May 8, 2015

Teenage Daughters and Mothers

Have you ever noticed the pairs of mothers and young daughters who seem particularly close? Perhaps you feel, or felt, that way. Your daughter may have been very affectionate as a young girl. She may have shared a lot with you or depended on you for emotional support as she navigated peer relationships and learned to handle increasing academic demands.

And then, something changes. The very same young lady who was closer to her mom than many becomes very angry and difficult to deal with. What happened? Wasn't this the sweet child who was predicted to be a relatively easy adolescent?

I've come to understand this phenomenon as something that can be compared to a rubber band. Growing up and becoming independent requires a degree of psychological separation. For teens to truly become adults, they need to define their identity in relation to -- but also distinct from -- those with whom they've been most connected. And herein lies the paradox of the rubber band.

A rubber band that is very thin is easy to pull apart. Similarly, a bond that isn't very tight in the first place isn't hard to pull away from. But those thick rubber bands and those strong connections between mother and daughter are not so easy to navigate while the teen traverses the separation that is part of adolescence. It isn't always easy or comfortable to relinquish the childhood closeness without knowing what lies on the other side. As a result, it takes the teen more effort to pull away from a closer relationship before she can establish a young adult identity. And that effort, pulling harder on the thick rubber band, can take the form of significant conflict and/or distance. But, just as the thick rubber band can withstand the pull, so, too, will the relationship. Eventually, the rubber band snaps back, and the close relationship reemerges -- even if its shape is somewhat altered.

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