Mother to a 16 year old daughter, Maree, learns the tough lesson of killing off the mother.
I have a 16 year old daughter. And I never know who’s coming out of the bedroom each morning – Jekyll or Hyde, Cinderella or Ugly Sister, Princess or Bitchface (as adolescent psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg coins it!)
I smirked to myself when friends with daughters went through this stage at 13, 14, 15. ‘My daughter won’t do that to me’ I thought smugly (and naively). Then it started – at 16. (See it may not happen overnight – but it will happen…)
The puberty hormones hit home and it hit the fan. What hit exactly? The crushing criticism of all I do, the insults about the way that I dress, the rude remarks about any of my behaviour. My back was full of daggers and my heart was full of knives – it was worse than an episode of True Blood! Tell you what – it’s not for the faint hearted or those with a sensitive side (like most of us Mums!)
Another friend with an 18 year old girl recently said to me with anguish ‘Who would have children if you only know the pain they could inflict?’ (She was having a bad day – her daughter had slammed her marriage and told her not to ring her so much).
Yes, I know we need to ‘let them go’. I’ve been telling mothers this for years in the teenage boys and girls programs that I facilitate (Pathways Foundation) but I didn’t ever expect it to hurt like this – a dagger to the heart, a blow to the psyche.
And yet somewhere beyond the physical pain (yep it hurts just like I’ve been hit) I know it’s not about her. She’s just doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing – as millions of daughters (and sons) have done since time immemorial.
Killing off the Mother. So that the daughter can emerge as her own self, her own woman. The biggest individuation process they go through since they were three. Steve Biddulph (author of ‘Raising Boys’ and now this year ‘Raising Girls’) says that 14 year olds are just 2 year olds in a much bigger body. And with girls – a much nastier vocabulary! Whereas boys mainly do the silent grunting thing – oh joy! My 12 year old son is about to transform too….
So I know it’s not about me. The Mother must die (figuratively speaking of course). So that the new girl-woman can be born, testing her own wings, stating her own beliefs, dressing her own way (aren’t those heels too high, shorts too short, makeup too much, music too loud?) I hear my own mother’s voice in my head and I smile at her wisdom now. Grandmothers must have such sweet karmic revenge when their daughters have teenage daughters.
In the famous Greek mythology, the girl Persephone fell down into the abyss in the Underworld (did she fall? was she pushed? was she kidnapped by bad King Hades?) and left her mother Demeter wailing bereft on the surface up above. (Maybe she JUMPED to get away from Mum!) Ever since, girls have had to kill off their Mother – so that they can become themselves. To forge an identity different to their Mum. To know they are NOT their mother. (Good luck with that one gals…!)
‘Suck it up’ I tell myself. ‘It’s not about me’. And I have to suck it up. But it hurts like hell. Tough Mudder has nothing on this. Give me a 40km hike through rain and mud any day over mothering a teenage girl at this stage (often 12-18 years). So I repeat the mantra to myself ‘Don’t take it personally, don’t take it personally, she’s meant to be doing this, she’s right on track, take a breath, breath out.’ %&*$&@#!!
And as I take the knives out of my back, wincing with the pain, I send whispered apologies to my own mother for all my shenanigans in my teenage years. I smile and look forward to the day when I’m a grandmother and – just like my mother did to me – I can turn to my daughter when she’s exasperated with her own child and say ‘ I used to know a little girl like that!’