The Inner Game: Why Parenting Is So Challenging for Moms

The Inner Game: Why Parenting Is So Challenging for Moms

How would you answer this question?

Why is parenting your teenage daughter so challenging?

Is it your daughter’s attitude, defiance, rebellion, mood swings, and rude behavior?

Is it her not obeying you or procrastinating?

Is it her walling off in her room and not communicating?

Yes, all of these things are extremely challenging.

But having been a therapist for 25 years and having been a mom in the trenches with my own daughter (who is now twenty), I can tell you the most challenging part of parenting is the inner game.

The inner game is actually not about your daughter at all. This is about you. It’s all the feeling that comes up because of your daughter, but they are your thoughts and feelings.

This is not a relaxed game of badminton. (Remember badminton?)

It’s more like the Hunger Games in your head. It can feel like a battle to survive.

Here’s why.

We love our daughters intensely. We identify with our daughters. Because of this, they can press every one of our buttons.  In my private practice, I see lots of teenage girls. I hear their stories and where they’ve made mistakes. I can be very clear-headed and helpful to these girls. However, if (and when) my daughter told me some of these same stories, I was anything but clear. All the warning lights were going off in my brain.

When the warning lights go off and we get hooked and emotionally flooded, the parenting waters get muddy. We are not thinking clearly and if we open our mouths good chance we will make things worse. I’ve seen this in my life and the moms I help.

Here’s what muddies up the parenting waters.

Fear and worry

Oh goodness, there are so many things that we can worry about.

Will she make the same mistakes that I made? Will she turn out like my ex-husband?

It basically comes down to this question.

Is my daughter okay or is she going to turn out okay?

You can substitute the word okay for any of these: happy, successful, thriving, responsible, or healthy.

Have you heard the expression, “Keep them alive to 25”?

“Keeping our teens alive” is a real fear for moms. In my book Dial Down the Drama, I have a chapter called, “What Fear Does to You and Your Daughter,” that I would recommend you read. Also, in this chapter, you can download the Dismantle the F-Bomb Worksheet. (F-Bomb = Fear) This is a worksheet that will help you work through the fear and turn it into practical action steps.

***Fear muddies the parenting water because you imagine the worst and can’t see the facts clearly.

Self Doubt

Another thing that muddies our parenting is self-doubt. We can get worn down from the constant arguing with our daughter. We can lose our confidence. We question our limits, rules, and boundaries. We wonder if we are being too strict or not strict enough.

A big question that we can ask ourselves is, “Am I doing it right?”

Unconsciously, we grade ourselves on our “mom job” by how well our daughters are doing which only increases self-doubt.

Self-doubt can quickly turn into mother shame.

***Self-doubt muddies the water because you deny your own truth.


Mother shame is where we judge ourselves or we feel judged by others. In chapter 3 “Why Moms and Daughters Can’t Get it Right All the Time” of Dial Down the Drama I define mother shame as “the persistent gut-wrenching feeling that you’re flawed as a mother and failing everyone in your family.”

This horrible feeling is what keeps moms from being authentic with each other.  We don’t want to be judged or our daughters to be judged.

*** Judgment muddies the water because when we feel judged there is a strong likelihood you will harshly take out your judgment on your daughter.

Taking Things Personally

I remember listening to a mom who told me how her daughter came home at 3 a.m. This mother was letting me know how scary this was for her. I can totally understand why Mom was scared, I’ve been there. Then, Mom told me everything she said to her daughter, which ended with, “How could she do this to me?

It feels like your daughter is doing this to you, but she is doing this because she wants to be with her friends or boyfriend. She’s not thinking about you at all. You probably weren’t thinking about your mom either, if you were at a party with the guy you had a crush on at age seventeen.

We can feel betrayed and rejected by our daughters, and this really, really hurts. I’ve had lots of moms tell me they almost feel like they are in middle school and are being rejected by the mean girl. However, the mean girl is your daughter.

When you know the science of the teenager (Chapter 7 “Why Your Daughter is Hard-Wired for Drama and Why It’s Not Personal) you’ll get why she is your teenage daughter and not your best friend.

*** Taking things personally muddies the water because all of your feelings block you from seeing an accurate picture of what’s going on and from taking effective action.

First Win the Inner Game

It’s important to sort through all your feelings before you open your mouth.  And that can take some work. The moment your daughter acts out is not the moment to give her a mother lecture. There are too many fireworks going off in your head.

The big mistake I’ve seen moms make is they process everything in their head with their daughter. This is where the drama escalates. Expressing everything that is swirling around in your mind, especially when it’s muddy, is not good parenting and will never get you the results you want.

The biggest reason for this is that you are not clear and confident. You need some time and space to get clear. You can journal and pray. You can talk to your partner or call a friend, or another mom. When you are clear then ninety percent of the time you know what the right thing is to do.

See you want your parenting waters to be like Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Florida where you can see clearly in the water. I was in Maui with my daughter and I loved that I could see my feet in the crystal blue water. If something was coming at me I could see it. However, I live near Galveston and the water there is the definition of murky. You can’t see your hand right below the water. You have no idea what’s coming at you.

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