Now, more than two years later, I am finally ready to write about a very special moment I experienced with my daughter Anna, then 16 years old. The booklet “Supporting Adolescents” was the reason for having this wonderful experience.
We are Greek and live on a small island in Greece. It is a peaceful life when you see it from the outside but that doesn’t mean all is perfect on the inside.
I had picked my daughter Anna up from high school, and during the thirty-minute drive home we had a good talk about how the day had been for both of us. After a while we went silent and suddenly she told me she had this awkward experience with a classmate during a break. They had been standing next to each other on the schoolyard and even though they know each other a bit, they had nothing to say to each other. Anna could not come up with anything at all to start a conversation. She found there was nothing interesting to talk about with the other girl and at the same time this made her feel so boring and even ugly!
I was driving the car, listening carefully and just nodding and saying I understand. I waited awhile (thinking of what I had read in the booklet “Supporting Adolescents”), but then I couldn’t control myself any longer and started giving advice, something like, “That it is very common problem. Even grownups feel like that, and that there are tricks to get out of that situation like…” Blah, blah, blah. I didn’t really realize what I was doing, but I could feel that Anna was not listening to me. Tension was building up in the car. When we arrived at home the first thing she did was to shout angrily at her little sister without any reason!
We got into the house, and Anna went straight to her room, all nerves. I went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. Standing by the sink, peeling potatoes, looking out of the window, it all came clear to me! What had I done?!!! Again!!! Instead of sharing the pain of not being confident socially, and just listening, I had to give advice, which immediately pushed us apart and made us both feel lonely and out of touch. I started to cry quietly. I felt so sad for leaving my daughter alone all the time with her difficult feelings. And why was it so difficult to do the right thing?
I had the feeling it was too late, but then I thought, “I have to ask her to forgive me for being so stupid.” But how? I felt nervous. Maybe I would make everything worse. Anyway, I gathered my courage and went into her room, sat down on a chair next to her and saw that she looked surprised.
“What do you want?” she said with a hard voice.
“I just wanted to say I am sorry for not listening to you,” I said.
“Like when?” she said.
“Like today in the car,” I continued. “What I wanted to say, Anna, is that I have felt the way you did today at school many, many times, and I felt that way when I was your age, too, and it is awful. It is like it is a black hole opening under you, all is empty, and all is meaningless. And I never know how to deal with it either.”
Now she looked at me with a soft, warm smile. “Yeah, I know mom,” she said, “That’s exactly how it feels. But I thought you always were so confident and clever and always found solutions to everything the way you have loads of ready advice all the time! I really felt you are so perfect and I am just a hopeless nothing.”
Now, that was a good lesson for me! I never really understood before how it worked with all the “good advice.” Why something always went wrong in these kind of situations. But now it was clear what the real damage was. And it was so easy to fix! All it took was a real apology and a real listen-talk.
But why is it so difficult to change behavior? I still make these mistakes, and sometimes still I do not realize it. It seems to be so deep in me, you know, to try to help out by saying something, instead of offering listening and caring.
(The daughter’s name has been changed to protect confidentiality.)
— a mother in Greece