Preteen Attitude

I just responded to a parent on who asked:

"...My daughter is 11 we to have separate families her father and I separated when she was very young. I am now married with two other children ages 6 and 1. At my house we have rules and we have guidelines we have stability. At her father's house it is really no rules single bachelor dad. Where she pretty much has free to everything and anything. And she pretty much is taking on the role of taking care of him. In her eyes her dad could do no wrong he is her everything. And when she looks at me I am just evil! I tell her what to do! I make her clean her room etc. I know that what I am doing is allowing her to be a child and trying to do the best that I can to show her boundaries. How to learn to not take her attitude toward me so personally and let it hurt me so bad? I don't think that how things are in her dad's home are wrong they are just different but she seems to think that my household is bad she should have free to all..."

My Answer:

You are obviously concerned and want to do the right thing for your daughter, no matter what. That is bold parenting! And you can do it much more easily when you see the world from the child's point of view first.

You have a child who has the unfortunate role of taking care of an adult and setting her own boundaries during childhood. The more you are able to step inside of her shoes, the better the connection between the two of you will become, and the more she will be able to be a kid and listen to you.

Imagine having to be a responsible adult at age 11, and you don't know how, but you know you have to succeed no matter what! (Wow! Big challenges!) Plus your mom has two more kids who don't have to deal with what you have to deal with in life. You would probably be sure no one really understands--thus the attitude.

You would certainly have to become independent and self-directed to the extreme because your reality is that you have to make all of your decisions on your own. With that kind of pressure, you could not afford to be wrong.

You are right that allowing her to be a child again is what she needs, but very hard to do when her great work in life right now is to be something she is afraid she cannot be--an adult.

If you acknowledge her need to be treated like an adult, her resistance to being mothered will begin to drop off. You can start by really listening openly to her feelings about the differences between your households and validating her experience at her dad's. (Yes, put your feelings aside for this part.) Then point out the strengths she's developed like self-directed and independent (even though they often don't seem like strengths at your house). In understanding that she's right to feel what she feels, you will rebuild the missing connection between you based on respecting how things are for her now. You create respect, by modeling respect.

Then you can honestly share your feelings and even your distress over how things have gone for her, state the boundaries at your house (I'm the Mom here and will model how it's done, so it will be easier for you to do at Dad's), then inside your boundaries work together to create the kind of experience she needs to succeed at your house and his. Be sure to point out her strengths and cooperation whenever they show up.

Trying to help her be a child when she thinks she can't afford to be, will only build resistance and attitude. Listening and supporting her in mastering the challenge in front of her will help her see that you are on her side and prepare her to handle anything life dishes out. Isn't that the goal of parenting anyway?

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