What’s A Dad To Do When Mom And Teenage Daughter Clash?
By Craig Stephens
PHOTO © maginnis via Twenty20
Oct 13, 2021
Way back in the day when I was just a kid, my all-time favourite movie was the classic Japanese monster thriller, King Kong vs. Godzilla. Watching these titans locked in combat made my teeth clench.
They were so formidable yet so vulnerable. How could you champion one over the other? Both had needs not met. Both felt threatened. And both were pretty pissed about it all. It was breathtaking.
"My daughter is strong-willed, and if you knew her mother, you'd see she comes by it honestly."
I'm recently reminded of that cult classic as an equally formidable pair square off — my wife and teen daughter.
I don't want to give the wrong impression, because we're not dealing with Mommie Dearest meets Mean Girls here. On the contrary, they've always had a great relationship and an incredible bond. But my daughter is strong-willed, and if you knew her mother, you'd see she comes by it honestly. So sooner or later, there's bound to be beef.
And sooner comes sooner than you'd think.
Teenagers and compromise
In a blink, I've got a teenager and two opposed needs. My daughter is pushing for greater independence. We push back to maintain control. My daughter says COVID-19 took her first teenage year, and she needs to make up for it. We say we are trying to keep her safe. It's a rock and a hard place.
"Usually, we cut a deal that nobody's happy with."
I know that Mom usually takes the brunt of it, and I'm solidly on her side when it comes to disagreements about important issues like staying safe, doing homework or helping out around the house. All the usual stuff.
But on other things, like tacking on an extra 15 minutes to the curfew, I sometimes side with my daughter. Usually, we cut a deal that nobody's happy with, which they say is the sign of a successful negotiation.
Knowing when to tap in
There's another thing I've figured out: It's better if I keep out of certain squabbles. At those times, a well-intentioned dad can be an intruding annoyance from another planet. So, sensibly, that's when I slink away and become submerged in some work emergency. While I feel a modicum of guilt, I know that they'll work it out and be all the stronger for it. Or so it seems.
That doesn't mean that I get a get-out-of-jail-free card every time my wife and my daughter face-off. I need to be present, even if I'm not directly involved in the interaction. I need to help my people fix what they need to fix. Sometimes that means jumping in, and at other times, staying out. Whatever gets everybody to the best outcome.
Conflict is part of having a family. Sons fight fathers, siblings fight siblings and spouses fight spouses (as adherents to this channel no doubt know, often about the kids). But I've found four simple steps that I follow to try and keep the peace. I think they'd work in just about any conflict, but for now they're framed through my mother-daughter experience since it's what I've known most.
I listen to learn where they are coming from. What is it that each person wants but is not getting? What is the threat? How can the need be addressed and the threat reduced? I can't answer any of these questions unless I listen to understand. And what I don't understand, I question. Family interactions become smoother when I ask, "Why?"
Call it out
When the temperature rises, the quality of communication falls. When I hear statements like, "You don't want me to have a life," it may be time to calmly try and steer the conversation to a place more rooted in reality. Workable solutions and compromises rarely emerge from interactions laced with hyperbole.
See Both Sides
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but seeing each other's perspectives is incredibly important. It's also easy to discard this essential negotiating tool in a heated moment. Here again, I try and ask powerful questions to help me understand the underlying motivation: Why is this so important to you? Why do you think you feel this way? If you're not going to do your homework now, when will you make up the time?
Call Time Out
We all want immediate solutions, and often these spats take time. Small victories, minor defeats and the occasional standoff are all part of the process. At times it makes no sense to push for an immediate resolution. Instead, I call time out and agree to reengage later. Sometimes, problems that seemed irreconcilable the night before resolve quickly in the morning.
I know these tips may not cut it for more complex conflicts — but they're a start, and honestly they have helped us put a halt to some disagreements. And I think they’ve helped us smooth out some of the turbulence of the teenage years.
Maybe if Kong and Godzilla had followed them, they'd have seen each other's side of things, had a monster-sized hug and walked hand in hand into the sunset. You never know.
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