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Health & Parenting

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The Secret to Maintaining the Mother-Daughter Bond

As it turns out, keeping the lines of communication open may depend on one primary factor: good old-fashioned listening.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Ari Brown, MD

Many mothers approach their daughters' switch to double digits in age with dread -- in no small part because the word at the softball practice drop-off or in the lobby after a school play is that the world of teenage girlhood is a horrible, door-slamming place. But some mothers, such as Edna Auerfeld of Monroe, N.Y., say they prefer this stage. "You can listen to them and talk to them," says Auerfeld, a teacher turned stay-at-home mom to three girls, ages 14, 12, and 5. "You can negotiate and compromise and make a plan with them."

Listening is key, says Roni Cohen-Sandler, PhD, psychologist and co author of I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict. "If you're not allowing them to get the period at the end of their sentence," says Auerfeld, "you're not doing something right in my opinion."

But both Auerfeld and Cohen-Sandler agree that listening doesn't necessarily mean having the same point of view. "Young teens want to be heard and taken seriously even more than they want their parents to agree with them," says Cohen-Sandler.

The Importance of Listening to Your Teen

Listening even when they disagree with what their daughters say can be especially challenging, Cohen-Sandler says. "Mothers have to respect how girls feel, rather than telling them how they should feel," she says. "It is crucial to train girls to pay attention to their inner voice."

A mother's self-awareness -- about her own double-digit years and what she expects of her teenage daughter -- is essential. "What aspects of the relationship they had with their own mother do they want to repeat, and which do they want to do differently?" Cohen-Sandler asks.

In the end, Cohen-Sandler says, mothers do their daughters the best service when they stand firm.

"As a mother, you have to feel comfortable asserting your authority when your daughter needs you to," she says. "And that means, at times, risking that she will be angry or upset or disappointed."

Tips for Getting Along With an Adolescent Daughter

Choose your battles. Auerfeld says she occasionally lets little things go because she's got her eye on bigger goals -- keeping her girls safe, on track in school, and out of trouble.

Listen and acknowledge. "My daughter says, 'I would like to stay up until midnight,'" Auerfeld says. "I say, 'No, you have to get up in the morning.' She says, 'You're not listening.' I say, 'No, I heard you. I just disagree with your point.'" Keeping the tone light when she can, says Auerfeld, has helped her negotiate some potentially divisive conflicts.

Seek support. When Auerfeld sees children whose behavior she likes, she talks to their moms. "I say, 'What do you think you did right?' Or, 'How did you do this?'" Checking in with others helps her gauge what's happening in other families -- and gather information about how to manage hers.

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