“Our daughter comes home, goes straight to her room, turns on her CD player and won’t talk to anyone– especially me.”
“The emotional ups and downs of our daughter’s life make us all feel like we’re on a roller coaster.”
Navigating an adolescent daughter’s emotional life is one of a mom’s toughest challenges. A teenage girl’s volatile emotions can seemingly toss her–and you–like a hurricane. When a scary external world and a turbulent internal world collide, the result is sometimes overwhelming and confusing. What can you do to protect your relationship with your daughter, guide her through this chaotic time, and assure her you are truly on her side?
Your Adolescent Daughter’ s Struggles Can Help Her–and You–to Grow and Thrive.
The good news is you are equipped with the most powerful resource available for maintaining and developing connection with your daughter: a mother’s heart. Learn how you can use hand-in-hand mothering skills to become the ally your daughter needs–parenting out of love, not fear–and find out how you both can experience dramatic, life-changing growth in the process.
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About the Author
Reading Group Guide
MOTHER TO MOTHER
A Reading Guide to
“Mom, I Hate My Life!”
“In the shelter of each other we were meant to live.”
This guide is intended to give you an opportunity to develop allies in mothering. As you read the material in the book, mark the ideas that resonate with you, that seem unreasonable to you, or that you’d like to think about further, and then discuss them with another mother or a small group of mothers.
The questions that follow are designed to help you evaluate what is going on with you and your daughter, and to help you gain support and ideas from other moms. Don’t feel compelled to answer every question; focus on the ones that best address what your needs are in mothering your daughter at this particular time in her life, and yours.
At different points in our mothering, we all engage in what author and speaker Barbara Johnson calls “tunnelwalking”–when it feels like we are in the dark and all that we can do is put one foot in front of the other. We’re not sure where we are or where we are going.
When your children are babies and your goal is to sleep for six hours straight, and then your next goal is to sleep six hours straight for two nights in a row, you are in the midst of tunnelwalking.
When your children are preschoolers you wonder how the hours can be filled with so much to do…and yet the days go by so slowly. These are tunnelwalking days when you feel like you are about as productive as a grand organizer of grasshoppers.
Then there are the days when at 7:30 p.m. you are informed that a bug collection, a typed report on Massachusetts, and a book report on Huck Finn are due tomorrow. It’s a tunnelwalking night.
Maybe your child has a learning disability or just doesn’t fit in at school–it leads to days of tunnelwalking, doesn’t it?
When our daughters switch from one mood to the next in a matter of minutes and cap off their day by exclaiming, “Mom, I hate my life!,” we start down another tunnel. Only this time we’re not walking; we’re riding a roller coaster–at times holding on for dear life, wondering if we’ll ever get off. Some of our tunnels are pretty dark.
What I am learning is that wherever we are in life, as we keep on walking (or riding)–often by faith alone–the light at the end of this tunnel eventually appears. Then we are able to turn around, hold out a hand to others further back in the tunnel, and say: “Keep going, there’s light ahead.”
We were not meant to do this mothering thing alone. So seek out fellow tunnelwalkers and turn back to lend a hand to those behind. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words in his masterful work, Life Together, God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of another, in the mouth of other mothers. Therefore, a mother needs another mother who speaks God’s word to her. She needs her again and again when she becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by herself she cannot help herself . . . . Her own heart is uncertain. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: we meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1954, pp. 22-23.
1. Chapter 1
Being a Mom Is Not for the Faint of Heart
Intuition is a God-given sense that was designed to connect God’s Spirit with our inner voice and then in turn connect us to our children. Emotional immaturity disconnects us from our intuition.
1. What are some things your intuition is telling you about your daughter right now?
Are you afraid your intuition is right? Why?
Are you afraid your intuition is wrong? Why?
Does your intuition require some action from you? If so, what?
How can others pray for you?
The most significant influence on how we parent is how we were parented as a child. A mother’s emotional response to her daughter’s emotional turmoil is shaped by her unique personal history.
2. If you could talk to your mother today about your daughter, would you:
-Be on guard? Why?
-Anticipate good advice?
-Be affirmed in your mothering?
What do your answers to the above questions suggest about how you are being mothered as you mother?
If something is lacking or absent in your relationship with your mother right now, how can you seek support and wisdom from other mothers?
More often than not we are overwhelmed by present troubles when we have an unrealistic expectation of control. Our daughter’s unpredictable emotional state becomes an invitation for us to examine our expectation of control and resulting controlling tendencies.
3. Talk about a recent interaction with your daughter regarding her emotions. For example, “The last time my daughter was angry, I . . ." Answer the following questions for yourself and then invite input from others.
What were you trying to control? How?
What were you able to control?
How do you think your control helped/hindered your daughter’s emotional development?
We get lost in our daughter’s emotional turmoil, not only when we lose our perspective about ourselves, but when we lose our perspective about God.
4. Spend a few minutes describing the “troubles of the present” and your “terrors about the future” regarding your daughter.
What does your description reveal about your perception of God? (If you’re in a group, ask the rest of the mothers what they think before you answer for yourself.) Is God:
2. Chapter 2
Becoming an Ally–Using Difficulties to Build a Relationship
As we begin to look at the different mothering styles, remember that good parenting is possible because our children struggle, make mistakes, and even “melt down” completely.
1.Share about a time when you mothered well during one of your daughter’s hard times.
Identifying your mothering style may be the easy part. Not feeling guilty is the hard part.
2.After reading this chapter, what do you see as your primary mothering style?
What do you feel guilty about in your mothering style?
What do you feel good about in your mothering style?
What would you like to let go of in your mothering style?
Is there something specific you would like others to pray about with regard to your mothering style?
Perhaps your guilt will be assuaged if you remember that the challenges we are discussing–the emotional turbulence of adolescence and your response–provide the perfect context in which to form a powerful alliance with your daughter.
3. Read Romans 3:22-24. How does God’s love respond to your failures, struggles, and challenges?
How is God’s response different from the way you view your failures, struggles, and challenges? Are you harder on yourself than God is?
If you adopted God’s perspective, how do you think it would impact your guilt?
3. Chapter 3
Being a Teenage Girl Is Not Easy
Understanding female biology and its unique impact on the emotional life is a gift that will help you and your daughter demystify some of what going on.
1.How do you view your biology–gift or curse?
Who passed this view on to you?
Brainstorm about some ways you can influence your daughter to believe that her female biology is a gift.
We can also remind our daughters of their past resilience, self-control, or simply survival in prior emotional angst, and those memories will actually build muscles in the brain for the emotional work of the future.
2.Share a story of your daughter’s resilience, self-control, or survival in an emotionally difficult time.
If your story was from a while ago, what evidence do you see today of that strength?
If you don’t see evidence of that strength, ask others to help you look.
How can you remind your daughter of her strengths when she is in emotional angst?
Statistics and stories confirm that the world our girls are growing up in is often a cold, cruel world.
3.Allow others to share your mothering burdens. Talk about some of the hardship or cruelty your daughter is facing.
What would you like to offer or for others to offer your daughter in the midst of her “cold cruel world”?
Spend some time praying for your daughters.
Someone once asked the great contemplative, Thomas Merton, “Who are you?” His answer, “I am the one beloved by God.” Is there something that keeps you from answering as Merton did? Failure? Success? Disappointment? Confusing emotions?
4.Recall a time when you truly experienced God’s love.
What is keeping you from experiencing God’s love today?
What is going on in your mothering that cries out for an experience of God’s love?
Commit to pray for one another that you will experience the love of God.
4. Chapter 4
Becoming an Ally–Moving Toward Emotional Maturity
Sometimes mothers blame their daughters for the disconnection and point to a culture that encourages distance and even disrespect for parents. Sometimes daughters blame their mothers for the disconnection and begin to list all of the ways their parents “just don’t understand.”
1.Who have you blamed for the conflicts and challenges in mothering?
Does blaming someone or something make you feel more or less hopeful?
How does accepting conflicts and challenges with your daughter as inevitable make you feel?
Any thought that relegates your daughter to the position of being your enemy is destructive to the relationship and a roadblock to making positive change.
2.Have you viewed your daughter as your enemy? Why?
Does your daughter view you as her enemy? How does her perspective “feed into” your view of her?
Do you think it’s possible for you to change your perspective even if your daughter doesn’t change?
We are going to identify the “seven deadly sins” of mothering that result in disconnection from relationship and defeat attempts to become your daughter’s ally in moving toward emotional maturity. In contrast to mothering “sins,” we will examine the seven mothering skills that are connecting habits.
3.As you read about the disconnecting and connecting habits of mothering in this chapter what did you feel?
How often did you think, “But you don’t know my daughter”?
What about your relationship makes disconnecting seem inevitable?
What extra care do you need to exert to make sure that the unique difficulties of your relationship don’t leave you disconnected most of the time?
As you read this chapter did you feel affirmed or recall a time when you skillfully connected with your daughter? Share your “success.”
Which of the mothering “sins” are you particularly vulnerable to?
How can you challenge this vulnerability?
Which of the mothering skills are you particularly adept at?
How can you capitalize on this skill?
Talk about a mother you have known (perhaps your own, a grandmother, or another woman in your community) who has exhibited one or more of the mothering skills discussed.
Choose one mothering skill and commit to continue talking about it with one another, praying for one another, and encouraging one another in practical ways so this skill will become more visible in your mothering.
5. Chapter 5
“Mom, I’m Not in the Mood!”
The emotional life in adolescent girls is extreme and changeable.
1.Tell a story of your own about your daughter’s moodiness.
How did you respond? With moodiness of your own?
What makes it difficult to respond with calm confidence?
If our daughters brush us off, we can gather our wits about us and wait for another opportunity to invite connection with curiosity and compassion. (In the meantime, it’s not a bad idea to nurse your hurt feelings with a little TLC–a walk with a good friend or a really good cup of coffee!)
2.How do you respond when your daughter “brushes you off”?
If your feelings are hurt, how does your hurt impact your daughter’s mood?
When your feelings are hurt, how strong and intentional do you feel in your mothering?
Commit to call another mom next time your daughter hurts your feelings and talk through what you’re feeling before you continue the conversation with your daughter.
Our daughter’s moodiness is a perfect opportunity for our own transformation.
3.When your daughter is moody, what kind of mother do you want to be?
What gets in the way of you being who you want to be–hurt feelings, wounded pride, a need to set things right, etc?
Can you pray for your own growth and transformation–no matter how your daughter acts?
What do you fear most in that prayer?
What do you hope for most?
One of the traps of our daughters’ moodiness is that we tend to focus on the mood, and the result is that we spend our daughters’ adolescence surviving their mood of the moment rather than focusing on their emotional growth.
4.What do you usually focus on when your daughter is angry? Sad? Defiant? Happy? Lonely?
Experiment this week on focusing on her growth and emotional maturity in the midst of a moody moment.
What difference did an intentional focus on your part make?
Does the idea of negotiating sound too indulgent or potentially exhausting? It is hard work to develop a growing relationship with your daughter in the midst of her emotional immaturity.
5.How are your negotiating skills with your daughter?
What are you willing to negotiate? Unwilling?
What is most likely to cause negotiations to break down?
When you are exhausted from the work of mothering, how do you take care of yourself?
It is our life’s work, as mothers, to be patient and nurture all that is within our daughters with love and attentiveness.
6.What’s your response to the prior sentence?
What is keeping you from feeling patient and nurturing right now?
Read 2 Corinthians 4:18.
Have you lost a positive vision for who your daughter could be?
Pray that God will give you a vision of all your daughter can become.
6. Chapter 6
“Mom, Just Leave Me Alone!”
It’s the secret we mothers keep from each other: Our daughters can be mean to us.
1.Is this “secret” true in your relationship with your daughter?
Do you talk about your hurt in the relationship with other mothers?
If not, why?
Decoding our daughters’ pain and its resulting negative behavior takes work and wisdom. Honesty, maturity, kindness, and invitation don’t come naturally in the midst of mothering a teenager. Fear, hurt, defensiveness, and pouting are more the natural order for me.
2.Think about a time when your daughter lashed out at you.
What was going on in her life? Is it possible that she was in pain from something outside of your interaction?
What are some of the trigger in her life that put her “on the edge” emotionally?
What is your response to her when she’s on the edge? Compassion? Curiosity? Anger? Annoyance? Fear? How would your response change if you were thinking about and looking for reasons for her outburst (other than that she is just an unreasonable, moody teenager)?
When we walk on eggshells around our moody teenagers, we send them the message that they are dangerous and too much for us to handle.
3.When do you “walk on eggshells” around your daughter? Why?
When have you felt dangerous or too intense because of your emotions?
When has someone “risen to the occasion” and interacted well with you when you were emotional?
When your daughter asks you to leave her alone, give her space. Honor her demand, but always return with an invitation.
Talk through some possible scenarios when you will give your daughter space with an invitation to reconnect later.
When we “ground” our children to their rooms, we are sending the message that their rooms are a place of punishment rather than retreat.
4.Have you used grounding as a punishment?
Does finding an alternative that “works” seem overwhelming?
Brainstorm together about some alternative consequences.
If you find contraband, as you confront the behaviors confirm the message that you want your daughter’s room to be a safe place of retreat for her, and one of the reasons you have searched her room is to keep it safe.
5.Do you search your daughter’s bedroom? Why?
If you have found contraband, how have you handled it? What did you like about the way you responded? What would you do differently?
Do you have a “sacred space” where you retreat and rejuvenate?
If not, how can you create one?
How can you help your daughter make her room a safe haven?
You want to teach your daughter that true personal power comes from being connected to others through listening, vulnerability, kindness, patience, persistence, and commitment. When you sense that the old familiar dance is about to begin with your daughter, take time to stop, remind yourself of who you want to be in the relationship, and do something different. Practice the hand-in-hand mothering style described above. Be intentional about offering your daughter the opportunity to develop personal power.
6.What makes you feel powerful in relationships?
Talk about a time when your kindness, persistence, or vulnerability positively impacted a relationship.
When is your daughter powerful in relationships? When she’s angry, withdrawn, helpful?
Commit to look for your daughter’s positive demonstrations of personal power and affirm her.
7. Chapter 7
“Mom, I’m So Stressed Out!”
Mix the national epidemic of anxiety with normal adolescent stress, and we have a culture of teenagers who are living on the edge.
1.What evidence do you see that your daughter is under stress?
How do you respond when your daughter is stressed out?
One of the most significant challenges of mothering is to get a grip on our anxiety so that we can authentically and powerfully guide our daughters toward emotional maturity. When we are drowning in our own worry, we cannot be the life preservers for our daughters that we are intended to be.
2.Are you a worrier? What would your daughter say?
How does your daughter respond when you are stressed out?
What have you experienced as effective in calming your worried heart?
But anxiety can be a gift. A gift that can draw us closer in relationship to our daughters, our daughters in relationship to us, and each of us in relationship to God.
3.Talk about a time when anxiety was a clue to you to pay attention to something that was going on in your life or the lives of your children.
Does it seem possible that anxiety could actually draw you and your daughter together? Why or why not?
Is your anxiety in mothering drawing you into relationship with other mothers? Would you like for it to?
Read Philippians 4:6-9.
How do you experience this “antidote” for anxiety?
Anxiety grows in proportion to our reliance on false resources.
4.What are you relying on to provide security for your daughter?
Happiness? Success? Spiritual Development?
What would happen if you lost all of your resources?
How do you rely on God?
8. Chapter 8
“Mom, Everyone Hates Me!”
A foundational reality for parents to understand as they hope to help their daughter navigate the emotional turmoil of her relational world: Their daughter’s teenage relationships feel like the most significant relationships in her life.
1.Does your daughter make friends easily?
Do you like her friends? Why? Why not?
How does your attitude toward her friends affect your relationship?
Has your daughter experienced exclusion or meanness in her social life?
How have you felt when you’ve heard about her pain?
Does your daughter exclude you or act rudely to you in preference to her friends?
How do you respond to her?
Is there a way you can honor her social life and your relationship with her?
There’s something about our daughters’ emotional turmoil that pushes our “buttons” of defensiveness.
2.How do you become defensive to your daughter’s emotional turmoil?
Talk through a “typical” emotionally charged interaction with your daughter.
How could you detach from the interaction and promise reconnection later?
The desire for friendships, the disappointments of relationships, and the drama of adolescence can result in a girl becoming a User, a Loner, or a Pleaser.
3.Is your daughter primarily a User, Loner, or Pleaser?
How is her style reflected in her relationship with you?
What have you modeled for her in your style of relating?
Do you feel ashamed of her style? Why?
How have you conveyed to her your disappointment?
What do you like about your daughter’s style of relating?
How have you conveyed to her your delight?
You can model to her that relationships are mutual, that we need friends, and that we must value ourselves.
4.How have you modeled to your daughter that you need friends?
Talk about a friendship that has demonstrated mutual give and take.
If you can’t, why are you lacking mutual relationships?
Do you need to work on your friendship right now so that you are modeling good relationships to your daughter? How will you do this?
Ask others to pray for you with regard to this important area.
9. Chapter 9
Although brain chemistry explains your daughter’s biology, her behaviors will be the first clues you get that something is wrong.
1.What behavioral clues have you observed that indicate that your daughter might be depressed?
Does the possibility of depression scare you? Why?
What experiences have you had (in your own life or with someone close to you) with depression?
How are these experiences (or lack of them) influencing your response to your daughter?
Mothers who don’t blame themselves are better able to help their daughters. In fact, your daughter will probably sense your compassion and confidence that this illness can be treated and feel reassured that the depression is no one’s fault–hers or yours.
2.What have you blamed yourself for with regard to your daughter’s emotional instability? Why?
Is it hard for you to believe that depression is no one’s fault? Why?
How would accepting this truth change your interactions with your daughter?
One of the most important gifts that we can give to our children when they suffer is the courage to identify and acknowledge the truth and the strength to pursue healing and health.
3.Talk about some of the struggles your have experienced and how they have made you a stronger, more compassionate person.
How do you believe that your daughter’s struggles might be transformed into “gifts”?
How would this faith impact your mothering?
Because clinical depression is rooted in biological imbalances, it is often essential that these imbalances be restored through medication.
4.What is your reaction to the possibility that your daughter might need medication?
If you have a negative reaction, where does it come from? Information? Teaching at church? Personal experience?
When your daughter is lost in a struggle that threatens her wellbeing and scrambles her perspective, you have the opportunity to give her a pearl of great price–a sense of belonging.
5.Where/when have you experienced a sense of belonging?
How did this sense impact you?
If you don’t feel a sense of belonging, how do you think that might impact your mothering?
Read Isaiah 43:1-7. How does this passage speak to your need to belong?
Where do you observe that your daughter feels like she belongs?
Brainstorm about ways you can give her the gift of belonging.
10. Chapter 10
It may surprise you to learn that emotional turmoil–at home, in school, or with friends–is often the context in which body image issues and eating disorders can be most powerfully addressed.
1.Has your body image or eating choices been impacted by your emotional state?
Have you observed your daughter’s body image or eating choices are impacted by her emotional state?
Can you identify with your daughter? If not, why not?
How do you think your daughter would respond if you said, “I understand “feeling fat”, because I feel the same way sometimes?
One of the most precious gifts we can give our daughters is a positive view of their bodies in the context of guiding them to emotional maturity.
2.Have you viewed your/your daughter’s emotional struggles as an opportunity to develop a good body image?
If so, how have you done this?
If not, brainstorm about ways that you can turn the focus during emotional turmoil to the development of healthy body image.
Now is not the time to abandon her to an “expert” and hang your head in shame at perceived failures or inadequacies in mothering. It is never too late to become your daughter’s ally in developing a healthy body image.
3.Have you observed some warning signs that your daughter might be beginning or struggling with an eating disorder?
What about this scares you?
How do you feel toward your daughter when you think about the possibility that she might have an eating disorder?
What do you know or have experienced that will aid you in helping your daughter?
Your daughter needs to know that you are stronger than her eating disorder. If you are not feeling strong, then do everything you can to arm yourself with information, invite family and friends to support you in prayer, take care of yourself, and run relentlessly to the truth that God is stronger than an eating disorder.
4.Do you feel stronger than your daughter’s eating and body image struggles?
What can you do to arm yourself with information?
Do you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder that you can talk to about her journey to recovery?
Have you shared with family or friends about your daughter’s struggle?
If not, why?
Think of three people that you can call this week to ask for prayer.
Are you eating healthfully and taking care of yourself?
If not, commit to three changes you will make to care for yourself physically.
Have you disclosed to God all of the details of your daughter’s struggle and asked for wisdom, compassion, and strength?
11. Chapter 11
Cutting and Self-Injury
Helping our daughters with scary emotional problems requires that we examine our home and ourselves and that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to sustain help and support.
1.What scary behaviors did you participate in as a teenager?
How did your mother respond?
How do you wish she had responded?
What scary behaviors have you seen from your daughter?
How have you responded?
What do you wish you would have done differently?
Self-injury is the deliberate mutilation or marking of the body, not with the intent to commit suicide “but as a way of managing emotions that seem too painful for words to express.”
2.Have you observed or seen evidence of self-injuring behaviors by your daughter?
How do you feel about your daughter with regard to these behaviors?
How do you feel about yourself?
What emotion too painful for words could your daughter be expressing?
Talk about ways that you could help your daughter express the painful emotions?
Pray with another mom for wisdom and guidance.
As we examined in the chapter on depression, a sense of belonging is key to self-esteem and emotional maturity. This sense of belonging can be derailed a number of different ways but usually takes place in the context of family and/or friends.
3.What experiences might have derailed your daughter’s sense of belonging?
Expression is the regulator of the emotional life. When a girl can’t express things because she is afraid or ashamed or prohibited, the emotion will simmer and boil and eventually come out somewhere.
4.How free do you feel to express yourself? What inhibits you?
How do you think this impacts your daughter’s emotional expression?
What could your daughter be afraid of in expressing herself?
What could she feel ashamed of?
What in your home contributes to fear or shame with regard to emotional expression?
What can you do to create a more inviting context for expression?
The contexts for self-injury are many and complex, but woven throughout the many strands of the story will be the presence of loss–loss of childhood innocence, loss of family structure, loss of a friend or a boyfriend, loss of a long-held goal or dream.
5.Talk about some of the losses your daughter has experienced.
How have you responded to her losses?
How do you deal with your own losses?
How do you think this impacts your mothering?
The single most influential factor parents need to know when guiding their daughter toward recovery is this: Do whatever you can to let your daughter know that she is not the only person affected by her self-injuring behavior.
6.How have you let your daughter know her behavior is impacting you?
What help have you sought for you and your daughter?
Talk with another mother about a plan for responding to your daughter’s self-injuring behavior.
12. Chapter 12
Suicide. I don’t think there is a more frightening word to parents–especially parents of teenagers who are struggling with depression.
1.What experiences have you had (with yourself, a friend, or loved one) with suicide or attempted suicide?
How do you think those experiences impact your mothering?
If your daughter is talking or writing about dying, chances are that she is confused or worried about suicide. She may be “testing the waters.” She is bringing up the subject, in part, to see how you react.
2.Has your daughter talked or written about dying?
How have you responded?
Talk through some things you can say to let her know you are aware of her pain and thoughts about dying and that you are strong enough to handle it.
Tell your daughter that her behaviors that put her life at risk indicate that she doesn’t really believe that her life is valuable. Tell her that she deserves to talk to someone who can help her value her life and go after the life she really wants. Seek professional help immediately.
3.Have you told anyone about your concerns with regard to your daughter her at-risk behaviors or suicidal thoughts?
If not, why?
Come up with a plan to respond to your daughter with strength and confidence.
She just wants attention.
She’s trying to manipulate me.
She may be mentally ill.
She may be under Satanic attack.
4.Have you thought any of the above with regard to your daughter’s emotional struggles?
Brainstorm about some ways you can give your daughter more attention.
When you feel manipulated how do you respond?
What are your fears with regard to mental illness? What experiences have you had that contribute to your fears?
How often do you pray for your daughter? Ask others to pray?
Commit to asking three people to pray specifically for your daughter this week.