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Teenage Struggles: Finding Compassion While Fighting With My Daughter

What started as a small disagreement with my 17-year-old daughter one morning quickly escalated into raised voices and slammed doors. “You think you’ve got all the answers!” I said.

“You’re not me!” she retorted and marched out the door for school. She forgot her lunch, and I could tell from the way she stormed out that she wasn’t coming back for it.

Insight After the Fact

Later that morning I found her missing earring. I walked into her room to return it and a photograph of her and her best friend caught my eye—two loving, smiling girls now embroiled in a bitter argument and no longer speaking. I wondered why she still kept the picture there and if it hurt her to see it everyday.

As I ran my finger across their faces, I wished they’d make up. And then guilt knocked the wind out of me. She was still suffering. I was probably too hard on her this morning.

I stayed in her room and surveyed the photos and ticket stubs taped along her mirror, mementos of a full teenage life. But there was the card she made for a classmate tucked behind her jewelry box, reminding me that she didn’t go to the party. “Don’t you want to give it to her?” I had asked that night. She pulled the covers over her head and turned away. “I’ll see her in school,” was all she said. I knew it was a text or a Snapchat that upset her, but she wasn’t talking. She didn’t want to tell me everything anymore.

Among the cluster of half empty makeup containers, I saw the mascara we argued about the week before. Breaking my own rule about using things without permission, I tried it. It was exceptional. More guilt.

I thought she wanted it because it was pricey. “But Mom, you don’t understand; this is really good,” she pleaded with me at the store, but I didn’t listen to her—and if I’m being honest, I didn’t believe her. I felt a little shame that I made her work so hard for something as trivial as a few extra dollars for makeup. I put it back in the pile, lesson learned.

To my right was her desk, covered with art supplies and cookie crumbs. How many times have I said “No food in your room!”? I picked up her roller derby jersey from underneath the desk and shook it out. When she told me she wanted to play roller derby, I figured it would pass just like violin lessons or her regular vow to keep her room clean. I might have been too verbal about my misgivings, judgmental even. But despite my negativity she forged ahead and then asked me to help her pick a player name and number. I realized she forgave my imperfections.

I remembered how much she loves me.

What My Daughter Taught Me

Finally I saw her science textbook. The entire school year she complained relentlessly about her teacher, even though she knew I would take the side of authority when it came to school. Then one day I got a flurry of texts about how she was graded unfairly on a make-up science test. “I only had half as much time as the rest of the class!” she wrote, “I didn’t get to finish, Mom! I got a D.”

Moments later, I was called into school, and when I got there she was alone in the guidance office, visibly upset.  “What happened to caring about students?” she’d told the teacher. “You want us to accept unjust treatment? That’s not okay!” Score one for my underdog whose test score went up by 20 points. She might forget science, but she’ll never forget what she learned about not giving up.

I stared at her room once more, and it came to me all at once how her teenage world is a series of storms in which I am a steadfast but slowly fading lighthouse. I left her room as I found it, and I vowed not to mention a single thing about our morning argument or the cookie crumbs on her desk.

When she came home from school, I decided, I’d just smile at her and say, “Guess what?  I found your missing earring!”

Helen Chibnik is a music teacher, freelance writer, and mom to three teenagers living in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @helensgoodideas.

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