Murphy’s Love: Dear Disappointed
I am struggling with my relationship with my elementary school-aged daughter. She is my firstborn and we have always had a good relationship, but recently she has started rejecting many of the activities we used to enjoy as a family. She has been doing ballet since she was two, but now she refuses to go to class. It’s a fight every week. She also gets very frustrated when I help her with her schoolwork. She is falling behind in reading and I want to help her (I was very good in school), but she gets angry and then won’t do anything at all. My husband has a much better rapport with her lately and I am jealous that she is more comfortable taking direction from him. Every day I try to start off new, with a plan to be her biggest cheerleader, but it usually takes a negative turn and we wind up yelling at each other. I never thought I would be this kind of a mom. – Disappointed
Whew – I can relate to this letter! I have been afraid of the teenage years since the moment I found out I was pregnant with a girl. Although, chronologically, mine is only in kindergarten, attitude-wise she’s already giving us a hint of what those years might be like. My immediate advice is for you to be gentler with her, and with yourself when responding.
My hope is that you can separate your hopes and dreams for Daughter from the reality of Daughter. She has outgrown ballet, as most of us do. Maybe it’s sooner than you would have liked, but she is not you. Meanwhile, not all of us mothers are teachers by nature (especially those who were naturally “very good in school”). You just might not be the best reading coach for Daughter. What you are, and what you should always strive to be, is the right guide for her.
This means that you are the one to guide her toward the right tutors, coaches and activities, those that will help her thrive. Yes, that person might be Dad for a period of time, but even he won’t be the Chosen One forever. You will need other resources. Be proactive and start compiling a list.
The daily fights sound so exhausting, but most kids don’t actually seek out opportunities to be irritating (surprising as that may sound). Take some time to stand outside the regularly scheduled arguments – what’s really happening during those times? Are you missing something she’s asking for? Could Dad be a helpful support, preventing you from being so overwhelmed that you do and say things you regret? What about asking Daughter what she thinks? Even at a very young age, she might have some insight about what you both can do to soften those difficult moments.
In the short term, this kind of negotiation could make life more bearable. But in the long term? You just might teach her an invaluable lesson: while all our parents are fallible humans, they are also always on our team.
Stacy Notaras Murphy www.stacymurphyLPC.com is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.