love letter to a teenage girl

March 12th, 2013

valentine-note-foldYou’ll just have to get used to this, Mom, because every teenage girl is like this.

My mother said, in one of her last long sighs in the short last year of her life, that all the problems I thought were so big when my daughter was one year old were really small problems, although they seemed so monumental at the time. The problems of eating and sleeping and teething and talking and knowing and growing and the like.

She offered the flimsy consolation a young mother can’t yet receive, from her own mother long past, that “When they are little they have little problems and when they are big they have big problems.”

Last night my daughter relaxed over dinner out, just the two of us, and showed me a view of her problems, which sounded like this: no one likes me and I’m not pretty and no one likes me and I can’t help it and I don’t know and its hopeless and I’m ugly and stupid and no one likes me I’m not pretty and no one likes me and I’m not pretty and you can’t help me and you’ll have to get used to this because every teenage girl is like this!

I sat there dumb and numb and having no idea how to repair a heart I’d never known was broken and stanch the pain that poured out of her mouth and across the table and up my spine and into the hollows of my breathless chest as I hoped against hope that we could just once be handed a small problem to fret over and fix.

And then I granted the absence she asked for and wrote this instead. In between every word is the sobbing heaving ocean of a mother’s silent love that does not fix a thing.




  1. I remember that raw, exposed nerve endings of my teenage years, when every thought and feeling seemed magnified.
    Your daughter is lucky to at least be able to share them with. I had to keep the festering brew inside, not daring to share it with my mother, not after I once asked her why I was so ugly(a boy told me so), and she told me not everyone can be pretty, and basically I should just suck it up, and get used to it! (Today I am mystified- I was really very pretty, clever and sweet, and my mother is not heartless or cruel in any way.)
    Twenty years later my own daughter had a myriad of other, seemingly bigger insecurities and heartbreaks and I, dying to ease her pain, stood powerless and speechless, waiting for her to come out whole, into adulthood. She did. She is now a confident, happily married young woman, loving her life.

    Comment by santie — March 12, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

  2. Beautiful.
    She is discovering the First Noble Truth
    Maybe a little more time and can discover the second: the cause of suffering are her desires to be another way.

    Comment by Xavier — March 13, 2013 @ 12:14 am

  3. I remember being a teenager and having these same feelings. I used to have the same conversation with my mom too. I didn’t want her to fix it, just to hold the pain of growing up for a little bit so I could take a break.

    It sounds like you did just that. I’m sorry it’s so hard. Know that the force of motherhood and the millions of us in your shoes have your back.

    Comment by Pamela — March 13, 2013 @ 1:27 am

  4. Oh! I’m just gazing at the sobbing heaving ocean, knowing it lies ahead, and both intensely fearful of entering it and grateful for wise guidance like yours. Thank you, thank you. xox

    Comment by Lindsey — March 13, 2013 @ 2:28 am

  5. I was going to write how moved I am when I read your posts, but just realized, I’m actually deeply stilled. Which, I guess, is your point? That’s the uniqueness that I find here- the imperative to stop. That there is not a way “to fix a thing,” but these things still require my attention. I need this reminder again and again. And am so grateful I can find it here.

    Comment by Jill — March 13, 2013 @ 5:18 am

  6. Oh how WONDERFUL that she is sharing with you! My daughter is 10 months now. IF she shares her pain with me when she is a teen, oh! How grateful I will be!!! Not every teen feels they can share problems with their mums. I see the pain in the heart of a mum.. We want to “fix” as you say, we want to erase all pain, we forget that pain makes us grow… Thanks god for the maths of the heart: “a shared pain is always divided and a shared joy is always multiplied” 🙂 there will be joy soon 🙂 many hugs

    Comment by Lazia — March 13, 2013 @ 8:00 am

  7. My granddaughter,who I am raising, just turned 10
    and I realized, shockingly slowly, that she is a tween,and we are already hearing these things. I so want to help her. To fix this. And I know there is nothing I can do but wait.

    Comment by Marcea — March 13, 2013 @ 8:09 am

  8. My dear Sunshine Girl, only 5 and a half, has recently begun saying (in moments of frustration or distress), “I’m bad. I’m stupid. I’m dumb.” I love, uplift, and embrace her (never having called her any of these things), yet somehow she has absorbed self-hate. It’s agonizing to see and hear. I try to create a space for us (and in myself) to allow her to be as she is, even though I desperately want to deny her statements and fix things. Because I also know that to reply, “But honey, you ARE smart, good, etc.” — in that moment — is to abandon her, as counterintuitive as that feels.

    Comment by Kathryn — March 13, 2013 @ 8:16 am

  9. “When they are little they have little problems and when they are big they have big problems.”

    My little girl will be 20-month-old soon, and I feel so blessed to have you guide my way, a-first-time-middle-aged-overly-anxious mother. Perhaps little problems are all that I can handle right now. 🙂

    Comment by Sharon — March 13, 2013 @ 8:41 am

  10. Oh my. As others have said, the fact that you are there and listening means everything. To have a place to share the heartache of teen angst. I wish I had had that. And I really wish I had ever had a dinner with my mom just the two of us! You are a wonderful mother. It is so hard to hurt alongside our children. We can’t fix it. But the fact they know we are here in loving support makes a big impact within them. It really does.

    Comment by Meg — March 13, 2013 @ 8:43 am

  11. You know, the little bits I remember about that age, I remember trying on thoughts for size, you know. I like the thought that thoughts are like butterflies that flutter by and are not neccesarily personal.
    Your love between the words will one day mean the world to her one day.
    Kind regards.

    Comment by Simone — March 13, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  12. I recognize myself in the nobody-likes-me-I’m-ugly monologue, but I’m moved to tears at the sobbing heaving ocean. My mother died before I was old enough to understand that she was not the cause of my suffering. I’m shocked to think she suffered just because I was unhappy. I wish I could call her up right now and and thank her for trying so hard, and apologize for not being able to let her in.

    Comment by Dawn Downey — March 13, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

  13. I don’t have a teenager yet, only a nine-year old who, on “the worst day of (her) life”, so wisely retold me part of a story I had told her a few months ago, “I just want me to be the little tree and you to be the stick that holds on to me so I don’t break when it’s windy.” It’s so hard to stand up straight when it’s windy!

    Comment by Talin — March 13, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

  14. My experience as a mom was that the early teens were the toughest. But, as both of my kids bridged the gaps from 14 to 16 and then finally to 18, things seemed to get better and it all turned around again. I can’t wait to compare notes with you down the road. Let her know that we think she is beautiful (not kidding – she is a knock out!!).

    Comment by Kujaku — March 13, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

  15. Thank you…

    Comment by Marjolein — March 13, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

  16. My dearest friends,
    Thank you for opening your kind hearts to me.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 13, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

  17. Thank you, I so needed to read these words today…I am here, fighting my impulse to go and try fix what´s wrong, trying to trust that this too shall pass. Thanks

    Comment by Florencia — March 14, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

  18. I remember having this exact conversation with my own mother, at just a slightly older age. I sat in a chair in the kitchen, by the yawning, stone cold fireplace full of old ashes. Tears poured down my face. No one liked me and I didn’t blame them. I wasn’t pretty. I was unlovable. I would never marry. I would always be alone in the world. I wasn’t pretty. . . Yes, the same conversation, except that I was CERTAIN nothing would ever change. My mother assured me I would not always be sitting and weeping in that kitchen chair, that my life would carry me to places I couldn’t even imagine. That I was lovable. That I would be loved. Of course, she was right. I never imagined what that moment was like for her. And, as the mother of boys, I’ve never been privileged to have this conversation with a daughter of my own. (I’m pretty sure they have felt unlovable, too, but they would never tell.)

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — March 15, 2013 @ 2:37 am

  19. I love when you write about your thirteen year old because she reminds me so much of mine. We both know from her pictures how beautiful she is so what’s up with that? My beautiful daughter does the exact same thing and my heart aches; the next minute she all rosy and sunshine, leaving me in a funk. I have learned to just listen because nothing I say will help or change her mind, except time, and not much time, usually. There is a cute song by Taylor Swift called The Best Day; it will lift your spirits. In the meantime, just listen to the angst with empathy.

    Comment by Trish — March 15, 2013 @ 5:06 am

  20. On the birth of our first child, a friend offered this wisdom which I’ve never forgotten. “Remember as your child is growing, whether it’s good, or whether it’s bad, it won’t last.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand the truth of this. But it is relevant to this beautifully written blog. Mother’s move through each of their children’s painful experiences as if they are their own. And they experience the joy in the same way. Everything is moving towards something else…It’s our love and inner knowing as we see the beauty of their soul that makes the journey easier.

    Comment by Nancy Evans — March 16, 2013 @ 7:33 am

  21. Ths last sentence is poetic beauty…takes my breath away exactly describing a mother’s silent angst.

    Comment by Donna clary — March 16, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  22. I am there in that space with you…holding and releasing…floating in my pain that is silently fueled by the love I hold too tightly for my teenage daughter…as she wrestles for her own sense of who she is; through the beauty and pain of becoming a woman…”a widow from her childhood”. I am neither a bystander nor a participant…the river nor the boat…but a bit of both…just enough for her to realize her own strength and frailty; that she is loved.

    Comment by Deborah Boettcher — March 25, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

  23. Oh, how painfully beautiful! I’m glad she spoke to you. I’m glad you were able to hold it and let it be. I feel the pain in it, have felt the same with my daughter. And try to trust that her journey is hers.

    Comment by Kelly Kuhn — July 26, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

  24. Yes. That is how it goes. She is learning how to handle her own problems, and you are being the parent she needs. Soon they won’t seem so big to her, but you will feel just the same about the problems, no matter the magnitude. All you can do is give her space and time. This is what my 21 and 23 year old have taught me.

    Comment by Jill Hamilton — September 21, 2015 @ 9:59 am

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