Is My Teen Making (Perfect or Imperfect) Progress?
Every mom wants to see her teen making progress.
You hope to witness your teen moving forward and progressing in their academics, creativity, relationships, responsibility, and maturity.
This yearning is instinctual in moms and feels like it is written in our DNA. Because this feeling is so natural, you may not even be aware of it.
And yet it is there, big time, and we spend a great deal of our energy assessing if our daughter is making progress or falling behind. We think about this numerous times a day.
I love the idea of progress. This is one of my core values. I love it when I’m seeing my daughter move forward in her life.
But here’s where things can get wonky for moms.
Progress implies that there is always forward motion. It feels like this forward movement should be a continual forward movement like this graph suggests. It also suggests that if your daughter is making progress; she should be making progress in every area of her life.
If we are not careful, progress can become another form of perfectionism.
We expect perfect progress. And this expectation of perfect progress causes moms so much suffering and it’s not realistic.
We need to go deep here. We may not think this consciously but we feel it in our gut. And if our daughter is not making perfect progress it can really bother us.
The truth is that progress is jagged, messy, and unpredictable especially when dealing with your teenage daughter. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell if she is moving forward or not. It’s tough to read.
In truth, your daughter will never be making progress in every area of her life at the same time.
Often, it kind of looks like three steps forward and two steps back.
I see this a lot with seniors who are going away to college. Their moms are so excited that they have been accepted to the university of their choice. But then these same moms get really frustrated with their daughters because of their irresponsibility and question if they are ready for college, “How can I let my daughter live on her own if she can’t clean her room and she is constantly losing her phone?”
Moms are dealing with this ambivalence all the time.
- Your daughter gets a job but then she fails her government test.
- She goes on a church retreat and starts hanging out with a good group of kids but then she gives you a big attitude about cleaning her room.
- You have a great discussion with her and you’re so impressed with her wisdom and insight and that she is thinking responsibly. But then the next day you’re shocked to find that she spends a hundred dollars on a tattoo of her boyfriend’s name that covers half her leg.
- She volunteers to feed the homeless and then she loses it with you because she doesn’t have anything to wear.
The problem is that your attention automatically goes straight to the negative, like a moth to the flame. It not only goes to the messy room, the attitude, or tattoo, it highlights the negative with a fluorescent pink highlighter. And at that point, we can’t recall that any progress has been made.
The truth is that progress in a teenage girl (or really any of us) looks like imperfect progress. It’s especially impossible for your daughter to make perfect progress because her brain is under construction.
It’s time to change our perception from perfect progress to imperfect progress.
The Value of Imperfect Progress
1. It’s realistic
Imperfect progress is realistic, natural, and doable. In contrast, perfect progress is impossible. No teenage girl will be making good decisions and acting responsibly all the time in every area of her life. And if she tries she will end up paralyzed with anxiety and stress—and therefore will not be perfect.
Your daughter is hard-wired for drama with her undeveloped prefrontal cortex. She is still a work in progress and that’s why she needs your guidance and direction.
2. Helps you chill out
When you let go of having the perfect daughter who is making perfect progress in every area of her life, you can chill out. It takes the pressure off of you and your daughter. You can celebrate where she is making progress and not let the negative blind you to her accomplishments.
Because you see her progress and remember that she is still developing you are encouraged. This impacts how you treat her. You are truly proud of her and so you tell her that. If you only focus on her mistakes and miss the progress, you start interacting with her from a place of frustration or fear. And she picks up on it.
3. Gives credit
When you adopt an imperfect progress mentality you can give your daughter credit for where she is moving forward. If she makes a bad decision in another area this doesn’t erase the progress she’s made. She still gets the credit.
This credit is important for your daughter’s self-esteem. It’s crucial that you see and she sees that progress is being made.
4. It motivates
Though it’s natural to harp on the negative, it’s not helpful. If you keep telling your daughter that she is getting it wrong she will end up angry, discouraged, apathetic, or paralyzed. The reason being is that she is experiencing your disapproval but she is not experiencing encouragement or success. Your negativity is not motivating.
Experiencing success is what truly motivates. Being threatened, yelled at, or shamed is not motivating. But when you praise your daughter for what she has accomplished, she is encouraged to keep trying. It not only motivates her in that one area, but it will positively impact the other immature areas of her life.
It takes awareness, patience, and self-control to not harp on the imperfect areas in your daughter’s life.
Here’s what can help.
Start a progress journal and every day write down one example of where you see your daughter moving forward. This will help both you and your daughter.