A precious reunion

Mother and Teen Daughter. Close-up portrait of attractive happyAfter a long period of emotional distance, my 13-year-old daughter and I are slowly making our way back to each other and beginning to heal our once-fractured relationship – and I am so very thankful.

I went out for a simple, casual dinner with my teenaged daughter the other night. Just the two of us. And I can honestly say it was one of the greatest nights of my entire life.

It was a rare and precious treat, which I had breathlessly anticipated: We would have two hours alone together in a south Ottawa chain restaurant. I was beyond jubilant. And I felt a huge sense of triumph that she had agreed to go with me at all.

You see, life has been pretty crazy over the last few years, as a mom of three (two teens, one kindergartener) working multiple jobs, and trying to juggle it all alone. Lost in the frantic pace of day-to-day life and consumed by all its routines, I’d neglected to check in and dig deep with my 13-year-old.

I’d simply taken for granted that she was doing OK, that she needed her privacy and wanted her friends. I assumed that if she needed me, she would reach out. I was extremely preoccupied with trying to be a superhero in all aspects of life, especially my career, and of course she would understand that, I told myself.

I was so wrong.

Over the last three or so years, we drifted apart – drastically. The closeness we shared when she was a toddler and young child had vanished. We eyed each other warily, like strangers. Whenever we spoke, we snapped at each other.

It seemed we were perpetually at war, and I’d developed a growing feeling of despair; a cold feeling of dread, gnawing at me constantly.

I felt powerless. I felt I was completely losing touch with my lovely, caring, intelligent and lively daughter. She didn’t want to spend time with me. Conversations were cursory, abrupt and could be explosive.

Not only did I feel powerless, I felt intimidated. I was so desperate to hold on to her love and trust that I wanted to tiptoe carefully around her – because arguments (or even the slightest trace of disapproval or disagreement) could lead to extended periods of icy distance.

The teenage years are notoriously difficult. We all crack the tired jokes and let out melodramatic groans and talk of how much we dread this life stage. Maybe for others, I always thought smugly, but not my family.

We had, for a very long time, a close-knit little family. My two oldest are three-and-a-half years apart, and so they were close friends and bitter rivals. And when my last baby came along, when they were eight and 12, they loved her deeply and doted on her.

Then the teen years kicked in.

My son retreated into his own world with his friends and interests and grew distant, as did my older daughter. At first, I chalked this up to being normal and unremarkable. That’s just what happens, right?

But I noticed the chasm between my daughter and me growing vaster until I was left to wonder in horror how we went so far off the rails.

But recently, it’s all come clear. Because my poised, strong, lovely girl has begun to speak her mind.

“You don’t know what’s going on in my life, she said to me the other day. Reeling in stunned silence, my first thought was, she’s right.

I was horrified, yet thankful – grateful that she had the courage to be honest and express her feelings, rather than continue to retreat from me. I wanted to cry, out of regret AND gratitude. Because now, I could fix things – or at least, do my damn best.

And so, humbled and apologetic. I told her I would work on doing better, because I can and should do better.  And I think – no, I know she appreciated it.

It’s still a work in progress, but the tentative plan is to have regular, one-on-one mother-daughter date nights – carving out a slice of time completely dedicated to us rediscovering each other and strengthening our bond.

And as we sat in that restaurant, sharing a ginormous chocolate and ice cream-covered cookie while giggling and talking boyfriends and personal dramas, I realized I’ve never been happier and more thankful to be the parent of such an amazing teen girl.