There is nothing I have ever done in my life that has made me feel as vulnerable as becoming a mother. Not even falling in love.
As parents, we are pretty much constantly concerned about the wellbeing of our children, no matter how old they are. I have this automatic warning system in my brain that makes me want to let my daughters know anything that might possibly harm them. Like the driving home on dark country roads late at night, or going to a club in a sketchy part of town, surfing, skydiving, clipping their cuticles. You know what I mean?
Have you tried looking at the world from your daughter’s point of view recently? Generally, none of these things are big concerns for our 20, 30 and 40-something “kids.” They believe they’ve got it figured out. They know this stuff already. They know about deer crossing the highway, bad neighborhoods, and so forth.
Obviously no one knows everything, and our daughters certainly don’t know as much as they think they do, right? So we have to keep warning them until they submit to our wishes and be safe, right?
What we may see as our expressions of concern and caring our daughters may see as criticism. They may think that we don’t trust their judgment or that we think they aren’t smart enough to figure things out without our help. If we are frequent or persistent in our warnings, we run the risk of undermining our daughter’s self-confidence. She may think that we don’t think she has much common sense or that she can’t handle herself in the world. Maybe she’ll start questioning whether she’s competent to make her own decisions.
While you may want your daughter to question her judgment about going to that bad part of town, it is not a good idea to undermine her confidence and generate self-doubt this way.
Another thing is that we don’t want to impart our fears upon our children. That vulnerable thing I mentioned makes us bigger worriers than we were when, say, we were in our 20s and didn’t worry about getting in the car and driving home after splitting a couple of bottles of wine over dinner with our boyfriend. What were we thinking? We all did some dumb things when we were younger and learned from them. We can’t possibly prevent our daughters from ever doing things that we think are dumb or from making mistakes.
My point is that we want our daughters to be strong, self-reliant and confident. We don’t want them to live out of a place of fear, including our fear.
That may seem scary, but the reality of the situation is that we can’t control their behavior.
So what can we do to set our minds at rest? We can be selective about our advice and cautions. When we do talk with our daughters, we can do it in a way that is respectful and interested, rather than condemning, controlling or manipulative. Rather than saying, “Are you out of your freakin’ mind going to Costa Rica? You obviously want to get dengue fever!” you can say, “Costa Rica sounds exciting, but before you book your trip, have you checked the State Department website to be sure you don’t need any special vaccinations. There was an outbreak of dengue fever a few years ago.” (OK, so maybe that was just a tiny bit manipulative.) Chances are she already knows about the dengue fever and is less concerned about it than you are. If she doesn’t, she’ll make her own decision anyway.
It may not always be easy, especially when we think their safety is at stake, but sometimes we just have to respect our daughter’s decisions. We can look at the situation from her perspective by having a conversation about it where we don’t try to change anything, but maybe learn that in her view, the wonderful things about Costa Rica are worth the risk. We can question our own story or beliefs about it. We can even change our thoughts from fear and worry to acceptance and support for our daughter’s choices.
I work with mothers who care about having a great relationship with their daughters to help them look at their thoughts and actions, and break out of old patterns from childhood that may not be working. Coaching can help with the transition to a healthy adult relationship with our daughters.