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The summer before our daughter turned six, we started an annual tradition. We packed sleeping bags, a tent and everything we’d need for a night in the woods. After strapping it to a huge double-stroller, we trekked several miles into western Pennsylvania’s forested hills.  

Little Bekah chatted happily throughout the entire duration of the trip. We caught frogs along the riverbank, cooked s’mores over the campfire and never ran out of topics to discuss.  

Related: To the fierce mamas raising fierce daughters

Six years later, nestled into the same sleeping bags beneath the same canvas tent with the same girl, I came to a startling realization: The tent was silent, and I was out of discussion topics.  

As I stared into the darkness, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the chatty little girl I used to know. Despite more than a decade of working as a high school teacher and teen mentor, I felt uncertain about navigating the teenage years with my own daughter.

I’ve been chatting with other moms of teens and pre-teens, and the consensus is the same: “Where did my little girl go—and who is this teenager living in my home?”

Related: 7 things people don’t tell you about raising teens

Let’s be real. Knowing how to navigate the teen years can be full of uncertainty. Finding ways to connect with our teen and pre-teen daughters can be tricky. We want to stay connected and foster strong bonds as we launch our girls into adulthood, but it feels like life has turned upside down.

Our once talkative little girls suddenly seem reserved and silent. Joyful ice cream dates are suddenly awkward as we struggle to come up with conversation topics that will elicit more than single-word responses. Summersaults through the house have been replaced with bedroom doors that remain shut for hours on end—and just what exactly do they do in their rooms for ten straight hours?

We’re sailing in uncharted waters, and much of the time, these hormone-ridden waters feel anything but serene.

Lying in the tent with my almost-teen daughter a few months ago, I decided it was time to come up with a plan to strengthen our relationship.  

teen daughter leaning her head on mom and laughing

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Let me begin by saying that I don’t have all the answers; however, the small steps I’ve been taking are helping me stay connected with my girl. We’re laughing together. I’m enjoying her.  We’re finding pockets of time to talk about the issues she’s facing and she knows she can be real with me.

So to the mama who is feeling uncertain about navigating the teenage years, here are a couple ways you can keep the mother-daughter bond strong.

Tips for navigating the teenage years

1. Invite them into your world daily

Finding time to connect with our kids in meaningful ways can be tough.  Between keeping up with the needs of other family members, working to pay the bills, meal-prepping and keeping everyone in clean socks and underwear, it’s not easy to squeeze in meaningful one-on-one time with our kids. Especially when they seem content to hide away in their bedrooms, it’s easy to slip into an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.   

Our pre-teen daughter has two younger brothers who generally compete for my attention. Sadly, the squeaky wheel gets the oil—and the boys often do get most of my attention.

Related: My daughter has entered the tween years—and I’m not ready

For this reason, I’ve started intentionally inviting Bekah to join me in activities that are already a part of my days, like going on my evening walks. Or instead of grocery shopping or cooking alone,  inviting her into the process.  

Sometimes, she’s eager to join me. Other times, she politely declines. However, what matters most is that we keep trying. Our evening walks and grocery shopping trips have become wonderful opportunities to talk about stress at school, hopes, dreams, fears and what’s going on in our lives.

2. Share your passions with them

Similar to inviting Bekah into the regular activities of my days, I’ve been inviting her into my passions as well. I invited her into my passion for backpacking and exploring wild places when we took our first mother-daughter backpacking trip six years ago. I regularly invite her to hike with me or drive to the creek with our fishing poles in search of rainbow trout.

Writing is one of my greatest passions and sharing it with my girl has blessed us both. Last year, she approached me and asked me to write a book with her. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. In the back of my mind, I thought we’d have some fun writing together, but I didn’t expect it to amount to anything.

Related: Why your teen will tune you out 

Much to my surprise, my girl took the lead, and we wrote a 258-page mother-daughter devotional book together. Sharing this passion with her has transformed our relationship.

Navigating the teenage years with your daughter doesn’t have to be full of uncertainty. What do you love to do? Do you love to ski, cross-stitch, paint or garden? Invite your girl to share this hobby with you. Approach it with no agenda other than enjoying one another. You might just be surprised by the young woman you encounter.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.