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Discipline vs Control: The Moment When There are No Winners

I walked into my kitchen and my 16-year-old daughter was on her way out.

Me: “Where are you going?”

Daughter: “I’m going to the movies.”

Me: ”It’s 10 p.m. You can’t go.”

Daughter: “I’m going.”

Me: “First of all, the question is, ‘Can I go?’ Second of all, there is a city curfew.”

Daughter: “I don’t care. I’m going.”

With each response, I could feel my blood pressure rising and my heart pounding. She dug her heels in. I dug my heels in deeper.

She inched toward the door while I raced towards a scary rage.

And as she defiantly and boldly opened the door to leave the house, I wrestled her to the ground for the keys. People chuckle when I say I wrestled my kid to the ground, as if it is a euphemism for taking the keys. Let me clarify that I hit a low point in my parenting: I actually got into a physical tussle with my daughter and wrestled her to the ground.

First of all, I was out of control. Secondly, I did not know how to deal with a defiant teenager. We are a family of strong wills, from the top down. All my kids had pushed and argued. No one shied away from disagreement and conflict. Everyone “kind of” followed the rules. As they got older—most noticeably, when they hit high school—I saw the power shifting, but it had been subtle. Despite the shifting tides, I had not seen much overt, in-your-face rebellion.

Until this happened.

I felt unhinged, and I needed help. I called Amy Speidel, a wise and practical parenting expert, to beg her to see my daughter. She stayed on the phone with me (my voice might have triggered some worry) and listened to my rant about my insolent, irreverent kid. Amy responded with, “Let’s talk about how you will handle this when it happens again.”

AGAIN. AGAIN?! This was going to happen again?

Amy told me that my daughter’s behavior was developmentally appropriate—she was supposed to individuate and test the boundaries. Amy also said that it was great that my daughter would be able to stand up for herself in a relationship that wasn’t working.

That last comment really made me feel awful. I hadn’t considered any positive aspect to her audacity—but outside of our mother-daughter relationship, I would never want to diminish my daughter’s assertiveness.

My job was to learn new responses that offered my daughter options and realistic consequences, not empty threats that she would never, ever drive again.

After talking with Amy, I realized that I was the one who needed help understanding discipline vs control.

Honestly, I did resent that the onus was on me. I wanted permission to rant and lose control and punish. But I listened to Amy and here’s what I learned.

  1. My daughter’s behavior was normal adolescent behavior. Hearing that one piece of information allayed my fears that I had raised a terrible human and failed as a mother.
  2. My daughter’s strong, assertive personality was an asset. That pivot in perspective was a huge gift. I value her character traits but didn’t want them used against me. I softened in my response to listen to her instead of enflaming the situation.
  3. I went crazy. In fact, I crossed a line. And that happens. But I learned to apologize and reset so that we could move forward.

I listened to Amy. And it really worked. When I keep my cool and have an “Amy” response (which can really test my self-control), I feel much better about the interaction and the outcome. I believe that Amy changed my relationship with my daughter. And I am forever grateful.

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.

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