Right now, my three-year-old daughter can't get enough of me, much to the dismay of her father. "Don't worry," I assure him. "In 12 years' time, I will be the person she'll blame for her unhappiness."
This is likely to be true. The falling-out between mother and daughter that often occurs in a girl's adolescence and lasts what feels like a lifetime is a cliché grounded in the real-life experiences of many families.
For a mother, there are questions: Why has my daughter stopped talking to me? What is going through her mind? How can I help her? Why does it feel like I can't do anything right?
“They’re hyper-protective of their mothers even when they feel so hurt by their criticism.”
"Adolescence is a time when young people start to break free from their family unit to develop a unique personal identity, and carve out their space in the world," says psychologist Elizabeth Neal, who specialises in mother-daughter communication. "This process is called individuation and reflects opportunities for teenagers to make decisions for themselves."
Individuation begins with teenagers setting up boundaries and withdrawing information from their parents. For mothers, this can feel like dismissal or rejection, but Neal says it should be viewed as a positive. "Mothers need to get rid of idealised measures of a good mother-daughter relationship during the teenage years and understand that separateness is the developmentally appropriate drive during this time."
Still, this phase of mood swings and silent treatment can be daunting for the modern parent. So as a writer of teen fiction, I put it to some teenage girls: What sort of things would you never tell your mother?
I lie to hang out with boys
Ashleigh, 19, spent many of her teenage years lying to her mother, mostly so she could visit boys at their homes. She lied to avoid her mother's practice of phoning the parents of the boy to confirm her whereabouts"
She wasn't casual enough about my relationships with boys and always made a big deal of it, so I'd lie when I was going to hang out with a boy, telling her I was seeing my girlfriends or going to the movies," she says.
Ashleigh believes there would have been no need for the lies if her mother had realised her over-protectiveness was embarrassing.
"If she were slightly more open to my involvement with boys, and spoke openly about alcohol and sex, we would have been much closer. These topics were closed to discussion and had negative stigma attached to them, so I felt like I was doing something wrong whenever I hung out with boys, or friends who were drinking."
While Ashleigh's behaviour would fill some mothers with fear, Neal says it's actually a good thing – non-disclosure protects teenage girls from the influence their parents would have on their choices and helps to form their personal agency
I talk about sex … just not to her
Sixteen-year-old Mirella says that her mother just "doesn't get" her generation. She also feels that her mother's expectations of her prevent her from being true to herself, especially when it comes to discussing sensitive topics such as sex.
"With my friends, subjects such as dating, sex, masturbation and sexuality are often talked about, either online or at school," says Mirella. "I would never talk to my mum about the stuff I talk about with my friends.
"I wouldn't tell her about my online conversations with friends because they are often outrageous and explicit, and I wouldn't want to tell her about the content and frequency of my internet usage. She would take it away from me if she knew the extent of it."
I'm a totally different person to her
Ellie*, 16, believes she has a good relationship with her mum because she understands social media, her daughter's friendships, interests and educational pursuits.
But Ellie also feels that her mother is sometimes too down-to-earth and trivialises her problems.
"I tend to bottle my problems up until they explode in an anxiety attack," Ellie explains. "This frustrates my mother because she thinks that if I tell her about the problem when it first arises, we can sort it out. However, it's a kind of catch-22 because when I do tell her about the minuscule problems – which later grow into the larger, anxiety-inducing ones – she tells me that it's nothing to worry about and that I'm overreacting."
Ellie says that this approach has stopped her from opening up to her mother, especially about her bisexuality. While Ellie has been encouraged to identify as whatever she pleases, her mother believes that her daughter's generation is "obsessed with making everything gay". Ellie has stopped telling her mum about her crushes because her mum refuses to believe she's bisexual, arguing that she doesn't look at girls in the same way that she looks at guys.
"My first proper kiss was last year when one of my female friends and I kissed at a small party," she explains. "My mother claimed that it didn't count as a first kiss because it was part of a game, which was true.
"Still, I felt like my excitement was undermined, so I don't talk about that any more. I don't bring up certain experiences because of how she talks about them."
Neal says it is fairly typical for teenage girls to retreat from their mothers, claiming a lack of understanding. Adolescent girls want to know they are okay in the eyes of their mothers, and any disapproval is painful as it symbolises rejection.
"Teenage girls want their mothers to see the things they value about themselves as strengths," Neal explains. "They want to be viewed as fully-functioning individuals and they want this individuation process to be a source of pride for their parents – that who they are deciding to become is acceptable at the very least, and truly something great at best."
Neal stresses that it is important for parents to recognise a daughter's developing value system, even if it is at odds with their own.
Indeed, Mirella says that any tensions with her mother stem from their different world views. "My mother's viewpoint is one that my generation would tend to find misogynistic, racist and at times homophobic." Mirella also struggles with her mother's criticism of her choices and aspirations.
While Mirella says these issues "drive a wedge" in their relationship, Neal says it's a typical dynamic.
"One of the most defining features of the conflicted mother-daughter interaction is maternal criticism," she explains. "It is often driven by the need to make a daughter fit more into a mould consistent with a mother's own values."
While it might seem nigh-on impossible at times, Neal suggests celebrating your daughter's individuating as best as you can. "Get rid of your expectations, refrain from trivialising your daughter's feelings, work on your own self-regulation.
"Verbally express love, appreciation, respect and appreciation of her. That means stretching yourself to find those things amid all the moodiness." It can be a hard slog, but giving your daughter a chance to voice her opinions – or just mull them over independently – could help to rear a woman better able to take on 21st-century challenges.
I'm struggling to cope without her
Helping your daughter develop her independence – even when you're desperate to teach her and shape her – could enhance your relationship.
Jade*, 18, has recently moved out of home and is struggling with adulthood after a fairly sheltered adolescence. Jade says she severely underestimated the responsibility of living alone, and is finding juggling chores, waking herself up in the morning, driving herself around and supplying her own food among the hardest things she's ever experienced.
"I wish I could tell my mum how much I miss home, and I wish she'd told me all about the new responsibilities I would have," she says. "I wish she gave me a bit more practice at home of being independent."
Living alone has been a revelation that's reinforced how much her parents have done for her. "Some friends despise their mothers and do not like to associate with them; others love their mothers like a best friend," Jade says. "Once you turn 18, I think you come to appreciate your mother and father more, as you realise how much you took them for granted."
She has no idea how much I love her
I thought it would be easy to find teenage girls to talk on the record about their mothers – they're a generation used to revealing so much of themselves, and so many came forward initially to speak their mind. But in the end, the loyalty they had to their mothers was incredible – and many refused to talk about them publicly.
Neal sees this behaviour among teenage girls during therapy sessions. "They're hyper-protective of their mothers, even when they feel so hurt by their criticism and dismissiveness," she explains.
"When a girl sees her mother in tears, she will always become teary, regardless of how hurt she feels. It says a lot about the mother-daughter bond from the daughter's perspective."
Ellie says that ultimately teenage girls just want to be understood. "We want to be listened to, to feel as though we have a voice. A lot of us are insecure and scared of entering the adult world. If you can do anything to help – even just letting us vent without judgment – then we see that as enough."
If the teenage girls I spoke to for this story have taught me anything about my own mother-daughter relationships, it's this: it's easy to invest in a bond that comes with no hurdles. But when the road gets rocky, the strength of that bond will lie in my daughter's openness to seeing me as more than a weight pinning her down, and in my ability to let her hand go.
I can only hope that she'll go out into the world to find herself and, eventually, reach for me right back.
*Names have been changed.
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