I don’t know about your childhood, but there was plenty of drama growing up in my house with three girls. I admit to being the source of my fair share of the drama — I was a master at slamming doors and rolling eyes. (Sorry, Mom!) And I’m waiting for my own house to erupt with the same kind of teenage girl drama any day.
But Colleen O’Grady says I don’t have to expect the worse. She knows there is a way to dial down the drama and reduce conflict so you can have a better relationship with your daughter. And her new book is filled with practical tips and professional advice on how to do just that!
I met Colleen several years ago through a coaching program in Asheville, NC. I was immediately drawn to her and impressed with her parenting wisdom. As a licensed therapist, she’s had plenty of experience working with families and learning how to dial down the drama. I’m honored to share my conversation with Colleen here on the blog today!
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: If my life had one book this would be it. It is a summation of my life experience. In the 80s I spent ten years doing full time ministry for an organization called Young Life. I spent thousands of hours hanging out with teens on 24-hour bus trips to Colorado, football games and high school cafeterias. I was like a rock star to teenagers and I loved hanging out with them. From there I got a masters degree in marriage and family therapy. I spent the next nineteen years teaching and supervising psychiatry residents in the adolescent inpatient units and in the outpatient child and adolescent department at the University of Texas Mental Science Institute. In my community I was known as an expert on teens.
Somewhere in there my daughter turned twelve. (Early adolescence starts at age nine.) Let’s just say at that time I was not her “rock star.” The defiance, the arguing, the eye rolling were in full throttle and I took the bait. I got hooked in the drama and before I knew it I had become a “Drama Mama.”
I knew better. I had taught all the psychological theories in a medical school and frequently held workshops for mental health professionals at conferences for the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Regardless of my knowledge of parenting theories, something wasn’t working at home.
I started researching and searching for the missing piece. What I realized is that it’s one thing to know something and it’s another to live it, especially when it’s your daughter. I couldn’t believe how quickly I could react to my daughter. It’s like I could go from 1 to 1,000 in a nano-second. Come to find out there is a reason for this—-neuroscience. Most moms have heard of the undeveloped teenage brain but we don’t know what that really means, and understanding that is crucial to parenting. However, the undeveloped teenage brain often triggers the lower cortical regions of the mom brain. This interaction between the teen brain and mom brain is what I call the drama dance.
I looked at other factors that are often left out of parenting books like the specific heart, soul, mind, body and spiritual needs of moms. I also explore the unhelpful messages that are targeted at moms, which I call Powerless Parenting Messages. Bottom line, I combined neuroscience, cultural issues and parenting tools to come up with a comprehensive strategy to help moms dial down the drama so that they can dial up an amazing connection with their daughters.
And I found this plan works. The good news is that these missing pieces quickly turned around my parenting and my relationship with my daughter. I truly have enjoyed her every day since then. Now my daughter is nineteen. I truly like and respect her.
I also found that it works for my private practice clients and the moms who have taken my Power Your Parenting Program.
The most important reason that I wrote this book is because this is my God given mission. I know how challenging it is to raise a teenager and yet it is crucial to have a good connection with her. I knew that if moms had the right strategy they could avoid the suffering and be able to protect, guide and establish authentic and joyful relationships with their daughters. There is no greater joy for me than to see this healing take place between mothers and daughters.
Q: What is it about the relationship between teenage girls and their moms that leads to drama?
A: Moms strongly identify with their daughters. That’s why we dreamed of having a baby girl. I think what makes it hard is that we were once close to our little girls and they were our constant companions. Then the teenage years hit and she wants her distance. This can feel like a betrayal or rejection, and if we’re honest it hurts. Also, her moodiness, actions, defiance and careless words can feel like a personal attack on you.
I think for Christian moms we feel even more pressure to have our daughters live a moral life and be obedient. And if they don’t we are embarrassed around our church friends or feel too ashamed to be honest. Listen, the girls I did youth ministry with are now moms of teens. (I was only a few years older than them!) I knew every mistake they ever made and they turned out to be amazing women of God. You made mistakes in high school and your teen daughter is going to make mistakes too.
Also moms can get panicked and hyper vigilant that their daughters not make the same mistakes they made in high school. This vigilance keeps us focused on things like “she is not going to get pregnant.” The problem is when you are only focused on the negative, you don’t see the beautiful child of God your daughter truly is. If you’re not careful this vigilance can quickly turn into worry, fear, sadness and anger. Out imaginations can obsess on the worst and bring us so much unnecessary pain.
Moms and daughters are highly tuned into each other. Many girls have told me that they knew what kind of mood mom was in by how she opened the front door after work. And of course the reverse is true. We can know our daughter’s mood by how she brushes her teeth or opens the refrigerator. There are many positive traits that come from being highly tuned in to each other, but moms also need to learn when to tune out. Especially when the daughter is in a rage.
Q: Your book explains the Mom Phenomenon and the tendency for moms to neglect their own needs. What advice do you have for a mom who is feeling “all mothered out?”
A: There is no shame in being “all mothered out.” It means that you have poured out all your love, energy and blessings onto your family. If your mothering resources are depleted the healthy thing to do is to replenish those resources. The problem is when you don’t replenish those resources. Moms (especially Christian moms) can feel it’s selfish to pay attention to their own needs. I can’t tell you how deeply ingrained that is in moms. Here’s the thing — if you don’t take care of yourself and replenish your blessings then you don’t have anything good to give. In my book I talk about how your life is like a cup. You can only pour out what is in your cup. If your cup is full of joy, you pour out joy to your family. If you are full of stress, you can only pour out stress. Taking care of you benefits you and your family. When you take care of your physical, social and spiritual needs; you are more centered, patient and fun to be around. But if you ignore your needs, you are at risk of becoming exhausted, resentful and irritable. When you combine a stressed out mom with a stressed out teenager there is going to be drama.
Q: What does a healthy mother/daughter relationship look like?
A: That’s an important question but to fully answer that you will have to read Chapter 6 How to Like Your Daughter Again. But here is what I will say. A healthy relationship with your daughter is not optional; it is foundational to parenting. Though your daughter is depending more on her peers, your relationship with her is even more important in the teenage years. You are her lifeline in difficult situations, like when her boyfriend is drunk and she needs a ride home.
A healthy relationship with your daughter is multi-faceted. What I frequently see is that moms get stuck in one role or facet, which I call the 24/7 monitor. If all your interactions with your daughter are about monitoring your daughter’s behavior it’s going to end up being strained. Imagine if your best friend told you things like; don’t eat that cookie, you’re wearing too much makeup, and you need to get a better attitude all the time. You probably would start avoiding her. The same applies to your daughter. This is why your daughter hides up in her room.
Q: Do you have a special prayer you suggest for moms to pray over their daughters?
A: I love all of Stormy Omartian books on prayer. And there are many years I prayed those prayers over my daughter. I believe prayer is foundational in raising a teenage daughter. It reminds us of who’s in charge, calm us down and protects our daughter.
Be careful not to pray anxiety prayers. “God don’t let my daughter get caught driving drunk.” This doesn’t bring you any relief, because you are focused on the fear, not God. You don’t want anxiety driving your prayers; you want your faith driving your prayers.
This can be extremely challenging for moms. One exercise I suggest is that you write out everything that you are worried about concerning your daughter. Write that out in pencil. Then erase the worry and in pen write out what you want or a scripture to replace that worry. I have done that for years with my daughter. Instead of worrying she is hanging out with the wrong friends, I changed that worry to this prayer, “God remove the wrong friends and place the right friends in her life.”
Q: Is this book just for mothers of teenage girls?
A: Though I wrote this book for moms, I have had several men read this book and tell me how helpful it has been. One that touches my heart is a dad who was recently widowed raising two teenage daughters alone. He is constantly quoting my book to his sister. This book is helpful for teens starting from age 8 to 25. Many of the principles apply to teen boys also.
Q: How do I get a copy of the book?
A: You can go to my website and download a free chapter of my book, or you can buy it at your local Barnes and Noble. You can also buy it online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.