“All I can get out of my daughter these days is that she’s ‘fine’ and ‘nothing really happened’ during her day.”
“My daughter’s not happy, I know she isn’t. But either she can’t, or else she just won’t, tell me why.”
“She used to tell me everything – too much sometimes – but now I don’t know anything that’s really going on in her life.”
“I hear more about my daughter’s life from when her friend’s mother talks about what her daughter tells her.”
If you find some of the old avenues for closeness with your daughter are closing to you,
then do not forget the gateway of bedtime.
Even the toughest children soften at bedtime.
Even if she seems intent on proving to you and the world that she doesn’t need you during the day, there is something about removing the day’s clothes and make-up, and snuggling under a warm douvet in comfy pyjamas, that opens her to let in a bit of nurturing. Just look at your teenager’s bedroom – often a beloved cuddly toy lingers and a few favourite childhood treasures still adorn her shelves – evidence that a part of her still wants comforting and reassurance. The concerns that can be pushed away during the day can begin to worry her as the day draws to a close. Vulnerability surfaces more easily at night and sleepiness dissolves some of the barriers to talking about it.
You will need to figure out what your daughter will warm to, but often your old bedtime rituals from when she was younger will give you some pointers. I have yet to meet a teen who doesn’t like being read to, if you can pick the right book, and can find a way of starting so she doesn’t feel silly. Many children like to hear stories of when they were young, or when you were. Singing, rubbing her back, massaging her feet, turning out her light for her – these are all things that you may find she enjoys if she can let you. Times of illness are also gateways to recovering closeness, so if she will let you stroke her hair when she is feverish, just keep on doing it each night long after she feels better, unless she asks you to stop.
Once you have made a physical connection, many will open up and you hear some of what is on her mind. For others it starts with the talking, and that then enables her to enjoy you sitting on her bed or putting an arm around her or holding her hand. The teenage years can be the most physically deprived, when cuddling with parents begins to feel awkward, and before the affection of romantic relationships.
Hang about upstairs sorting laundry or reading a book in your bedroom with the door ajar, giving off waves of availability. Make an excuse to pop into her room, to deliver something forgotten from downstairs, or to give her a hot water bottle. With no peers to pass comment she can let down her guard, especially if you are being un-invasive and un-patronizing. Do not end her day with reprimands or reminders. Bite your tongue and save tackling your issues for when she is less vulnerable, and not winding down for sleep. You may find that rather than asking her questions, she may respond better to simple noticing remarks. “Nearly the weekend.” “Grandma called and sent her love.” “I felt for you, walking in the rain today.”
If you have a history of misinterpreting one another you may need to expect little to begin with. Be patient while you rebuild trust, and prove to her that you are not judging her or wanting her to change.
Court your child. Return to bedtime rituals from her childhood, or establish new ones. If they’re honest, many parents are just relieved when their teens finally peel off to bed, and are grateful for an hour or so of that luxury we called ‘adult time’ from the days when children were younger and still went to bed before us. I have found it hard to make that extra effort at the end of the day when I want to relax, to be there with my teen at bedtime. But…
Some of my best teen parenting is done in the semi-dark of a bedroom
as a child settles to sleep for the night.
It is definitely worth it – and can be more rewarding than whatever I may have done in my adult time (as long as I still have some adult time another time).
* Car journeys are gateways to easier communication too.
* Your teen moody and unmotivated? These are classic signs of sleep deprivation. Many problems associated with teenagers can be alleviated by sleeping for longer. Helping your daughter to settle to sleep earlier may lift her spirits and that of the whole household.
* One of the most important life skills to pass onto our children is how to sleep well.
What is bedtime like in your home? Please share your good experiences, your lessons learned, and your concerns.