3 weeks ago
Hi, I am struggling with my 13 year old daughter who is the baby of 4.
The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster we have ventured through inappropriate social media use, sexualised social media use, vaping, stealing alcohol (not sure if it was drunk) stealing money, taking others personal items, repeated prank calls to emergency services, physical and verbal fights at school which lead to on going suspensions and then exclusion, refusal to meet home expectations (which are very minimal), verbal abuse towards all other members of the family, roughness with others property (not yet to the point of damage but close), physically engaging with her brothers and father, consistently doing things in her own time with no regard to the impact on others, absconding from home and most recently self harm and refusing to go to school.
Don’t get me wrong I still at times have my kind, compassionate and happy young lady engaging with me but more and more I have an angry, unregulated and mean young lady in front of me. Her externalised behavior impacts the whole household. It’s hard being the only one with a better understanding because I end up in the middle of each relationship. Her father becomes very unregulated because his view is she gets away with everything and should just do as told. Her brothers are anxious all the time because she verbally abuse them and if they stand up for themselves she will physically engage with them just because. Her sister has moved out. My husband and I (her father) fight when ever he lets her manipulate him into stopping to her level.
I have made my way here today because even with my exhaustive skill set I am now at a loss. I am on my edge all the time, our home is not a nice place to be. I worry about her and the impact this has on my other children. I worry about my marriage. I acknowledge she requires different parenting than my other 3 children, I am very lenient in comparison, I give lots of warning and timely reminders, ignore a lot of secondary behaviors to address the primary behavior and pick my battles carefully but there are still expectations and consequences because that is the real world. e.g. be ready for school and in the car by this time or your privilege of a phone is taken because my employment which your making me late for supplies it. However when I hold up a boundary and initiate a consequence I am verbally abused.
Today when I was faced once again with 45mins of not getting out of bed until the last minute and being told to shut the f*#k up and then had complete refusal I lost my cool, I ragged at husband calling her behavior names (she’s behaving like bi*ch, she’s just being an **bleep**) and then I screamed at her that she was consistently selfish, never considering anyone else except herself and causing unnecessary stress on everyone in the house.
So currently I am home not at work and she is in her room not at school and I feel I have entered the ‘Sh*t Parent Club’ because this morning. Behaved like a teenager not an adult.
It sounds like losing your temper was really upsetting for you, and your confidence in yourself as a parent has taken a hit as a result.
You sound like a caring parent, who is in a really demanding situation, and who has put a lot of work into understanding different approaches and adapting your parenting style to the situation, despite not being supported in this by your husband.
When you think about yourself as a parent, it’s important to keep a balanced perspective. There are probably multiple times when you have felt like responding emotionally and have managed to respond calmly, and these are each just as important as the one time you weren’t able to stay calm. Based on what you described, it sounds like no-one is really acknowledging the efforts you are making and the hard work you are doing as a parent. That can be really tough and can amplify feelings of frustration and overwhelm. If you find that thoughts about not being a good parent keep coming up for you, it could be helpful to make a conscious effort to notice all the times that you do something well (perhaps even writing them down) and to make a point to acknowledge this for yourself.
I think there’s a perception out there that good parents never react emotionally, and never lose their temper. But parenting, just like so many other things in life, isn’t about perfection. Sometimes there can be moments in the parenting relationship when things go wrong - you lose your temper and yell, or you miss a cue that your child wants to talk, or a conversation doesn’t go well. What can really make a difference in the relationship between you and your child is how you recover when there has been a moment or conflict or of difficulty between you.
This can become an opportunity for growth - modelling for your teen how to repair a relationship when there has been a conflict can be something which helps them in their relationships with others. This isn’t about apologising for being upset, but apologising for how these emotions were expressed in the moment.
I also wanted to talk about expressing frustration when it comes to parenting. I’m not sure if this applies to you or not, but it is something which some parents find a challenge, so I thought it worth mentioning. You show good awareness that screaming at your daughter as a way of expressing frustration isn’t helpful. But, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t express frustration at all. Sometimes parents feel that they have to be endlessly patient with teens and never express the ways that the young person’s behaviour is affecting them. Sometimes the build-up of this unexpressed emotion can increase the chances that it will come spilling out in unplanned ways.
Teens can sometimes be oblivious to the way they make others feel. This isn’t true all of the time, and isn’t a sign they don’t care, but because teens are going through a period of change and of growth, they are often focused on their internal experiences, and may require prompting to realise how others are feeling. So, it’s important to take opportunities to express your emotions and needs to your teen in a healthy way.
It’s best to choose a time when your teen isn’t busy or stressed, and when things are relatively calm for you. An example of something you might say is “ When you swear at me in the mornings and refuse to get out of bed, I feel frustrated and disrespected.” However, the words should be based on what comes naturally and feels true for you. This can also be an opportunity to explore how your daughter feels in the mornings, and what might be causing her to lash out at these times. However, even if your daughter doesn’t feel ready to talk about how she is feeling, modelling how to express how you are feeling can increase the chances she will share with you when she is ready.
Aside from the recent event, in reading your story, I am struck by just how challenging things must be at the moment. You don’t mention if you are accessing any professional support. If you aren’t, I would recommend talking to someone - your GP can be a good place to start.
Getting some professional support for your daughter (if she doesn’t already have this) would be a good way to begin to identify and address what is happening for her which is making things so tough and causing her to react this way to you and the rest of the family. If she isn’t willing to talk to someone, I’d still recommend support for you as her parent. It sounds like you are feeling really unsupported, and having someone to talk through the current parenting challenges and the impact they are having on you could really help you feel less stressed.
Another option is family counselling. It sounds like one of the things which is adding to the challenge at the moment, is the relationship between your daughter and husband, and the differences in your approach to parenting. Family counselling focuses on finding ways for families to work together to improve their relationships. One of the really common issues they can help families navigate is the experience of one family member being put ‘in the middle’ of conflict. However, it would require everyone to feel willing to give it a try. Relationships Australia may have services close to you, or you can look for services here: https://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/find-local-help.
Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.
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