Recently my older daughter turned 14. Fourteen! Last week, she entered 9th grade – her first year of high school. It’s the beginning of a new chapter of her life. There are a lot of changes and transitions ahead as she negotiates her teen years. And for me, too, as I help guide and nurture her growth during this time.
Parenting is a reflexive, evolving role. I am not the same parent I was when she was a baby. As a teenager, her needs are very different. Now, she needs my help with friendships, social relationships and situations, and understanding her self and the nature of the world. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly, and I consciously work towards keeping our relationship close as we both grow and change.
The result is that we have an open relationship, where she feels she can talk to me about anything. We talk about everything from music to facebook to the upcoming elections to what she wants to do with her life. It’s important to me that we are so open and communicative, because everything that she processes is expanding her awareness of her self and her world.
The physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs of children change as they grow, but they are always present at any stage of parenting.
For example, infants and babies require a focus on their immediate physical needs. They need to be attended to, cuddled and held, fed, clothed, and diapered – basic needs that can only be met by the caregiver. At 14, my daughter still has these needs, just in a different capacity.
Even a teenager needs attention and physical affection from their parent – which is something that I see a lot of parents let go of as their children get older. Now, many children tend to start to pull away from this as well. It’s a way of them asserting their independence. So my daughter doesn’t want me to hug her in public or hold her hand while crossing the street. That’s fine. But I always kiss her goodnight. I always make it a point to give her affection throughout the day, whether it be a little hug or a rub on the back or a playful tickle. I also give her my attention – I listen to her when she talks, I ask questions. What she thinks and says and feels is important, and I want her to know that.
She still needs to be fed, even though she sometimes makes her own meals or helps me in the kitchen. I teach her about food choices and health. She’s already known girls with eating disorders, and we’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about smart dieting and eating healthy. In addition, we’ve also talked a lot about female body image and how that presents itself through media, television, and advertising, and how damaging these unreal expectations can be. I’ve reinforced the idea that every person has a different body type which is specific to them, and the most important thing is to be healthy and confident in the body you have.
Clothing takes an interesting turn around the teen years. It becomes more about personal expression. I am still responsible for buying her clothing, which means I allow her to choose what she wants, but I also have the power to veto anything I think might be inappropriate. This is highly subjective. My daughter has dyed blue streaks in her hair and likes clothing with a punk-flair. I don’t mind this. She likes to experiment with style. She wants to differentiate herself from others. She wants her appearance to reflect more of who she is, or who she wants to be.
At 14, diapering and toilet training are things long of the past – thank god! Even though these were not my favorite aspects of parenting my babies, I always felt that it was a such a short time that could have important consequences. Or perhaps I read too much Freud when I was young. But while toilet training, I always kept it positive. It was never gross or dirty – just natural and something we all learn to control at some point.
Now, I feel that this attention to bodily functions has taken a different form. All children go through puberty and the surprising and confusing changes in their bodies. The sexual nature of the body is going to become much more of an issue as she moves through the teen years. Again, I feel that keeping an open communication is so important at this stage. We talk, but I’ve also given her many different books about the body, which she’s read privately. I understand her need for privacy, but I also have a responsibility to make sure that she has access to as much knowledge about the body and sexuality as possible.
There is a lot to parenting.
It’s not easy work. There’s no instruction manual. Nevertheless, from the time I was pregnant, I have devoured books on parenting from many different sources. I have reflected on my own experiences as a child, and my own relationships with my parents to guide me. Money, awards, and accolades are not involved. There’s no one telling me, “good job!” My reward is in the person I see before me, at each stage of her life, and the relationship we share, bonded as a parent and child.
For this reading series, I want to share some poems I wrote about my first experiences becoming a mother. I wanted to share my birth stories, but perhaps I will do that when my younger daughter turns 12 – Twelve! – in just another couple of months. Click here to read some poems on young motherhood.
Here is a short list of books from my shelf that I have found very helpful in developing as a parent:
Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginott
The Discipline Book by William Sears and Martha Sears
The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
The Preschooler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
Master Players: Learning From Children at Play by Gretchen Reynolds and Elizabeth Jones
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The “What to Expect” series – In Pregnancy, In the First Year, In the Toddler Years
Developmental Profiles (Pre-Birth through Eight) by K. Eileen Allen and Lynn R. Marotz
Introduction to Child Development by John P. Dworetzky
Infants, Children, and Adolescents by Laura E. Berk
Mother-Daughter Wisdom (Creating a Legacy of Physical and Emotional Health) by Christiane Northrup
Reviving Ophelia (Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls) by Mary Pipher
Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler (editor)
Girl in the Mirror (Mothers and Daughters in the Years of Adolescence) by Nancy L. Snyderman and Peg Streep