The girls have also taught me about the "landmines" you'll find throughout the book: things parents do and say that are guaranteed eye-rollers and shut the door to effective communication. They usually seem insignificant (for example, don't say "boys," say "guys"), but they can make the difference between your daughter listening to you or tuning out completely because she thinks you're hopelessly out of touch. (Remember how you winced when your parents asked you if something was "groovy" or "far-out"?) As you read this, you may be thinking that pointing out landmines is a lost cause, since anything you do, including breathing or looking in her direction, makes her roll her eyes, but I promise you that you can decrease the number of embarrassing things you do. (For some reason, the way dads sneeze and moms laugh are landmines, but you can't change everything about yourself!)
Don't beat yourself up if you think your relationship with your daughter is terrible. Parenting a teen is really difficult, and the reward is way down the road when she emerges as a cool adult. Allow me to quote my own mother, who said, "When my children were teens, if I liked them for five minutes a day, that was a good day."
So be honest. You don't have to like your daughter all the time. You don't have to like her at all. (Many parents tell me they've never stopped loving their daughters, but they certainly stopped liking them for a while.) One father I know refers to his increasingly distant daughter as "the exchange student." One mom calls her daughter "TLO," "The Loathesome One," when the girl is out of earshot. You're allowed to wonder why you had kids in the first place. Once you acknowledge these rottenand believe me, universalfeelings, their power over you tends to decrease and you don't feel so guilty. And when other parents tell you that they're so lucky because "their kids don't drink and do drugs and they always tell them everything," just nod your head and smile, like I do, and know that the girls are pulling a fast one.
Before You Get into the Heart of the Book
Your task is difficult. Instilling values, respecting your daughter's growing individuality, influencing her to make good decisions, and protecting her while giving her the freedom to make mistakes is hard, hard work. A lot of the time you'll feel as if you're banging your head against a wall.
This book will give you strategies so that your daughter's adolescence is bearable for both of you. It will teach you to talk to your daughter in a way that doesn't make her groan and roll her eyes when you speak. She may even walk away from your conversation admitting to herself (not to you, never to you) that you know what you're talking about.
You can help your daughter develop a strong sense of self. You can teach her personal responsibility, confidence in her abilities, and empathy toward others. You want her to be an authentic person able to realize her full individual potential while being connected to her loved ones and community.
You can build a strong, healthy relationship with your daughter as long as you take a long-term view, focus on the overall goal, and challenge yourself to be as honest as you can.
I also promise to answer the biggest questions of all: Should I read her diary? and When do I know she's lying to me?
Just Between You and Me
This book may be painful to read. If I hit a nerve, I have only one request. Take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself why what you read bothered you so much. Did it call up memories of your own experience as a victim, bystander, or perpetrator? Did it give you a sinking feeling that your daughter is a target or evildoer? Is it hard to face the fact that your daughter is thinking and acting in ever more adult ways? Acknowledge the pain you feel, but don't let it stop you from learning all you can about your daughter's world. Everything in this book comes from what girls have told me over the last ten years I've been teaching, and from girls' comments as they have read drafts of this book. I'm not accusing girls of being bad people, judging parents as incapable, or predicting which daughters will be failures as adults. I'm reaching out to you, as parents, educators, and role models, to show you what I think girls are up against as they struggle to become healthy young women who will make our communities better.
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