I’m pretty sure whoever coined the phrase, “It takes two to tango” was talking about The Parent-Teen Tango, specifically the mother-daughter relationships during the tumultuous teens. The tango is a dance between two conflicted people, filled with frustrated love and human fatality.
“In a relationship, you can try and please the other person 100% of the time thinking that that’s what’s going to make the relationship successful but in reality you’ll end up not only with your needs unmet, but also resenting the other person for not appreciating all your sacrifice and your compromise.
In tango, it’s kind of the same thing. You are fundamentally dancing for yourself so you can derive pleasure out of it. A partner may want you to do certain steps or embrace in a certain way that suits them, but throughout the dance you’ll be entirely preoccupied with whether you are giving them what they want, and thus ‘thinking’, which is going to kill freedom of expression, creativity and emotion.”
Oh, yeah. That is definitely all about the mother-daughter connection.
The Parent-Teen Tango
In the emotional tango tangle between you and your daughter, you must take the lead. She reacts to your actions. You react to her reactions. But you must always maintain the lead. She is depending on you to keep her from spinning out of control, even though she may love the excitement of twirling.
This is why you must be in charge of the limits set for all aspects of her life… bedtime limits, homework limits, TV limits, social media limits, emotional limits, freedom limits, time limits, socializing limits, food and nutrition limits, sports limits, time alone in her room limits, shopping limits, relationship limits, etc.
Seems like a bit much? When parents provide limits, their teens understand the rules and boundaries. They know exactly what they can get away with and what they cant. Limits make it easier and less confusing for them to function and grow.
When parents don’t enforce the limits they set, or don’t set any at all, the teens feel uncertain about what they can get away with, so they keep pushing the envelop until they go too far. The identity of who is in charge and has the power in the relationship gets muddled. Teens lose their trust in their parents’ ability to parent, and disrespect grows.
Yup, I’m a fan of the benefits of setting limits. But I also recognize as teens mature, the limits need to be adjusted accordingly. However, sometimes parents make the mistake of rewarding positive teen behavior by loosening limits too soon. That’s the tango tangle.
Here’s a prime example:
The Back To School Tango Tangle
When their student exhibits growth and maturation over the summer, parents naturally want to reward her progress by resuming school with a little bit more freedom.
That’s not actually a reward; that’s a bribe, the latter being what you offer your daughter to get her to produce a desired behavior (“If I give you more freedom, you promise to behave the way I expect you to.”). This is also the shortcut to creating an entitled offspring.
A reward, on the other hand, is what your teenager earns after exhibiting the appropriate behavior (“You’ve maintained good grades and are managing your after school responsibilities. Let’s talk about extending your curfew a half-hour on Friday nights.”).
Loosening the limits you set before school starts is absolutely the wrong time to do it. The beginning of the school year means a new schedule, new teachers, new subjects, new crushes, new relationships to navigate, new combinations of kids in the cafeteria and in the classrooms, new club/sports schedules, new work schedules, etc. With all those changes going on at the same time, having their limits securely in place makes it easier for them to negotiate their new environment. It’s like finding a rock to stand on in a swirling sea.
Once the grades are in for her first set of tests, you will know if it’s appropriate to adjust the limits. Her grades and the reports from her teachers will tell you how well she is handling her new environment. If she is floundering a bit, you’ll be glad you waited. It is so much easier to loosen limits once your daughter has proven herself, than to tighten them after she feels entitled to the freedom.
But once she’s rocking the new year at school, reward her by extending your limits. Your pride and respect will warm her, and you will feel confident with the change.
If you found this helpful, please share it with other parents. You can find more info at The Awesome Mom Communication Handbook: How To Keep Your Daughter From Slamming the Door which will be out in 2017.