This post was originally written for the website Summit Series for Families.
Any parent with a teenaged daughter dreads the thought of her dating boys. What is even more difficult to deal with than some boy dating your daughter, though, is some boy dumping her. As parents, our first instinct when our child is hurt is to be hyper-defensive and hunt down the no-good louse who caused our baby such pain. Eventually, we become rational again and we are left to figure out how to help our child deal with the aftermath. Here are some things you can do to help your daughter cope with a break-up; these are things I’ve learned through my own experience with a teenaged daughter, and often things I’ve learned the hard way!
Provide space. Sometimes, we can see the break up coming down the pike. It is important to step away from the situation and let your daughter handle it on her own as much as possible. Fight the urge to subtly encourage the break up (if you don’t particularly like the boy) or to help salvage it (if you happen to like the boy). Interfering in either instance can backfire – try to hasten the break up and your daughter may stick with him out of stubbornness; try to stop the break up and she may stay with the boy no matter how unhappy she feels in the relationship.
Be a sympathetic listener. This is the perfect situation to practice our active listening skills. Try to hear exactly what your daughter is saying about the boy by reading between the lines. Is she wanting to initiate the break up? Is she secretly relieved that the relationship is ending? Is she still head over heels and not prepared for the break up? Regardless of the scenario, it is going to be emotionally wrenching. Be as supportive as you can of your daughter’s feelings but be careful not to belittle them, which brings me to my next tip.
Be prepared for irrationality. No matter how much space you provide or how sympathetic a listener you are, chances are your daughter will tell you that you just don’t understand or care. If you provide space, it means you don’t care. If you try to get involved, you should just stay out of it because you don’t understand. This irrationality is just a manifestation of your daughter’s pain and really has nothing to do with you. Try not to get angry when you’re told you don’t understand; your daughter really doesn’t want to hear about the horrible break ups you endured because, in her mind, there’s simply no way they were anything like the one she’s going through. She’s really not trying to be rude or disrespectful, so ride out the irrationality – it will go away soon enough!
Guide her through proper break up behavior. Remember, the relationships our teens go through are supposed to help them grow along the way to adulthood and hopefully help them form mature relationships as adults. They are bound to make mistakes in the relationships they have as teens. In the most non-preachy way possible, remind your daughter to stand up for herself and not measure her self-worth by the fact that she has a boyfriend. Remind her to be assertive, but not mean or hurtful, or even worse, clingy and needy. Remind her to be selective about whom she talks to about the break up and how she talks about it. Teens today use social networking for so much of their communication; be firm that your daughter not be over-dramatic or detailed about the break up on Facebook. Also suggest she not get into too many gory details with her girlfriends, whom she will very likely turn to for sympathy and understanding. This is normal and appropriate, but girls tend to like to rally around their friends. If your daughter can keep the details to a minimum, her friends will be less likely to feel the need to get involved by saying something directly or indirectly to the ex-boyfriend.
Make time for your daughter. After the break up, there is bound to be a temporary hole in your daughter’s social life. Try to help fill it by spending time together. I have found that doing out-of-the-ordinary things helps a lot. Yes, lunch and a shopping trip is fun, but we do those things on a relatively regular basis. Instead, offer to do something like go for a bike ride, take a trip to the zoo, or go on a picnic. Eventually, that hole in her social life will shrink and be filled with friends or even another boyfriend, so take advantage of the time you have together to show your daughter she is definitely worthy of love.
To read what some experts have to say about helping teens through a break up, check out these resources:
What Parents Can Do When Their Teen Has a Break Up
Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Help Your Teen Get Over a Break Up
Getting Over a Break Up