It was Afternoon Out, our weekly time together as mother and daughters.
The problem was, only two of us — Janelle and I -- wanted to be there.
My other two daughters, Nicole and Kristin, sat at opposite ends of the
backseat staring out their respective windows. Their slouched shoulders
and blank expressions saying what words did not. Janelle and I chatted
in the front seat for a while, but their non-participation was
impossible to ignore.
the impulse to turn the car around and expel them both to walk the rest
of the way home. Instead, I breathed a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s help
and broke the silence.
"Okay, girls," I began, "what’s going
"Nothing," came the predictably weak
I wasn’t about to let it go at that.
After several more probing questions, they finally admitted they would
rather be doing something else. Basically, they lacked any enthusiasm
for being with their mom.
I wasn’t prepared for my daughters’
attitude change toward me when they reached the teen years. What
happened to the little girls who would jump up and down with glee just
to go to McDonalds with their mom? And it seemed only a short time ago
that they were excited about my husband’s idea for Afternoon Out. He
would watch Chad, our infant son, so I could take the girls out for
lunch and an activity. Somewhere along the way, however, their
excitement had waned.
Conventional wisdom would tell me that
this is normal teenage behavior and that a smart mom should back off
when her daughter reaches this stage. She must give her space and not
take it personally. If her daughter doesn’t feel like talking to her,
that’s okay — so say many of the "experts."
But informed by Scripture, Paul Tripp
suggests that this strategy is a mistake:
Sadly, I am afraid, many parents accept
the moat that teenagers tend to build around themselves. They adjust
to the lack of time and relationship with their teen who, only a few
short years ago, wanted to tag along with them everywhere they went.
They quit talking when their teenager quits talking. So, at the point
where significant things happen, which the teenager was never meant to
deal with alone, Mom and Dad are nowhere to be found.1
Building a Relationship Requires
I’ll admit it. At first I was sorely tempted to "accept the moat"
separating me from my daughters. What kept me from doing that was God’s
command for me to be the primary influence in their lives. As we read
God's Word, we are to teach and instruct our daughters in the ways of
the Lord (Prov. 1:8). This includes the successful hand-off of the
language of biblical womanhood.
This process requires a relationship. Clearly, for me to exert any
meaningful influence in my daughters’ lives, I must be close to them.
I must be consistently, actively, and intimately
involved in their worlds. And while this is important at any
stage, it is absolutely crucial during the teenage years. As a mom, I
had to press in all the more intently during this pivotal season,
whether my daughters eagerly received my friendship and guidance or
stubbornly resisted it.
A word to daughters: may I urge you not
to resist your mom’s involvement in your life? If you have built a moat
around your heart, you have not cut off an enemy but a friend. A friend,
I might add, who has the essential tools you need to navigate the teen
years. She isn’t perfect, I know, but I am almost certain she is
lovingly committed to being your friend so that she can lead you in the
ways of the Lord.
Now moms, I can imagine you responding
out loud to me as you read this. "Okay, Carolyn," you say, "I’m
convinced that I need to be involved in my daughter’s life. I want to be
a faithful mom, but she won’t let me get close to her. What am I to do?"
The Key to Your Daughter's Heart
While I don’t pretend to hold the key to a young girl’s heart, I know
the one who does. As mothers we must appeal directly to the throne of
almighty God. Proverbs 21:1 discloses: "The king’s heart is a stream
of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will."
The sovereign God who directs the hearts of kings and presidents holds
our daughters’ hearts in His hand.
If your daughter has constructed a moat
around her heart — or if you fear she might — you must first make your
request to the Heart-Keeper. No moat or barrier is too difficult for Him
to overcome. Prayer is a key to accessing your
Author J. C. Ryle encouraged parents:
"The Lord is far more willing to hear than we to pray; far more ready to
give blessings than we to ask them — but He loves to be entreated for
them. . . . I suspect the child of many prayers is seldom cast away."2
So let us, with faith and boldness, ask Him to restore or strengthen
our mother-daughter relationships.
The Ingredients of a
Now this doesn’t mean we come with our fingers wagging and tell
our daughters — you will be my friend whether you like it or not! As
I once heard a pastor say, "Friendship is earned, not demanded." And
friendship doesn’t mean that we relinquish our God-given
authority. Rather, our authority is the foundation on which we are to
build our friendship. The goal is to win our daughters’ hearts and
affection so we can lead them in the ways of the Lord.
To earn their friendship, we must first earn their trust.
We must approach our daughters with humility and ask questions. We can’t
assume that we know the reasons they may keep us at arm’s length.
Maybe we have unwittingly offended them,
or they are bitter over a decision we have made. Or perhaps their
reaction is simply the consequence of a worldly view of mothers. In many
cases their hearts may have grown proud. They may also fear what their
friends would think about their hanging out with Mom. Or they might be
unaware that their attitude and behavior have changed.
When I queried my daughters about their
reasons for pushing me away, many of these answers came tumbling out. So
we had some long and important conversations about my God-assigned role
in their lives. We discussed why rejecting my influence was displeasing
to God and would be to their detriment. I told them again and again how
much I loved them and that I was eager to be their friend.
We had these conversations repeatedly
over a period of time, until by God’s grace my daughters’ hearts began
to turn toward me. Communication — constant talking —
was indispensable in building a friendship with them. (We’ll look at
five characteristics of effective communication next time.)
Nicole and Kristin also admitted that
they disliked Afternoon Out because it frequently included correction of
some kind. They were right. What I had intended to be a time for making
fun mother-daughter memories had become a discipline session. So I
needed to make a change. Humbly admitting that I was wrong
was an entryway into my daughters’ hearts.
Daughters with Closed Hearts
Let me address a specific group of women for a moment — those who fear
that the doors of their daughters’ hearts may have closed forever. Maybe
they are grown and gone, or are still at home and yet seemingly their
hearts are out of reach. If only I had heard these truths when my
daughters were younger, you lament. Maybe things would have
turned out differently. But now you fear it is too late.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
There is always hope. We serve a faithful God whose steadfast love never
ceases and whose mercies never come to an end. They are new every
morning (Lam. 3:22-23). Our Lord’s faithfulness should give you renewed
courage and resolve to approach your daughter again.
Go in humility. Invite her to share her
grievances. Ask for her forgiveness. Demonstrate God’s love to her in
spite of her resistance. Although this may not be easy, you can trust
that God will reward your efforts as a mother. He will receive glory
from your faith and obedience to Him, and you will be a shining example
of biblical womanhood to your daughter.
Make Your Relationship a High Priority
Finally, in order to bridge the moat that our daughters may have built
(or to keep them from building one), we must make the mother-daughter
relationship one of our highest priorities. After our relationship with
God and our husbands, nothing should receive more attention, focus, and
Moms, please be wise with your
expectations. I can tell you now that developing a friendship with your
daughter will take some time. When my daughters became teenagers, the
changes in them caught me (and other moms I know) by surprise. I quickly
realized that the serene days of childhood were over. This was a whole
new ballgame. I began to
see that I needed to devote significantly more time to my daughters. So
I pared down my schedule to create opportunities to talk and be
available when my girls wanted to talk.
Even secular moms are realizing that
teenagers need more of their time. I recently read a newspaper article
that profiled career women who were coming home, not to care for their
toddlers but for their teenagers. Susan Dykstra, an "investment analyst,
vice president," and "high-energy career woman" returned to work as a
young mom soon after giving birth to her babies. But then her babies
became teenage boys. "At the very stage when parents often expect to be
providing less attention, Dykstra and her husband thought their family
needed more." So she "packed up the files, stepped off the corporate
track [and] . . . became a stay-at-home mom."3
A researcher from the Harvard School of
Public Health is quoted in the article: "We’ve tended to think that it’s
okay for parents to step back a little and let other adults play more of
a role. The research doesn’t support that."4 The article goes
on to conclude: "Savvy parents realize teenagers require as much
attention as toddlers"5 (emphasis added).
As Christian mothers, of course our
aspirations are higher than simply being "savvy moms." But I do believe
these parents have come to a realization of this truth affirmed in
Scripture: As our daughters mature, they require more and not less
attention, training, instruction, correction, and encouragement.
Now for single moms, I know that
intentional mothering requires exceptional sacrifice on your part. But
God will give you ample strength as you look to Him (Ps. 28:7; 2 Cor.
12:9). And although you may not be able to stay home with your
daughters, He will graciously multiply your efforts to teach them the
language of biblical womanhood.
During my daughters’ teenage years, I
often felt as tired as when my children were small and I existed on
coffee and cat naps. It was a sacrifice of sleep, leisure time, and much
energy, but it was worth it.
Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t trade the
relationship I have with my daughters today for all the nights of sleep
in the world. After my husband, they are my three closest friends. And
as a testimony to God’s grace, Nicole and Kristin now thank me for
pressing in even though they had tried to push me away. Today although
they are married, we still continue the Afternoon Out tradition once a
month. In fact, Nicole and Kristin are unhappy with me when we don’t
have Afternoon Out.
Notes from Evangelist Michael Parker:
After reading this article, I was in tears. I can only pray that all
moms read this article.
1. Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A
Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing,
2. John Charles Ryle, The Duties of Parents
(Conrad, Mont.: Triangle Press, 1888, repr. 1996), 35.
3.Susan Levine, "Staying Home for the Teen
Years," The Washington Post (January 4, 2003): Sec. B.