You’re reading Between Us, a place for parents to offload and share their tricky parenting dilemmas. Share your parenting dilemma here and we’ll seek advice from experts.
Parenting is tough – and perhaps the toughest age of all is when your child reaches their tween and teenage years.
While teens are masters of mood swings and defiance, as well as distancing themselves from their parents, there are sometimes cases where they can seem, well... unbearable. Meanwhile, their parents are left wondering... what happened?!
Such is the case for one mother, who shared her parenting dilemma on Reddit this week:
“I no longer feel willing to live with my 14-year-old daughter ‘Abby’ and might send her to boarding school – I’m at my wits end. Around 11-12, Abby really changed and she seems like she genuinely hates me. I don’t know how else to put it and I have no idea what might have caused it. No matter what we try, Abby is relentlessly unkind to me when we’re in the house together.
“At first it was immature kid stuff, like telling me I was ugly, fat and smelly. As she got older, this behaviour got worse and more sophisticated. She makes specific comments about my flaws every day now like, ‘you can see your cellulite through those pants mom.’ She’ll tell me I’m getting older and I should be worried her dad will leave me for a younger woman. She’ll also play ‘pranks’ – replacing my expensive moisturiser with expired milk, hiding or destroying my clothes and she once even crawled up behind me while I was WFH on a video call and cut off the bottom of my ponytail. She has hidden and damaged my work materials more than once.
“She doesn’t behave like this towards her dad or brother. I feel like I should be ‘strong’ enough to not care, but this behaviour has really impacted my life. I feel incredibly self-conscious of my appearance and it’s hard to get dressed in the morning. I’m less confident at work and around our friends. I find myself dreading being in my own house if Abby is going to be there, staying longer at work, going to the gym after work and asking my husband to cook, going right to our room when I’m home to avoid her. I feel guilty and embarrassed about avoiding my family!
“Last weekend we had an incident at the beach and I realised I just can’t live my life like this anymore. It’s been three years and I can’t do another four years until she moves out. I told my husband I wanted to move out for a while so my husband/son/daughter could stay in our house. I could get a studio apartment in our city or go stay with my parents about an hour away. He said he loves me and doesn’t want to live without me for four years (though I said I’d move back if things got better).
“He wants to send our daughter to a decent boarding school and have peace in our house. I feel bad at the idea that she might feel rejected or unwelcome at home, but I am seriously considering it. What would you do in my situation? I appreciate any advice.”
*The above post has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What has she tried?
In the extensive Reddit post, the mum explained how she’d tried all sorts of strategies with their daughter, including:
- Talking to her about her behaviour and asking why she’s saying these things.
- Taking away her allowance, electronics, or grounding her for being unkind.
- Therapy – the parent is in individual therapy, couples’ therapy with her husband, and family therapy with her daughter. Her daughter is also having individual therapy.
- Shouting at her when she’s done something particularly awful – like when she cut her mum’s hair. (“But we always apologised for yelling,” the parent added).
- Talking to the school in case she was being bullied or bullying other kids.
- Encouraging her daughter to talk to other trusted adults.
So, what else can she do?
“Dealing with a young person who is impacting your life can be very hard to deal with,” says Counselling Directory member Rosalind Miles.
Here’s what the therapist recommends the parent might want to try.
1. Reflect back on what might’ve changed for your daughter at 11-12 years old
Typically, this is the age when a child moves to senior school. Did something happen at this age that could’ve triggered this behaviour?
The therapist suggests the parent might want to give their daughter the opportunity to express her feelings and thoughts.
“Sometimes, underlying issues can contribute to rude behaviour, and listening can help you better understand her perspective,” says Miles.
“I note that you mention that the behaviour changed at around 11-12 years old. Do you remember any significant, or even smaller changes, that happened within her life, or the family dynamic at all?”
2. Discuss how the behaviour affects you
Sometimes when a teen acts out, we can be quick to admonish their character, rather than their behaviour. If this is happening, Miles recommends the parent addresses the behaviour first and foremost, rather than her daughter.
“For example, you could say, ‘I feel hurt when you use disrespectful language’ rather than, ‘You are a disrespectful person’,” she suggests.
“I am curious to understand if there is ever an opportunity to share with your daughter how her behaviour affects you. You could try to express your emotions without blaming or accusing her. You have feelings too!”
Finding time to sit down and have a meaningful chat about this might help, so they can perhaps even explore the deeper reasons for this behaviour. But Miles acknowledges it might be hard – and even scary – to instigate this with tensions running so high.
“You could try to let your daughter know that she can talk to you about her feelings and concerns without resorting to rudeness,” the therapist suggests. Or, you can suggest she talk to a trusted friend or family member instead.
She urges the parent to remember that the teenage years can be particularly difficult, an age which “can be particularly challenging due to hormonal changes and emotional development”.
“Try to be patient and understanding while setting those boundaries,” she adds. “Easy for me to say, I know!”
3. Try to remain calm when hostile situations arise
This is, of course, easier said than done, but Miles recommends trying to be as calm as possible when issues with the teen arise and escalate. This is because “reacting emotionally can, unfortunately, escalate the situation”.
4. Consider boarding school
And lastly, don’t feel guilty for exploring boarding school options. But Miles does caveat that you’ll need to keep in mind the challenges this might bring, too – such as financial implications, changes in dynamics to the household and how it may affect the parent’s future relationship with their daughter.
“Perhaps consider how she may feel at having to face this change within her life. Also, the effects it may have on other members of the family, not just now, but in the future too,” she adds.
Ultimately, it’s a situation no parent wants to be in. The therapist concludes: “I do hope you can work towards improving your relationship and helping your daughter develop healthier ways of communicating.”