When Mom Is the Problem

Dear Daughter,

The other day I realized something I guess I had been trying to ignore. As we drove to school, you were more withdrawn and serious than usual. We had argued about you not wearing a coat that morning, but I thought you were quiet because you were tired and dreading another long day at school. When you stepped out of the car, however, your entire demeanor changed. You smiled, you chatted with your best friend, you were happy. It was then that I knew exactly what the problem was: me.

It’s OK and normal for you to feel that way. When you are 12 years old, everything your mother does is a) annoying, b) embarrassing or c) both. I felt the same way at your age. Whatever my stepmother said or did made me cringe, and I did my best to keep my distance from her. I spent my free time alone in my room or with my friends, and always as far away from her as possible.

Intellectually, as a woman, I understand and empathize with you. Emotionally, as your mother, it breaks my heart. I hated my stepmother at your age, and my girlfriends all had issues with their moms. Somehow, though, I was under the impression things would be different with my own daughter. It turns out I was wrong. The little girl who clung to my leg for dear life as a toddler now can’t seem to wait to get away from me. It kills me to admit this, but I know it’s true.

We’ve been arguing more and more lately, and I know some of it is my fault. Your attitude toward me makes me angry and tense. I’m on edge whenever I ask you to do something because I’m not sure what your reaction will be. I know that sometimes I lash out too quickly and respond more severely than I should. For that I am sorry. But I am not sorry about calling you out when you treat me with disrespect. I want to be your friend, but I am your mother first. As I have told you many times before, you can think whatever you want about me. How you treat me, however, is not negotiable.

These next few years are going to be challenging for us. I am feeling the full weight of that after watching you walk into school with your friend the other day. I know you are growing up and that part of the process is to separate from your parents and form your own identity. But please don’t think I’m going to let you pull away completely. I’m not ready to give up my position in your world even though I do accept that I am no longer the center of it. I’m still going to ask about your day. I’m still going to coax you out of your room to watch TV or go for a run with me. I’m still going to take you to lunch or the mall once in a while, even though I know you’d prefer to go with your friends. When we’re out I’m going to put down my phone and talk to you and tell you to do the same. I’m going to ask questions, I’m going to embarrass you, I’m going to annoy you.

I’m going to do all those things because I am your mother, and you will always be the center of my world. Get used to it, kiddo. I’m not going anywhere. And someday, I hope, you’ll be happy about that.



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34 thoughts on “When Mom Is the Problem

  1. Wow, this could not have come at a better time! My daughter is 12 also. And, we’ve hit a few snags lately. Like you, I know it’s part of growing up. Sometimes I feel so wonderful and proud of her and other times I’m a bit melancholy. No matter what though, you are right. We must be treated with respect. I wish more parents would insist on that. It’s okay to be angry, tired, disappointed, irritated, but it’s not okay to take it out on me and vice versa. She’s called me out on that a couple of times! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • It is so reassuring to hear from other moms that we are not alone, isn’t it? And I truly agree about the respect thing. We have to show them respect to earn theirs in return. I’m far from perfect, but when I screw up, I apologize to my children. Always. They deserve it, just as we do. Thanks so much for your comment, Dolly!

  2. If I had a daughter I would hope I could say these same things, as so much is true.
    BUT! We all know that’s not the case. I’m in for another circle of hell all my own 🙂

    Love you cuz.

    • Haha! Thanks, Far. It’s soooooo different with boys. S gets an attitude with me sometimes, but he still cuddles on the couch with me once in a while (at 14!) and always tells me he loves me when we part ways (even in front of his friends). I’m sure there will be lots of love mixed in with the chaos in your future.

  3. a) it’s SO nice to see you writing again! 🙂
    b) i’m in tears reading this because i’m at the stage where i’m still the center of her world and she mine and i’m terrified of the preteen and teen years yet to come. so i submerge myself in now and try to soak it all up. every bit of it. even when i wish she’d just go to sleep already.
    c) i hope the internet never dies so i can read this again in 8 years or so

    • Thanks, Christina! It’s wonderful to hear from you. I miss all my blogger buddies terribly. I need to be more disciplined and make time to write again. You know how that goes with work and family.

      It sounds to me as if you are doing everything you can do to set the course for a great relationship. Even when our kids don’t want us around during the teen years, they need to know we are there. I’m told by my friends with adult daughters that they always come back in the end. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

      I let my daughter read this, by the way, before I published it. I didn’t want to embarrass her even more by blindsiding her. We shared a teary hug afterward, and she was cheerful and talkative all evening. It just reaffirms that I need to keep pushing my way in even as she tries to shove me out.

  4. Great post!!! Ya’ll are adorable and this scares me to death. She’s gonna hate me. THere’s no way around it. And I’ll hate her too. I hope it doesn’t last forever.

  5. Well said Kathleen. I remember the conflict but you have to stay strong. I think I’ll go ground my 12 year old just to remind her who’s boss. She’ll thank me later.

    • Haha! That’ll teach her. My daughter may be grounded till college at this rate. Actually, she’s been very kind, communicative and accommodating since she read the letter. Fingers crossed.

  6. I love this. My mom went thought this with me and with both of my sisters. She responded exactly the way you are, and we are all closer than ever now. These moments will definitely pass, but you are definitely doing it right. I’m so glad to read your words again.

    • Thanks so much, Sam! You don’t know how much relief and hope it gives me to know that.

      It is wonderful to hear from you. I actually tried to join the Yeah Write grid this week, but my post wasn’t accepted because it’s a letter. I sure do miss all of you wonderful folks!

  7. Don’t give up, as a teenager my mom and I fought a lot (I’m 22 now). Part of it was me and part of it was her, we both admit to this! Do your best to love your daughter, which it looks like you are doing, and later she will hopefully appreciate it. My mom and I became really good friends once I went off to college and finally realized all of the sacrifices she made for me.

  8. My mom wrote a similar letter to me when I was 12. She is now one of my closest confidants. Besides, you are clearly a smart, smart mom: “I want to be your friend, but I am your mother first.” Brilliant. What an amazing gift that is to your daughter. She will thank you for it one day 🙂

    • Thank you so much! She was teary-eyed and gave me a huge hug after reading it, and we have been getting along better since then. I’m sure we’ll still have our moments. Writing this helped me examine my role in the arguing, though.

  9. My daughter and I went through this (on and off from 14-17). Before that, she was always the kind of kid who loved hanging around with her mom, so when that rabid individuation phase started, I was pretty heart-broken. She’s almost 21 now, and we’re closer than ever. She’s also super independent. My heart goes out to you. It’s a challenging time, but both of you will come out stronger on the other end.

    Also, the letter is a cool idea. It will make a really special gift for her some day.

  10. This is a post I’m going to read over and over. My daughter is only (almost) 8 and we’ve had a rocky few years already, plus I’m a step-mom of a teen and tween, so this really resonates.

  11. I love every single word of this. With a 12 year old son and 10 year old daughter I am not far behind you in the parenting stages…thanks for blazing the trail so I know how to go. Also so damn glad to see you writing again!

  12. This is a perfect read for me right now – I have an almost 13 year old daughter. I love reading open letters, the format lends itself to such honesty. This is beautifully written and I feel lucky to have had the chance to read this. Thanks for sharing.

  13. This was so heartfelt and I hope your daughter will get to read it one day in the future, when she can appreciate it.

    When my daughter was 12, she said she was old enough to get her own apartment. She didn’t need her parents anymore. When she was 15, my son said: Don’t worry Mom, I’ll never act like that (and he didn’t). Once, she made me so angry that I threw a glass of water in her face when she was being disrespectful. When she was 18, she thought she was free to do whatever she wanted, even though she still lived at home. Somewhere in her twenties, we became friends. It was worth the wait.

    • Thanks, Rob. I wrote the letter and gave it to my daughter to read before publishing it. She cried a little and hugged me. We’ve been getting along better, and I have been much more aware of my own behavior, trying to be patient instead of flying off the handle so quickly. Right now things are pretty good between us, and I’ll take that. I’m sure it won’t last forever.

      Glad to hear things worked out so well between you and your daughter. I love hearing “success stories” from veteran moms.

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