myself when I read my journal, but Michele helped so much by reminding me to be more self-forgiving. She also asked me to examine my expectations around how Coco “should” behave and what our relationship “should” be like.
When I catch myself getting too hard on myself, Michele says, think about statements like the following: “I forgive myself for judging Coco as belligerent. I forgive myself for wanting something different from her.” It sounds kind of corny, but it has made me feel better.
Don't get “hooked”
Michelle urges me to notice where I get “hooked”—in other words, when my buttons get pushed—and try to “rewrite the script.” The other day, Coco said something to me along the lines of, “Your outfit is ugly!” My feelings were hurt and I asked for an apology. When she then said “Sooorry” in that totally unsorry teenage way, I heard myself utter that typical-mommy phrase: “Say you’re sorry like you mean it!”
Michele suggested that next time, instead of falling into a trap like that exchange, I try to get curious and turn things around by asking Coco a question, like what kind of fashion advice she would give me. (After giving birth to two kids, this body would not be well served in a crop top and skinny jeans, but I think just asking Coco for her advice, even if I don't take it, would probably have made things better.)
The hardest years
Despite Michele’s excellent tips, Coco and I continue to struggle sometimes when we communicate. She wants me near her and yet she pushes me away, at times leaving me feeling rejected and confused. But I have to remind myself that I’m the lucky one here. I’m a happily married grownup with a job I love. Coco is 13, and doesn’t that say it all? Being 13 stinks! My next coaching session is only five days away, and until then, I’m going to do my best to make life easier for the teenager in my life, whom I love with all my heart.
Susan Kane is a contributing editor at Live Happy.