It’s her word of choice for me, regardless of what I say to her.
Did you eat all of your brother’s chocolate?
Well, wouldn’t you go ballistic if he went in your room and stole something out of it?
Just weeks ago we were close. And now? I barely know this 14 year old girl. She looks at me with contempt. She does nothing to hide her hatred for me. Above all else, I find myself so angry and hurt by her deliberate apathy that I want to hurt her back, make her care, do something drastic to take “whatever” out of her vocabulary. Days earlier, a war between us raged on until I finally took the phone out of her texting hands and threw it across the room with all my force, breaking the only thing she cares about anymore. I wanted to get her to open her eyes.
And she did.
She told me she wanted to move in with her dad. I had to bite my tongue from telling her I’d help her pack. We both knew she was bluffing. And we haven’t spoken since, except to address the issue of her stealing from her brother.
It’s all very mature.
I’ve never had to lay down the law for her. She’s been my “good kid”, the one I could rely on to keep up with her responsibilities and be my second pair of hands in the house. Now, she has to be told several times to do her one chore a day. She tells Mr. W he’s “not her father” whenever he says anything to her. She acts sweet as pie when she needs something, and then spews nonchalant venom when things don’t go her way. She has made it abundantly clear that she can get away with anything.
And truthfully, she can.
I suck as a parent of a teenager. I sent this sentiment out to the Facebook universe when lamenting the whole situation, and immediately friends who understood jumped in and gave words of encouragement and wisdom.
“Teenagers have a neurological condition called hypofrontality. It is akin to living most intensely in the midbrain, responsible for rage, addiction, lust, fear, etc. Give yourself a break. You’re really working with a different and delicate sort of creature,” one friend wrote.
“Mine just informed me I am a power-hungry tyrant who cares only for myself. It may actually have hurt my feelings if that came anywhere near to being true,” another said. Her reaction was to laugh it off.
I don’t know how to be calmly authoritative. I wish I did. I wish I were one of those parents who could hear their child say horrible things with laughter and a quick consequence. But I’m not. Instead, they win once I open my mouth, since tears are always soon to follow. I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to take things away. I don’t want them to be anything but happy. And I don’t want to allow the wall that goes up between teenagers and their parents to exist in my home.
“What do I do?” I asked my mom. “What did you do with me?” And she reminded me about the contracts she had written up, attaching consequences if I didn’t abide by their rules in my teenage defiance.
“Sometimes they worked, sometimes, they didn’t.” And she admitted to spending many nights crying into the phone with her own mother when I acted like an ogre – like I couldn’t care less. My grandmother’s advice earlier that afternoon had been to talk to the kids’ father. “We may not have gotten along,” she said of her own ex-husband. “But we always backed each other up when it came to raising the kids.
“What would you like me to do?” the Ex asked me supportively after I had relayed the whole scenario. We’d never been very successful at the whole co-parenting thing. But this time, it made the most sense of all. He didn’t freak out when I told him I broke our daughter’s phone. And he agreed that her disrespect was uncalled for and needed to be addressed.
“Just listen to her,” I sighed. I admitted to him that I was not in a space where I could listen well at all. I knew she had some real areas of hurt and frustration. And I was too caught up in my own misery to even be a good parent to her. But I recognized that she needed someone she could spill with – someone who wasn’t emotionally attached to the situation at hand. And he told me he could do that.
It’s doubtful DQ and I will even talk until after her visit with her dad this weekend. Every time I think it might be time to let down my guard and break the ice, my pride gets in the way. The knife is only sunk in deeper when I see her sharing with Mr. W things she would normally share with me – even though just days ago she was throwing it in his face that he isn’t her father – and ignoring me in the process.
For now, I think time and space are going to have to do. That, and a really good contract with set in stone consequences.