Perhaps you've heard the war stories from mothers who have raised teen daughters, told in the spirit of camaraderie, sympathy and encouragement.
The drama subsides, they say. The quiet resentment or open rebellion is replaced by mutual respect and affection. It's normal for these years to be fraught with tension and conflict, they reassure.
Conventional wisdom says the mother-daughter relationship nearly fractures in adolescence before it becomes whole again in adulthood.
But it doesn't always work that way, does it? Sometimes the distance breached in those years of struggling to create one's own identity is too great. The adult relationship fails to recover the way we imagine it will; it falls short of what we hoped it might become.
There's a mother-daughter team challenging this narrative with a radical notion: The teen years can be the time when mothers and daughters thrive in their relationship. It's when daughters need to keep their mothers close, argue Sil and Eliza Reynolds, in their book "Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years."
It sounded a little pie-in-the-sky to me. I'm sure there are some mothers and daughters who are naturally gifted communicators, or emotionally intelligent savants, who breeze through the years so many of us struggle with.
But how might one spot such unicorns, let alone join their ranks?
Girls in the Know, a St. Louis-based nonprofit, recently hosted a two-day retreat led by the Reynolds mother-daughter duo to teach how this radical idea could be put into practice. I was curious to see what kind of practical tools they could teach that would deepen and calm the bond I have with my 13-year-old girl.
When I told her we were going to spend eight hours over a weekend learning how to "empower" our relationship, she rolled her eyes at me.
"Oh God. That sounds so cheesy," she said.
I hope the Reynolds are prepared for our enthusiastic participation, I thought. When we arrived and waited outside in the hallway with about 20 other mom-daughter pairs, my girl whispered to me: "There are so many other things I could be doing right now."
Well, this was going to be fun.
To my great surprise, it was fun. And moving. And enlightening.
The Reynolds kept our group together to explain some basics about emotional intelligence and effective communication skills, especially when talking about difficult topics. They used games to introduce concepts such as finding and trusting your intuition. Then, they separated the daughters and moms to give each group a chance to practice these skills among their peer group. When they reunited us, we had a chance to listen and respond to our daughters in a new way.
One of their main points was about finding creative ways to stay connected during a time when the culture encourages us to push each other away. For example, a nightly check-in that might only take a minute: Ask your daughter to share three words to describe how she's feeling, maybe when she gets home from school or before she goes to bed. Figure out one thing you enjoy doing together, whether it's watching a TV show or cooking, and make it a scheduled priority every week. Create a journal that is shared back and forth on a weekly basis.
There's never a silver bullet to making a relationship work. It takes energy and patience -- even more than many of us imagined, during the tumultuous years of rapid physical and emotional change.
But the story that Sil and Eliza told, in which teen daughters see mothers as their allies on the path toward independence, was so much more compelling than that in which daughters view their mothers with disdain or disinterest as adversaries.
Even my skeptical teen hugged me afterwards and said, "I guess it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
There's a payoff worth the eyerolls.