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A Mom’s Guide to Domestic Tranquility with Her Teen Daughter

An eight-step plan for a calmer, happier life.

Lee groaned as we walked into our neighborhood Starbucks and saw a long line stretching through the store.

“Want to take a rain check?”

She squared her shoulders and said, “I can do this.”

[Get Inside Your Teen’s Head]

It’s remarkable how far she’s come, all grown up into a teenager with ADHDI thought.  The old memory floated up, when six-year-old Lee couldn’t “do this” at the very same Starbucks.

We were waiting in line that day when she scrambled off. When I caught sight of her, she was picking up trash under all the tables. People clutched their coffee as Lee lifted their feet, snatching napkins, swizzle sticks, whatever she could find. I left the line, giving chase. A man stopped me.

“Is that your child?” he asked.

“Yes…”  I said, blushing, thinking I knew what was coming.

[Personal Story: “Stop Pushing Your Teen to Be ‘Normal'”]

“When she turns 18, you’d be smart to give her a shove out the door and take away the key.” He strode off.

I looked after him, my mouth open, as if I’d been slapped in the face. And, for a split second, I wondered, Was he right? Would Lee turn out to be the teenager every mom dreads?

But, here I was, almost 12 years later, standing in line with a mature Lee who was far more in control of her impulses. And the last thing I would ever think of doing was kick her out of the house. Instead, I was connecting, communicating with, and loving my teenage daughter. Possibly, the man had an issue; maybe he was having trouble with his own difficult child with ADHD. If he were here today, this is some of the advice I’d give him, and it doesn’t include a shove out the door.

Listen more. Because Lee often gets distracted when she’s talking, I frequently jump in and finish her sentences. My words aren’t always her thoughts, and she resents my interference. When I’m patient, she communicates more, which is a treasure in these teenage years.

[6 Ways to Smooth the Post-High School Transition]

Accept. To my way of thinking, Lee’s room is a disaster area: Clothes, drawings, books, and little trinkets litter the floor. Yet she insists on leaving it this way so she can find everything.  Accepting that we have two different ways of managing our lives helps me give her the respect and support she deserves.

Take it one day at a time. After years of being an ADHD parent advocate, I often jump ahead to the bigger picture. When Lee misses a day of high school, due to an anxiety attack or chronic bronchitis, I wonder how she’s going to get through college. If I keep things in perspective and focus on the present, I have faith Lee will make it just fine.

Don’t assume an 18-year-old is independent. Lee is two to three years behind in maturity according to the latest ADHD research, so that puts her closer to 16.  I’ll work on keeping my parent expectations appropriate and continue to help her manage life skills she’ll need for the day she does move out. Just this year, Lee is getting out of bed on time to make it to school, setting alarms for medication and chore reminders, and organizing her backpack before the next day of school. These are huge steps forward.

Be realistic. Lee not only has ADHD but every learning disability associated with it. She is making steady progress in educational therapy. Her path will take longer than the typical child’s, but she’ll learn what tools she’ll use to succeed in life. We’ll take it slowly, in manageable chunks.

Stay calm. Lee has bad anxiety attacks from time to time. I want to be by her side and help, but she always pleads to be left alone until it passes. I remember what her therapist told me to do in times when I feel helpless: I go somewhere quiet, close my eyes, and set the intention to release my fears with each deep breath I take, reminding myself that this, too, shall pass.

Reflect, don’t react. Lee’s brain is wired for conflict, especially now that she’s a teenage girl who needs to break away from her mom. It’s not worth firing back and giving her more reason to argue. If I reflect back, “You seem angry” versus reacting with, “Don’t yell at me!” I honor her feelings, and the argument often disappears.

Take care of yourself. While my friends are saying goodbye and sending their daughters off to college, I’m settling in for what looks to be more years of having Lee at home. Each day, I try to be mindful of what fulfills me, as I help to guide her. As long as I get in my writing time, a walk in the hills with our dog, and an escape into a good book, I’m happy. The whole family benefits!