Nibbled to Death by Minnows

by Lucie Hemmen on November 29, 2011

Years ago, before I had kids, I heard a woman describe mothering teen girls as being similar to getting “nibbled to death by minnows”. Years later with two teen girls of my own, I get it.

As a psychologist specializing in teens, I know that they are developmentally working on separation from parents in order to explore and master independence. As a mother, I experience (often daily) the form this separation process takes. Here’s an example of a dialog I had recently with my 17-year-old daughter:

Daughter: “So…, mom….what’s going on with your hair….exactly?”

The look on her face impressively combined wonder with horror and repulsion.

Me: “Uh, what do you mean honey?”

Daughter: “Well….it looks like you found a dead ferret and, uh, stapled it to the side of your head.”

Awkward silence. She’s waiting to see if she crossed the line or not. Lucky day for her, I burst out laughing. I’m actually still laughing, even as I write this.

In Santa Cruz, young female humanity has mastered the careless art of the messy bun. Everywhere you go, you can enjoy the image of a teen girl, often in Ugg boots and pajama bottoms, sporting a messy bun. My bad for thinking I could also pull off a messy bun. Clearly, I cannot. Point taken.

But the more important point is that moms of teens regularly receive comments that don’t necessarily strike the hilarity chord. In fact, moms often talk about feeling criticized, hurt, and devalued by their teens. I’m sure this happens with boys too but let’s face it, teen girls have a special gift for zinging moms. (Think minnows with teeth.) In the hairdo example, the whole ferret reference really worked for me but on other occasions, I have felt hurt even though I’m a psychologist and should know better.

Here’s what I try to remind myself. My daughters need to push me away during these years in order to feel less dependent on me. They no longer see me as princess of the universe, coolest woman on earth. Sure, they like me fine and even love me, but they also find me annoying and actually need to in order to make separation easier. I remember going through the same thing with my mom, actually criticizing her for the way she chewed!

While I don’t tolerate disrespect, I work on seeing the developmental underpinnings driving frequent comments I receive from my daughters. I also remind them to voice positive thoughts from time to time, just to strike a balance. For example, if you like the fact that I made a special trip to get your 4 boxes of cocoanut popsicles because you LOVE them, MENTION IT! Not only do I enjoy a little validation for my efforts, every other person you have a relationship with for the rest of your life will also appreciate positive feedback. Be conscientious.

So, if you’re a parent of a teen who hurts your feelings by articulating flaws and weakness you never knew you had, you’re not alone. Give feedback, when warranted, and whenever humanly possible, LOL.

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