Dial Down the Drama
Reducing Conflict and Reconnecting with Your Teenage Daughter--A Guide for Mothers Everywhere
Author: Colleen O'Grady
Pub Date: November 2015
Print Edition: $16.95
Print ISBN: 9780814436554
Page Count: 256
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814436561
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Are You “All Mothered Out”?
The red leather sofa in my office has supported hundreds of moms who are “all mothered out.”
Janice, the mother of a teenage girl, kept checking her cell phone during our session, hoping her daughter would text. “I’m so stressed,” she tells me. “I can’t focus on my work or get anything done at home. I’m worried about my daughter all the time. She has this boyfriend drama and isn’t getting her schoolwork done. I check Find My iPhone constantly when she’s out driving and she’s never where she’s supposed to be.”
Sharon, the mother of three, looks like she has it all together, with her perfect makeup, hair, and stylish clothes. But she’s actually stressed and exhausted. “I just don’t feel like myself,” she confides. “I have so much going on that I don’t have twenty minutes to sit down. My husband works late hours and it’s all on me. I’m driving one teen to dance class, trying to make dinner, and helping the other two with their homework. I try to have a nice house, but it feels impossible to keep up with it. Seriously, I get so frustrated with my daughters. Is it really asking too much for them to put the dishes in the dishwasher?”
Susan, a single parent and cancer survivor, was widowed when her daughter was in middle school and last year, when her daughter was a sophomore in high school, her cancer returned. “I’m working full-time while going to doctor’s appointments and receiving weekly chemo treatments,” she explains, “and when I come home after work, I go straight to the couch. My daughter’s not any help. Her room is always trashed. She doesn’t even care enough about me to clean out the kitty litter box. ”
Three different scenarios but the result is the same. Frequently our daughters leave us feeling all mothered out. Sometimes it’s the stress of a daughter who is in full-blown drama and pushing you to the limits. Other times it’s the day-to-day irritations of your daughter not doing homework, leaving her towels on the bathroom floor, and keeping her room so messy that you’re not sure what’s living in there.
Why We’re All Mothered Out
The constant arguing, having to stay on top of their daughters’ homework, listening to all the drama with friends and classmates, and going to bed worrying if they will turn out all right are just some of the reasons we feel all mothered out. But there are other reasons as well that have nothing to do with our teenage daughters. We have children, partners, extended family, and friends. We are weighed down with aging parents, financial pressure, work and family responsibility, and community involvement. Then there are unwanted seasons in our lives—going through a divorce, the loss of a job, or a serious illness.
Moms are pretty amazing but they don’t have super powers. The problem is that you can give so much and get so busy that you lose yourself in the process, and when that happens, you deplete all your mothering resources.
Here’s the dilemma that most moms face: to be the best possible mother for your daughter, you need to access your whole beautiful, passionate, playful, spiritual, creative, wise, spunky, reflective, and authentic self. Yet, too often these vital aspects of your personality feel superfluous and get neglected. If this continues over time, you start to lose your spark and something dies inside of you.
Think about this: Why are there so many unhappy mothers? It feels like this is becoming a national epidemic. When you get a group of mothers together, are they singing “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Probably not. There’s a good chance they are complaining about their husbands, children, and everything else.
But many of you are living the life you dreamed of as a kid. You have the house, partner, job, and kids. You hoped for a girl and got one—so why are you not enjoying your life now?
If you are not relishing your daughter or these mothering years, it’s not your fault. Mothers have been given the wrong messages. Disempowering parenting messages are rampant in our culture, and they affect all of us.
It’s not as if we choose these messages or beliefs—we inherit them. They are so familiar to us they feel like sacred scriptures. But they’re not. They are twisting the truth. They take us down dead-end roads. They rob us of enjoying our life. They keep us so busy and preoccupied with worry that we totally miss this precious time with our daughters. I call these “Powerless Parenting Messages.” Here’s the first one:
Powerless Parenting Message #1: You Should be 100 Percent Committed to Your Family and Should Put Yourself Last
This message is ingrained in mothers. We all know that a good mom is fully committed to her family, and this is a good and noble thing. Every gesture of love you give your family matters significantly, even when nobody notices. Every child and teenager who has a fully committed mother is greatly blessed, as what you do for your family is invaluable—truly!
I don’t have any problems with the statement, “You should be 100 percent committed to your family,” but I do have a problem with the part that states you “should put yourself last.”
Putting yourself last on the to-do list feels very practical. With only twenty-four hours in a day, it makes sense to prioritize the needs of your family first, right? You’re a mom, for heaven’s sake. Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? But what I want to tell you is that doing this doesn’t work, not for you and not for anyone in your family.
It doesn’t work because you never get through the list! Everyone else’s agenda clamors for your attention, and your needs keep getting bumped to the bottom. Let’s face it: You know things are bad when the dog gets her teeth cleaned before you do!
Yesterday, a mom told me she was sick of being a mother Robotron. I call this a “Mother Machine.” A Mother Machine neglects her physical, emotional, and spiritual health plus all those wonderful facets that make her unique. “I push through my day ignoring my feelings and I never sit down,” this mom told me. But you’re not the Energizer Bunny who can keep on going and going and going—you get my drift. If you do, in fact, keep going and going and going, then you’ll likely be an Energizer Bunny who eventually blows a gasket and explodes, usually when trying to communicate with your daughter.
Let’s say you take your daughter shopping and spend a small fortune on clothes. You willingly sacrifice your time and money to make her happy. In return, you expect your daughter to be grateful. Sound familiar? Later, when you ask her to help do something at home, she sulks and announces, “You’re a terrible mother!” This is when the Mother Machine starts to break down. Her response breaks your heart or ticks you off (or both!), and when Miss Nasty mouths off, you’re much more likely to lose your temper if you are emotionally spent and physically exhausted.
The crazy part about this Powerless Parenting Message is that, no matter how hard you try to meet your family’s needs, you will always feel you are letting them down. You will never feel the satisfaction of a job well done, as you would after completing a work project, because your family’s needs are never-ending and there will always be more asked of you.
This is usually the point where mothers turn on themselves. You beat yourself up because you can’t get everything done and end up feeling like you’ve let your family down. You’re hard on yourself because you don’t feel happy, and then you “should” all over yourself. You think, “I should be grateful: I’m healthy. I have a job. I have kids and a house. I’m married (or, Thank God, I am not married).” But your soul doesn’t buy it. Just like Sharon, you end up saying, “I just don’t feel like myself.”
At the core of this belief that you should put yourself last on the list is another Powerless Parenting Message. It is the main reason you get bumped to the bottom. Really, it’s the reason everyone else makes it on the list but you. (Warning: this message is harmful to your health.)
Powerless Parenting Message #2: It’s Selfish to Pay Attention to Me
Moms are petrified of being selfish. And when you’re petrified, it feels like an all-or-nothing deal. Here’s an example: “If I’m a good mom, I can’t pay attention to me, because if I take care of me, then I’m not taking care of my family.” This may feel logical, but it’s not.
I encounter this all-or-nothing thinking frequently with the moms I counsel. When I suggest that they spend one hour a week doing something just for them, their immediate response is “I can’t. It would be selfish. I have to take care of my family. There’s no time. Everything will fall apart.”
Now I know there are selfish moms, but this character trait is not found in most mothers. More often than not, a mother will starve herself of care like an anorexic starves herself of food. It reminds me of Jenny, a sweet sixteen-year-old girl I saw in my private practice. Jenny weighed 85 pounds and suffered from anorexia. She was afraid to put even a half teaspoon of butter on the quarter of a baked potato she might be persuaded to eat because she was convinced she would end up fat.
Of course, most people can see how irrational her fear was, but moms have an even higher-level fear of being selfish. Believe me, an hour a week of care and nurturing solely for yourself is not going to make you selfish. It may actually give you the energy you need to care of your daughter and the rest of your family as a fully functioning person, instead of as a Mother Machine.
Believing the message “It’s selfish to pay attention to me” will lead you straight to the Mom Phenomenon.
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