My daughter turned 12 this year, putting me right on the bridge between the realms of parenting a child and parenting a teenager. To be honest, she's been acting like a teenager for the last two or three years, but now we're getting into hormonal swings, new fashions, make up, and *gasp!* boys. We may butt heads more than we used to, but we are also beginning to find a lot of commonalities. Like the fact that she has inherited my tendency to rebel, which I very much exercised many moons ago. Being on the mother side of "rebellious teenage daughter" is an interesting dichotomy, let me tell you.
Long ago, I came to the conclusion that when it comes to parenting, there are some battles that are not worth fighting. For example, my daughter has been choosing her own outfits since the day she learned how to pull on her own clothing. She has come up with some very interesting combinations but has developed her own personal style in the process. I never made her match socks or patterns. (With shoes, the most I insisted on was that they were both from the same pair.) After all, what difference does it make if a 3-year old has mismatched socks or wears plaid with polka dots? Who cares if she wants to wear her bear costume to the grocery store in April?
Why didn't I attempt to champion her fashion sense? Because if I spent all my energy fighting about matching her shirt with her hair accessories, where would I find the energy to insist upon modestly wearing leggings with her skirt or choosing a weather-appropriate top? Fashion sense is not a battle I care about winning. However, practical modesty is one I will fight to the death. That is my daughter's main fashion boundary. That, plus staying warm in winter and not wearing clothes with rude phrases.
Saving my energy by not fighting useless battles helps me stand firm on issues that really matter — like the subject of modesty, what it means, and how to do it.
Giving her some sense of choice and independence also makes it easier for her to accept these other boundaries. We've been doing this for a long time now, so my daughter has a pretty good sense of what is acceptable. She loves to layer her clothes and add extra accoutrements in order to feel pretty while also covering undergarments and leaving something to the imagination. She recognizes that a t-shirt that says "Leave me alone!" isn't appropriate for wearing in public but is fine for PJs.
We have a couple friends whose hand-me-downs fit her perfectly, and I always let her go through them herself to decide what she wants to keep and what to donate. When shirts are too low cut, she tosses them into the donate pile. If the pants hang too low, she donates. By giving her the option to choose (rather than telling her what's okay and what's not), she is empowered to make modest choices on her own. Then the choices become hers, and she's confident to stand by them.
She recently acquired a bunch of new clothes from a friend, including a few super cute skirts that are shorter than anything she has ever kept in the past. Maybe it's because she's in middle school now and seeing other girls' fashion choices, but suddenly she wanted to start wearing these short skirts. Before I even suggested it though, she assured me that she would wear leggings with them so people wouldn't see her underwear. Whew!
You know those moments when your child does a spectacular thing, and you think, "Wow, I must have done something right for once!"? Totally what I felt in that moment. It was a perfect example of what it means to give your kids a good foundation so they can make smart decisions later.
A couple of years ago, she saw a friend wearing black nail polish and wanted to give it a try. I really struggled with whether I should fight that battle. As a teenager in the late 80s/early 90s, I completely embraced the dark look that is now dubbed goth. I know what it means to "be goth." I always wore black clothes and black eyeliner. Would people look at her and think she was "going goth"?
First Samuel 16:7 says that God doesn't look at the outside, which human beings so quickly judge. Rather, He looks at the heart, which shows a person's true character. I knew that in my daughter's heart, she saw this as a simple fashion choice — not a spiral into twisted angst and moody vampire poetry. If God examines the hearts of His children before the outer appearance, so shouldn't I with my own children?
So I said yes. And she wore black nail polish for a few weeks. Then she got tired of it and stopped. Well, that was that. She still occasionally wears it, but it's not a big deal. It's just another color to wear, often to help show off the sparkly glitter she lays down on top of it. Nail polish doesn't affect any of the boundaries I've set for her, and it doesn't affect who she is as a person. Therefore, it is not a battle worth fighting.
This morning, she came downstairs with black eyeliner wingtips drawn on and dark eyeshadow — her first attempt to emulate another friend of ours who does a bit more elaborate makeup than anyone else around here. I admit, it looked fantastic, and this time, it was not hard for me to praise her efforts rather than struggle with what people might think. I hope they do notice. And I hope they see this as a part of her bright, unique personality. Her heart is in trying something new, not rebelling against her boundaries.
My daughter is a kind, generous person to her friends. She is fairly open and honest with me. She does well in school. She respects authority. Those are the traits I will continue to focus on and help her develop. Battling over whether she can wear skull patterns or dye her hair purple? Not worth my energy. Fighting for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in her character (Galatians 5:22-23)? As a mother, that's a battle I'm willing to die for.
Catiana Nak Kheiyn is the webmaster and editor of 412teens.org and regularly teaches other young writers through tutoring and workshops. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her “adopted” family of friends, her two kids, and a menagerie of socially awkward animals. You can read more of her writing at Blogos.org.