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  • Writer's pictureDr. Luisa Bryce

Word to your mother: The best gift your teen can give without even knowing it

Mother’s Day is right around the corner and if there’s one holiday that deserves to be celebrated more than once a year, it’s this day. Moms make the world go round, and in my opinion, they’re often underappreciated. The job of being mom is a hefty role, and it’s common to feel overwhelmed by the umpteen daily responsibilities on your “to do” list. Not to mention you rarely get a vacation, and it often seems spouses and kids don’t have a clue how hard you work just to keep up with the laundry. When kiddos are young, little, and cute, this lack of awareness regarding how hard moms work is forgivable; expressing true gratitude is beyond a child’s concrete reasoning, so we let ungracious (or maybe oblivious) attitudes slide. We chalk it all up to being an innocent child without a worry or a care. Now teenagers, they should know better, right? Um… not really. Being a teenager involves being in a place of limbo where one is not a child nor an adult, but rather, some weird, in-between conglomerate of a person. Teens may look like adults, but their brains are still functioning without full executive capacity, so teenage decisions can be quite childlike. However, that doesn’t change the fact that we want our teens to be appreciative and gracious. So how do we teach this so they actually get it?

Relationships between moms and teens (especially daughters) often go downhill once a child hits adolescence. One minute your daughter is an adorable ten-year-old, all elbows and knees, with a heart of gold and a conscious that will still do what you say (most of the time), while the next minute your little girl has turned into a complete stranger who can’t seem to be bothered by her mom. Unless of course you take her phone away and she can’t text her friends. That will get her to pay attention to her mom. My point here is that as kids approach adolescence, their interactions with parents tend to be focused increasingly around how to gain independence. Teens are constantly testing the limits to figure out how much they can get away with, so conversations with parents are largely based around what is and what is not acceptable. Meaningful conversation is often lost at the price of arguing over curfew or fighting about whether a “C” is an acceptable Social Studies grade. The bottom line is this: If you’re not having meaningful conversations with your teen, your relationship with him or her will suffer.

I’ve been working with parents and teens for over a decade. A common problem I often help moms and teenagers with is disconnect in the parent/teen relationship. The conversation between a mom and her teen usually goes something like this when I first meet with them:

Mom: “I just feel like my daughter and I have grown apart.” We used to be so close and now all we do is argue.”

Daughter: “Yeah, what my mom says is true. We argue all the time because she’s always telling me I can’t do stuff. She’s so mean.”

There’s no way of skirting around setting limits with your teen. However, if that’s the only interaction you’re having with your son or daughter, they probably will think you’re mean. The recommendation I usually give when moms come to me with this type of concern involves prescribing quality time. Quality Time is spending 30 minutes a few times a week with just Mom and Teen. No T.V. watching, no video games… I’m talking face-to-face interaction without electronics. Go for a walk, play a board game, or plan a picnic together. And agree not to discuss rules or limits. Prescribed quality time enables Mom and Teen to reconnect with each other while taking contentious topics off the table. As a mom, it gives you the opportunity to get to know the young adult your son or daughter is becoming, and it gives your son or daughter a chance to know Mom as more than just a “mean” person.

Sometimes a mom will say to me, “I can’t do anything fun with my daughter because she’s grounded and she hasn’t earned it.” I always explain to parents that the activity done together during quality time doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. However, spending time with Mom should not be something your teen has to earn. Strengthening the mother-teen relationship should NEVER be contingent on your son or daughter’s behavior because the parent-child relationship is one of unconditional, never-ending love. As a mom, you want your teen to feel close to you and enjoy spending time with you, despite his or her behavior. And chances are, if you have a good relationship with your teen, the arguing will decrease dramatically.

So I know Mother’s Day is supposed to be all about moms. But believe me, if you, as a mom, make an effort to spend quality time with your teen, you’ll be reinforcing lessons of appreciation and gratitude. Your relationship with your teenage son or daughter will improve because of it, and this is truly the best Mother’s Day gift your teen can give you without even knowing it.



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