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Learning to Say No to My Angry Teenage Daughter (and Sticking to It)

My 16-year-old daughter Robin needed to provide a cake for her soccer team’s fundraiser. There was no question that I would take care of this. It’s what good parents do, right? If my daughter needed an elaborate cake, I would provide . . . even if she could do it for herself.

The problem is, Robin had some severe anger issues that erupted into bouts of verbal abuse—mainly directed at me, her cake provider. Once she got going, I knew of no way to stop her. Yet, she presented to the outside world as an easy-going, charismatic leader: the heart and soul of the team.

I had started attending an intensive parenting group that helps adults (usually parents) change their behavior to deal with out-of-control family members. I’d become accustomed to Robin’s uncontrollable behavior and lost perspective about standards for appropriate family life. I began to realize that I enabled Robin’s behavior by not establishing consequences for her abusive actions.

Beyond enduring these episodes of fury and rage, I knew that I also had to change my own behavior. Just being grateful that she had stopped was not enough.

Through the group, I was learning to say no effectively to my angry daughter.

Late one evening, I knocked on Robin’s door around bedtime, went in and calmly sat on her bed. “You know about that dessert that you have to bring to the auction?” I started.

Robin looked up, wary, not smiling, “Yeah…” She let her voice trail off.

“We could make a pineapple upside down cake. Nobody makes them anymore, and they’re so tasty.”

“What?” she snarled, “That’s GROSS. That’s not the kind of cake you’re supposed to bring! That’s such a stupid idea. I can hardly believe it. You are SO DAMN cheap! You’re just trying to get out of buying a nice bakery cake like everybody else. No way, NO WAY am I doing that! Don’t you get it at all?”

“Everybody likes them. We could trick it up with whipped cream,” I suggested.

“NO, NO, NO WAY!” she shouted before she started howling and shrieking.

I recognized the verbal abuse and how I would enable her inappropriate behavior if it accomplished what she wanted. “Oh, ok,” I said calmly, “You can take care of it then.”

And, I quietly left the room. I resolved that I would not provide her a dessert for the auction. What’s the worst that could happen? She wouldn’t have a cake, and I would be considered an irresponsible slacker by the other parents? No biggie; I could deal with that.

I had absorbed a lesson or two from my parenting group. One reason that parents want to do for their teens what their teens can do for themselves is control. We don’t want to live with the outcome of their choices. But, the message that we give our kids is that we don’t believe they are capable.

All that week, I didn’t say a word about the cake. Robin didn’t either. I kept my mouth shut and did nothing. The night before the auction, my resolve left, and I found myself in the kitchen, yanking out the pans and the bowls to make a cake. I brought out the sugar and butter. Then, I straightened up and started doing some self-talk. “I am not making this cake for my daughter!” I said aloud. I put the pans away. I was not going to do it, but it was so hard!

When Robin got home at midnight that night, I was in bed reading a book. She came in with some urgency. “Mom, what about the cake for the auction?” I looked up from my book, calmly, with a blank expression on my face (another effective parenting technique I’d learned).

“Oh,” I paused. “You were going to take care of it,” I murmured, with no inflection in my voice. I immediately turned back to my book.

Silence. More silence. I did not look up or say a thing.

Finally, she said, “Do you think that the store would be open early in the morning?”

“Probably,” I said, not looking up. I didn’t do anything else. Early the next morning, she went out on her own to the local grocery and bought a small, fancy chocolate cake for $20 with her own money. She did not ask, and I did not offer to pay for it. The round chocolate cake with the shiny, deep brown frosting was clearly too small. She went off to the auction with the cake, and I never heard another thing about it. Some table ended up with a small cake, but I did not interfere.

By using some new parenting techniques, I was able to defuse and resolve this situation. I could have handled it differently. I could have argued with her about the cake or bought the store cake and sulked. I could have criticized her choice. I didn’t do any of those things. And then I just left the matter in her own hands, didn’t do for her what she could do for herself and did not judge her decision.

And, I did not provide her with a cake.