The most difficult job in the world: Mothering teen daughters

Mothers of teen daughters have one of the toughest jobs in the world.

The girls are developing in many ways, physically, sexually, creatively and socially. At the same time, mothers are often in or approaching midlife. There is bound to be conflict, exasperation, anger, sullenness, aggression and rudeness, maybe on both parts.

Young teen girls are going through so much at this time. With their rapidly changing bodies and hormonal alterations, we can expect many variations of shaky self-esteem: discouragement, doubts and hesitations, rebelling, lack of discipline, difficulty maintaining concentration and eating and sleeping disorders, along with the slammed doors, cursing, silence and withdrawal. Yikes!

There is a metamorphosis going on with our daughters, an unstable time of furthering that self-identity taken to the next level. We are dealing with the creation of the socially conscious young woman, whose task it is to become a secure and authentic social self. She has created her individual selfhood as a young child, learned about the world in her elementary years and now she is challenged with becoming this individuated separate member of the collective human society.

She seems to have a lot of fire to aid her in this passage, and she often takes it out on her mother. She must separate from the womb of childhood, and Mom is the most likely recipient of this anxiety.

The girls need help. Somehow mothers sit at the helm throughout this process. We feel responsible for ensuring that each family member survives and even thrives. We have a hard time handling conflict and anger and regard some of this teenage angst as hostility. We are dealing with our own ever-diminishing youth at the very same time our daughter’s is blossoming.

Once again, as mothers, we need to stay strong. (That’s why they call this the hardest job in the world.) We need to hold on to our own sense of self and remain firm in our principles, rather than cave in to her every demand in fear of losing her love. She needs strong female role models now. She is looking for answers as to how to be a woman in the world.

Find ways to enter her world if you can – through music, her activities, movies, etc. Try to be casual in these things so she will feel comfortable with you. Each time you step into this sacred world of hers, you create increased trust and openness.

Let her express her self-doubts to you without ever being judgmental.

Explain to her that everyone, including yourself, has passed thorough this phase.

Teach her to celebrate her womanhood. The more recognition, consciousness and identity around the feminine she has, the more confidence and esteem she will develop to overcome this difficult time. This will carry her way into her life as an adult woman making good choices around her gender decisions.

Dad can play a big part here in deflecting some of this stress between Mom and daughter. His respect and treatment of Mom is critical. This relationship at such a time of tension may lay the groundwork for the teen’s future relationships.

Good luck, Moms. This slippery slope will only last a couple of years, usually at about ages 13 to 15 for girls. Deep breath, and know that you are assisting her in the passage through a mysterious period that will result in a confident young woman ready to take on the world.

Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years. She currently has an early childhood consulting business, supporting child care centers and families. Reach her at

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