Connecting to Your Daughter’s Heart

with Sharon Hersh | February 28, 2005

Sharon Hersh, a licensed professional counselor and mother of two teens, talks to Dennis Rainey about connecting with your daughter's heart.

Sharon Hersh, a licensed professional counselor and mother of two teens, talks to Dennis Rainey about connecting with your daughter's heart.

Connecting to Your Daughter’s Heart

With Sharon Hersh
|
February 28, 2005
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: Adolescence has always been a challenging time for teenagers and their parents.  According to Sharon Hersh, the challenge is getting more significant each year.

Sharon: It is a crazy, crazy world out there that our kids are growing up in, and when you merge this crazy external world with an internal world in a growing girl that is crazy as well, it is no wonder that the number of teenage girls seeking help for psychological problems in 2003 increased six times from the prior year.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 28th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  There are things moms can do to help teenage daughters navigate the turbulent years of adolescence.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, it's tough, it's tough to be a teenager today, do you think?

Dennis: I don't know.  I haven't been a teenager in a long, long time.  As a parent, I know.

Bob: Well, just look around.  Look at the challenges that are facing teenagers today.  We had our issues when we were growing up, but it's not like today.

Dennis: No.  We had a handful of issues that we dealt with but today kids are faced with some bizarre choices, and they are increasing, it seems, almost daily.  And if there has ever been a time for parents to stay connected with their children, especially moms with their daughters, it's today.  We have someone here on FamilyLife Today who is going to help moms stay connected to their daughters, and if you're a dad listening it, don't turn this off, because, I'm going to tell you something, I think dads serve a unique role with their wives and with the mother of your teenage daughter that is a very, very important role.

 Sharon Hersh joins us on FamilyLife Today, and she's been with us in the past, and I want to welcome you back to the broadcast, Sharon.

Sharon: It is my privilege to be back with you guys.

Dennis: Well, it's fun.  Sharon is a licensed professional counselor on the Front Range of the Rockies near Denver, Colorado, where she is raising her two teenagers, and she's written a book called, "Mom, I Hate My Life."  That title actually came, Sharon, from a little interaction you had with your daughter when she was in the 5th grade.

Sharon: Yes, it did.  It actually has come from hundreds of interactions with my daughter, and, as I talk about this book, moms just nod their heads in agreement.  They have heard this as well.  One incident that I remember, when Kristin was in the 5th grade, she came home from school, and she had that affect about her that I knew it had been a bad day, and as I tried to follow her around, as I did in those early days of pre-adolescence, kind of like a yipping puppy saying, "What's wrong?  Tell me what happened?  What are you feeling?"  And she said to me, "Mom, I just need some time by myself."  And I was thinking that maybe this was just going to be a sane, rational interaction, and so I said, "Well, remember, you have homework tonight."  "I know, Mom." 

I did not pick up on the clues or the warning signs.  You think sometimes a trained counselor might be better at this than I was, but when it comes to our own children, all of that classroom education sometimes goes out the window.  And so I pursued her – "Kristin, I don't want you to wait until the last minute to do your homework.  Now, remember, you have this test coming up, and you have that essay that you need to write" …

Dennis: Kind of giving her some time-management principles?

Sharon: Exactly.  And she snapped at me, and she began to say, "Mom, you don't understand what kind of a day I had.  Eric made fun of my shoes.  He said they look like my grandmother's, and everyone laughed, and I hate boys.  And Lindy is – I don't think she really wants to be my friend anymore and, oh, Mom, I hate my life."

 And I knew right then that those time-management principles were probably not what she needed.  But as I heard the angst that she was feeling, I didn't know what she needed.  I think sometimes, as parents, when we hear those words, "Mom, I hate my life," everything rises up within us – "What do I say?  What do I do?  I think we try to have a nice home for you, a nice life, and you hate your life?"  And then, when our teenagers go a step further, and say, "And I hate you.  Just leave me alone."  We become trapped in the emotional quicksand of their swirling hormones and the complexities of their life.

Bob: Are we so far removed, Sharon, from our own angst.  I mean, I'm sure there were days you came home from school when you were a teenager and said, "I don't want to have anything to do with my parents, and I hate my life."

Sharon: Oh, absolutely.  I don't think, though, that we expressed it quite as much as kids do today.  I think kids are more expressive.

Dennis: Do you think that, really?

Sharon: Certainly, it's been my experience that teenagers say things today that if we would have said 30 years ago or however many years ago, we would have said it once.  There's something good and bad in their freedom of emotional expression.  I think the good in that is it really does give us an opportunity to understand what's going on in their world and to find handholds to connect with them.  The bad in it is sometimes when we are barraged by their anxiety and their angst and their disappointments and their frustrations in life.  We kind of tend to tune them out and do not necessarily pay the attention that these kinds of statements really command.

Dennis: I put my arm around a parent of a teen the other day, and I said, "You know, I've been watching you interact with your teenager, and I've seen the withdrawal and at the points where that child is interacting," the scowling face, the contempt, not wanting a relationship with the parent, and I said, I just want to encourage you to do something – whatever you do, do not stop believing and loving on your child.

Sharon: Good advice.

Dennis: Because they're going through a period of life, and they're facing all these challenges – hormonal, as you said.  They've got these upheavals that are occurring internal and external from the culture, and if they don't have a parent who comes alongside them and said, "You know what?  You may not believe in yourself, you may not like me, and you may not even like yourself, but you know what?  I'm going to like you.  I'm going to believe in you, and I'm going to keep on loving you and being your cheerleader."  That is an important statement to make to any teen today, especially with what they're facing, do you think?

Sharon: Dennis, if so many parents could hear that advice, it would really begin to open some doors of communication that maybe have been shut off.  I often ask mothers who come in, and their daughters are acting out or sullen or withdrawn or in their room listening to music and not wanting to talk with their family – how they feel about their daughters right now.  And sometimes an honest mother will answer, "Well, I'm angry at her.  I'm disgusted with the way that she's behaving."

 And then I will ask these moms, "Well, how do you interact with people who are angry and disgusted at you?"  That tends to shut down communication and break connection.  And so another exercise that I encourage moms who are feeling a little put out with their moody teenage daughters to do is to go sometimes and stand in the hallways of your daughter's high school or middle school.  Stand there during the breaking period between classes and listen to the insults that are hurled.  Watch the sexual harassment firsthand as boys walk behind girls and snap their bra straps and make derogatory comments about their appearance, and you will see that your daughters spend most of their days in a cold, cruel world.  And if they come home, and it is tense at home, and there is not the freedom of emotional expression and the people who are in their lives at home feel disgusted and aggravated with them, they don't have much hope of developing emotional maturity. 

 So we moms need to do our own work of not taking our daughter's emotional life personally – kind of grow ourselves up, so that we can be a haven for them because they certainly need a haven.

Bob: You make the statement in the book that you think teenage girls today are the most victimized members of society.

Sharon: And, actually, statistics support that, Bob – that girls between the ages of 12 and 19 are the most victimized segment of the population today.

Bob: What do you mean by that?  How are they victimized?

Sharon: There are more crimes committed against them, certainly more sexual abuse, sexual crimes; the Internet has opened a whole new world of danger and threats to our young and growing girls.  And this is also the segment of the population that is experiencing a scary increase – problems like eating disorders, and we talk about that some in the book; drug and alcohol abuse, although some drug and alcohol usage is going down among males – adolescent males – it is going up among females.

Dennis: Why do you think that's the case?

Sharon: I think there are a couple of reasons for that.  I think, first of all, we are seeing the byproducts of the girl power movement that wanted to encourage girls to take hold and use and have every opportunity available to them, and that has been good.  But in that, also, has been encouragement to girls to act in ways that girls maybe 10, 15 years ago would not have chosen.  I think these two sets of statistics are correlated, though.  Because girls have experienced some of the emotional, physical, sexual abuse, they are seeking ways to medicate it and to deal with it, and that is why I can say one in every four girls has an eating disorder in our high schools today.  But the statistics also suggest that, by the time these girls graduate from high school and go into college, one out of every four of those girls already has a problem with substance abuse.

Dennis: We used to just have the problem of confusion about sexual morality.  Today we have problems with sexual identity.

Sharon: It is a crazy, crazy world out there that our kids are growing up in, and when you merge this crazy external world with an internal world in a growing girl that is crazy as well, it is no wonder that the number of teenage girls seeking help for psychological problems in 2003 increased six times from the prior year.

Dennis: In the midst of this, God has given a teenage girl a mom and a dad and a unique role to a mom to be able to enter that young lady's life, and you actually refer to this role of being a parent and being a mom as what you call "hand-in-hand" parenting.  Would you explain that to our listeners?

Sharon: Yes, and let me begin by suggesting to moms out there whose hearts are beating wildly, and they're wondering what they were thinking even letting their daughters go to school, to do an exercise that I suggest in the book, and that is to find a picture of your daughter.  It can be a recent picture, it can be a picture when she was a baby, and look at that picture and realize that God entrusted her to you.  And because He knew something about her and you, that in unconditional love and in His unsurpassed wisdom, He knew that you were the mother for your daughter. 

 So hand-in-hand mothering is, first of all, taking that foundational truth that God has created within us moms an instinct, a longing, a knowing for our children that should make a difference, and I believe it can if we really are informed and armed and set free to parent out of our God-designed mother's hearts.  Hand-in-hand mothering is taking that love and longing and being willing to try as many different things as we can along the way to connect with our daughters; to take her hand and say, "I'm in this with you.  I am going to support you," as you said, Dennis, "Be your cheerleader, love you, guide you through all of the emotional ups and downs that you surely will encounter in the days ahead."  And the hand-in-hand mother, in fact, comes to believe that it is those struggles, those slammed doors, those temptations, those awful conflicts, that can, indeed, become the most powerful means of us connecting with our daughters and leading them to emotional maturity.

Bob: You know what you're asking moms to do here?  Hand-in-hand mothering sounds like a storybook, but you're asking a mom to engage with a daughter who says I want virtually no engagement with you during this time …

Sharon: … sometimes …

Bob: … and you're asking a mom to engage her heart with a daughter who is making herself, by her behavior, as unlovable as she can.

Dennis: Man, you said t.

Sharon: Absolutely.

Dennis: I've seen that.

Bob: So a mom is looking at this and going, "You want me to rush into the flames when nobody wants me there."

Sharon: Yes, that is what I am suggesting, because God created us to be able to do that.  He gave us that love and longing in our hearts that, yes, sometimes it is surpassed by fear or anger or frustration, and that is why I am so grateful that we have a model for this that we must never get away from in our parenting.  Because there are times when I have not wanted God, and when I have not listened or heeded His advice; when I have not wanted anything to do with Him, and He comes rushing in to love me, to lead me, to support me through all of the storms of life, no matter where I am at that moment.  But I do hope the book, "Mom, I Hate My Life," does give some practical ideas for moms.  Sometimes we do get a little bit stagnant and thinking, "What can I try now?  I've tried that, I've read this book, that didn't work," and teenagers are experts at inducing a sense of incompetence with us, as parents.

Dennis: Or completely pushing you out and just hoping they've won the battle.  You had that occur when your daughter, first of all told you she was going to a movie, then called to tell you there wasn't anything good at the movie, and went over to Dory's house.

Sharon: It's one of my favorite stories.  This was during her sophomore year of high school.  She still is not driving, and I had dropped her off at the movies, and actually then went to another movie with my son, and got these text messages and voice mails during the movie saying, "There's nothing good on.  Everything is sold out.  I'm going to Dory's house," and I had the presence of mind, as I was trying to watch my own movie and listen to my daughter's excuses to ask, "Well, who is Dory?"  And Kristin explained, "Oh, she's a girl in my biology class.  It will be great, Mom," and I did say to her, "Well, call me from Dory's house so that I see her number on the caller ID."

 Well, you can imagine, I did not enjoy the rest of the movie.  All I thought about was, "Now, where did she go and why did I just let that happen so easily and why didn't I ask more questions, and I can't wait until this movie is over with," and what I was aware of is, first of all, I can be kind of a wimp in parenting; that I didn't want to start a conflict or create a big problem while I was in the middle of something with my son, and I can be pretty good at closing my eyes sometimes to things that are right in front of me.  I think all moms can sometimes relate to that – that we don't want another conflict with our moody daughters who stomp their feet and tell us that we are ruining their lives.

Bob: Been there, so just capitulate, because it will be a lot easier that night if you do, right?

Sharon: But then that sense of knowing that God has planted in our hearts, grabbed ahold of me.

Dennis: You're talking about a woman's intuition at this point?

Bob: Or the Spirit whispering to you – one of the two, right?

Dennis: Right, right.

Sharon: And sometimes both, because we're a little bit sometimes slow to hear.  I got home, and I did see the number on the caller ID, called it, and no one answered.  So I'm pretty computer illiterate, but I did know a few things, and I plugged the telephone number into one of those programs that then shows the address that it's connected with.  I'm very directionally dysfunctional, but I plugged the direction into MapQuest and found directions to this girl's home and drove over there to get my daughter.

Dennis: You didn't go over there, really?

Sharon: I did.

Dennis: Without asking your daughter if you could come?

Sharon: No, I just knew I needed to be there, and I rang the doorbell, had to ring it twice, I heard a lot of noise in the background, and a boy who looked older than a sophomore in high school, there was a little bit of stubble on his face, and he actually was holding a can of beer when he came to the door, and he looked out the little side window, and I heard him yell, "Oh, no, it's somebody's mother."  And I rang the doorbell again.  Someone else answered the door, and I said, "Would you please tell Kristin Hersh that her mother is here for her."

 Well, my daughter came to the door with this kind of ashen look on her face, and as we walked down the front steps to our car, she said, "Mom, how did you know?"  I said, "How did I know what?"  And she said, "How did you know I needed you?"  I tried to act a lot calmer than I was really feeling on the inside, and I said, "Well, you know, God really told me I needed to come get you," and, as we got in the car, she told me about this night that had really gotten out of control.  She'd got to a house where there were no parents home, there was alcohol, there were boys from another school threatening to fight the boys from her school.  I think it was a lesson to both of us that I could count on God to lead me if I was not so afraid of the circumstances or the potential conflict, and I think it showed my daughter that she could count on me to be there.

 I wish I could say that I have always known every time she was in trouble and showed up at the front door.  That has not happened, but it was an important night for the two of us, for both of us to know that although the culture and the pressures out there are intense, that I was stronger than the culture.  I didn't feel stronger.  And, by myself, I'm not.  But with God's help, that is a message that we need to send to our children – that we are stronger than they are.  It's a terrifying thing for a teenager to believe that they are the strongest one in their family, and that their emotions rule the roost and that they can get away and do anything they want as long as they throw a fit or they couch their words in exactly the right manipulative way.  That's a scary thing.  A teenager may think that's what they want, but to feel like they are the strongest person in their world leaves them feeling very alone and afraid. 

 And so I hope that as moms get in touch with their own intuition and maybe work through some of these scenarios with their daughter, they can give their daughter a message – "Sweetheart, my love and my longing for you is stronger than the pull that you are going to feel and the emotions that are going to swirl around inside of you as you grow up in this culture."

Dennis: And the responsibility of both moms and dads …

Sharon: … absolutely …

Dennis: … is to fulfill their role regardless of how the teenager responds to them.  If they push them out, you keep coming.  If they don't want your love, you keep loving, but you don't capitulate to the culture, you don't back out at a time when they need you in their lives.

 Bob, I think today is the most challenging time that families have ever had in terms of raising children, and it's because of what Sharon talked about in her book and earlier in the broadcast, how young ladies are being victimized by the culture in ways that are unspeakable and unheard of.  We, as parents, must fulfill our role and be godly parents as never before.

Bob: Well, and a mom needs some allies and some support and someone who can come alongside her and help her know what her assignment is during the difficult times when she's trying to be a mom to a teenage girl and, Sharon, you're that ally in this book, "Mom, I Hate My Life."  We've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and we'd like to get it in the hands of many of the moms who are listening to us today.  You can go to our website at FamilyLife.com.  At the bottom of the screen you'll see a little button that says, "Go."  You click that button, it will take you right to the page where you can get more information on Sharon's book and other resources that are available, including the book you and Barbara wrote called "Parenting Today's Adolescent," that deals with many of the issues that teenagers are facing.

 In fact, any of our listeners who would like to get both books, we'll include at no additional cost either the CD or the cassette of our conversation this well with Sharon Hersh.  Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the "Go" button at the bottom of the screen, and you can order online, if you'd like, or call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on the team can help you with information about how to receive any of these resources.

 If you do stop by our website, we have updated our FamilyLife Resource Center.  There is a lot of information about parenting resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife.  Again, our Web address is FamilyLife.com, and if you're calling, it's 1-800-FLTODAY.

 Last week we had an opportunity, Dennis, to begin working our way through a document that we created here at FamilyLife called The Family Manifesto, and we shared a little bit with our listeners about the history of that document and how they can find a copy of it online.  We also mentioned that it's in your book, "One Home at a Time," and we invited folks, during the month of February, to make a donation of any amount to FamilyLife, and we would send a copy of that book, including The Family Manifesto, to any listener who requested it.  We had a number of calls last week from folks who called in to express their support for FamilyLife Today with a donation.  We were thrilled with that, and we wanted to remind folks that today is your last opportunity to request a copy of the book, "One Home at a Time" as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of our broadcast ministry.

 You can donate online.  If you do, and if you'd like a copy of the book, in the keycode box that you'll see on your donation screen, just type in the word "Home," and we'll send you a copy of Dennis's book, "One Home at a Time."  Or if you're calling 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation over the phone, just mention that you'd like the book, "One Home at a Time" sent to you.  It's our way of saying thanks for your financial support of this ministry.  We're listener-supported, and we depend on your contributions to continue the work of FamilyLife Today.  So thanks for whatever you are able to do in helping with the financial support of this ministry.

 Tomorrow, Sharon Hersh is going to be back with us.  We're going to continue to look at some of the challenging issues that are facing adolescent girls in our culture today, and we'll see what moms can do to help those teenage girls navigate those challenges.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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