My Teenage Daughter Said I'm Untrustworthy. WTF?
October 18, 2009 1:01 PM   Subscribe

How do I cope with my angry teenage daughter? After an somewhat nonsensical rant about how hard her life is (I wanted to chat with her about applying to colleges and how the process was going), she dropped the bomb that she doesn't trust me and therefore doesn't have to talk to me.

As briefly as I can make it: I'm a single mom, and she's 17 and the eldest of 3 (and 16 year old sister and 11 year old brother as well). Her dad left 6 years ago and lives down the street with his gf and her kids (same ages as mine). Yeah, this has caused serious pain and she and other daughter don't see Dad at all.

Over the years I've tried to get her to talk to a therapist but you know how it is: if she doesn't want to talk, there's no point. So no more of that. She's always been a reticent kid, not prone to being dramatic.

Of note is a few years ago she did try cutting herself; she immediately agreed to talk to someone and within a few weeks truly seemed all sorted out.

In the past few years, she's found a part time job she loves in the veterinary field, got her license (I bought her a used car), and bought a retired race horse. By all accounts, we see less of her but she's pretty happy. School is not her #1 priority, she doesn't want to be a veterinarian and is planning to go to college to learn to be a vet tech assistant.

So far, so good.

So today I asked her how the process was going, asking if she wanted help or anything, and she just went kind of nuts. Her rant ultimately included that she doesn't want to talk to me ever because she doesn't trust me.

I was pretty calm and said that must be a pretty miserable feeling (she agreed) and asked if she could explain what incidents she was referring to because if anything, it was a pretty big thing to say without giving someone a chance to understand.

She refused, continued with her "I have no reason to ever trust you," etc. and told me to leave her alone.

So I did, but now I'm sitting here just wondering, WTF do I do about this?

I have NO IDEA what she's talking about. I honestly cannot recall ever saying one thing and doing another or anything like that.

posted by dzaz to Human Relations (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Maybe you should try to forget about it for a few days and ask her later exactly what she meant by that.

Is it possible she just didn't feel like talking about it - or is feeling really overwhelmed by the the process - and said whatever she could to change the subject/stop you from talking to her right then?

If I'm at all right, next time you ask her about the (stressful!) application process, you could try framing it in a "what can I do to help you achieve this" way.

Sorry to hear about this, but try not to take her hurtful comments 100% personally...easier said than done.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 1:08 PM on October 18, 2009

A lot of the time, with something like this, you're just a safe target. She doesn't mean a quarter of what she says. It's just that she knows you won't react really badly, because you love her. Give her a night's sleep, and ask her about it tomorrow when she's had a chance to calm down. Chances are, she didn't give you an example because there aren't any. She had the perfect chance there and then to list all the reasons she doesn't trust you. If she didn't take it, I'll bet it's because she can't.

Wait until she's simmered down, and then ask her again. It's difficult to have a rational, sensible discussion when tempers are flying high.
posted by Solomon at 1:08 PM on October 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

Did you talk to a friend of yours about her, which was then repeated until it got back to her somehow?

Did you use her computer and she's interpreting it as you checking up on her?

Is your ex badmouthing you, and maybe she's hearing about it somehow, and believing it?

Lots of things can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as a reason not to trust someone.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:09 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a case of being 17 years old.
posted by xingcat at 1:12 PM on October 18, 2009 [11 favorites]

Good advice in the first couple of comments. She's going through serious growing pains, so as hard as it may be, you have to let this roll off your back until her true, lasting emotions make themselves known. You have to master the fine art of Not Taking it Personally.

I'm actually really impressed that she used those words when talking to you. I never would have been brave enough to tell my parents that I didn't trust them, or that THAT was why I didn't tell them anything. She may be blunt and tactless about letting you know, but she is struggling to express some really complicated feelings, and more than anything you should be profoundly grateful that you have the kind of relationship that allows for this.

Just keep doing the best you can. Don't pick at the issue, don't force her to explain herself, don't back away in fear. Just maintain your presence and your support and let her decide what comes next.
posted by hermitosis at 1:15 PM on October 18, 2009

Hate to mention this, but is there any chance she knows about this metafilter account where you've previously asked for advice about her/her life plans?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Um, yep, seventeen, and mom is a safe target to let loose on.

Let it go.

One of mine would NEVER EVER talk to me about her future plans when she was in high school. From hindsight it was angst as she was trying to figure it all out herself -she was and still is quite independent. We have a great relationship now that she is an adult, and we talk freely about most things, so I'm pretty certain I can reassure you this is just a passing season of life. It's okay for you to tell her these sorts of things hurt your feelings but at this age they don't really grok that a parent is also a human being.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2009

My guess is that someone has poisoned the well here, or your daughter has picked up something she's taken way out of context or having an issue with she doesn't know how to manage.

It could be anything from she knows (or thinks she knows) you're having it off with an old friend every other Tuesday afternoon to her dad told her you smoked pot in high school or... whatever. But I would leave it for a few days and then tell her if there's anything she wants to ask or confront you about, you'll be honest with her.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

The process of applying to colleges is incredibly tedious and frustrating. When my mother asks about it, no matter how little she's done to provoke it, I have this tendency to lash out at her because I have nowhere else to channel the stress that college applications causes me.

I don't see this situation as something to worry about yet. It's normal adolescent behavior.
posted by apophenia at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

On preview: Yup, if she saw that thread, that's probably it. As harmless as we would see that as adults, if I had written that about that particular child of mine, she'd have gone all agent orange on me. Not all teens would care, but some do, and quite a lot.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:20 PM on October 18, 2009

Heh. My mom and I used to have those fights (mostly in the year before I went to college). We always had a good relationship when I wasn't bursting into tears and yelling that she clearly hated me, but it sounds like you and your daughter have a good relationship otherwise too... it was always a stress reaction with me, sometimes hormones were involved but not always (and it certainly never improved our arguments for her to ask if I was getting my period). Finally my mother started just laughing and saying "I think it'll be good for us both when you go away to college," because there at least the daily stress of being so close to independence but being officially dependent would go away. I don't remember how she phrased it but I never took it as an insult, just as saying that it'd be nice when we could have a relationship free from the stress of living together.

"I don't have any reason to trust you" doesn't have to mean trust your honesty - it can just mean that she doesn't trust you to respect her judgment, or that she thinks you "meddle" too much. It can even just mean that she's been hearing horror stories from her friends about parental interference and doesn't have any affirmative reason to trust you not to do that - not any reason to mistrust you, but no reason to laugh and say "oh, my mother would NEVER do anything like that!"
posted by Lady Li at 1:26 PM on October 18, 2009

Oh, one thing I forgot. With all three of my children, that last year of high school was a pain in the butt. They were ready to scoot and I was ready to scoot them. I think it's just a natural thing that helps make it easier to let them leave the nest.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:29 PM on October 18, 2009

Response by poster: Her seeing my college questions thread is highly unlikely (I'd never say impossible). We have our own computers, mine is always password protected, she doesn't know the password, so I truly doubt that.

It could be that I'm safe, it could definitely be that her dad said something about not giving her $ for college (which he recently told me), it could be her dad said something about me, it could be something else.

She was just so MEAN. Weird.
posted by dzaz at 1:32 PM on October 18, 2009

Her seeing my college questions thread is highly unlikely (I'd never say impossible). We have our own computers, mine is always password protected, she doesn't know the password, so I truly doubt that.

If you use this same username anywhere she knows about, or if it's linked to any of the accounts (or you use the same username on any other accounts) that are googleable with your full name, it wouldn't be at all hard for her to find the post. I speak as an adept and frequent googler.

While I agree that teenagers can sometimes be irrational, this sounds specific and out-of-character enough that I'd bet my druthers that there's a reason for it. I'd lie low for a few days, then calmly ask again if there's some specific reason why she feels she can't trust you, and ask her what you can do about it.

She might also really really want to be left alone about applying to colleges. It's a stressful process, and it sounds like you've been very involved with it. As someone who decided to take a semester off during high school, I can remember how terrified I was to tell my mother that--if she's feeling reluctant, or considering options she might think you wouldn't agree with, she might need some space to decide, for herself, what the right thing to do is.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:50 PM on October 18, 2009

Teenagers can be mean. I recall saying some things I instantly regretted, but I was still so emotionally worked up and unable to articulate my thoughts clearly ("I'm frustrated by X, because of Y" rather than "I hate you!")--not to mention proud/embarrassed by my emotions and hormones getting the better of me.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:51 PM on October 18, 2009

Teenage girls are mean sometimes. And it sucks to say, but she probably knows she CAN be mean to you sometimes and despite that you will still be there to love her/take care of her. Just by being supportive - like you seem to already be doing! - and continuing to try to make this dialogue work, you are likely helping her. If she can't see that now, she will in the long run.

Teenagers in general are often irrational and sometimes hate their parents for no real reason, or at tell themselves/others that they do. I say this as someone who left the teen years only very recently, so my perspective may be biased.
posted by hepta at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2009

Take a couple of days and let her cool off. I'm sure you want to go all into mom overdrive right now, but approach this as her friend who cares about her -- no lectures about being mean or anything else really. Tell her you're hurt that she feels she can't trust you and that you'd like to know what you can do to fix things with her. Try to stay as calm as possible; if YOU start getting overtly angry or upset, she is probably just going to do the same in response.

She's 17, this could be ANYTHING ranging from dad made her think poorly of you to overwhelmed by the whole college process (scary at any age!!) to something totally unrelated and your inquiries were just the straw that broke the camel's back.

Key here is to put your relationship as her mom on hold for a few minutes and try to relate to her as an adult who probably just needs someone to listen to her without judging for a little while. Don't try to fix anything but the supposed trust issues if she can manage to list anything in that area. Save everything else for another time. Once you move past this weird trust thing, clarify that you aren't nagging her about college (you aren't, right?) and emphasize that you just want to help her in whatever way she could use assistance.
posted by asciident at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

What PhoBWanKenobi said. MeFi user pages shouldn't show up in search engines, but it's not that hard to find your MeFi posts by knowing you name and that you hang out on MeFi.

Also, what everyone else says about being a teenager and teenager/parent relations. You'll sort this out. Just give it time.
posted by effbot at 2:12 PM on October 18, 2009

Teenage girls hate their mothers. There's probably nothing you did, and there's probably nothing you can do.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2009

My thought is that it's "mom is asking me about stressful application which I don't want to talk about, saying that and she'll just keep pressing, need big distraction now!"

++ about letting her calm down and check in with her (gently) later.
posted by titanium_geek at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the possibility of her having found out about the AskMe questions. And, just as a side note, if the name on your profile page is your real name, you might seriously want to consider asking questions with very personal information about your daughter (such as her cutting herself) anonymously, or removing the name from the profile. Even though it doesn't show up in Google, it's still just a couple of clicks away for anyone to see, and I know that I personally wouldn't really appreciate having a family member share confidential information about me online with real names involved. I don't mean to sound too hard on you, but it may cause your daughter real anxiety about her loss of privacy if she finds out or already has found out. It would be ok if it concerned just you, but she may have a different idea about how much of her personal life she wishes to share with the world.

Other than that, it can be anything, really. Sounds like pretty normal teenage behaviour to me. Try to talk to her when things have calmed down a little bit.
posted by Jelly at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was pretty calm and said that must be a pretty miserable feeling (she agreed) and asked if she could explain what incidents she was referring to because if anything, it was a pretty big thing to say without giving someone a chance to understand.

This is pretty awesome parenting, btw.

I vote for combination of the usual suspects: it's a tough age emotionally with the insane girl-hormones, you're a safe target, she may be blowing something out of proportion. Give a few days to cool off and try again.
posted by desuetude at 3:16 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel fairly confident that if it was the MeFi thread or any other specific incident, she would have told you. Perhaps "told you" is the wrong term; "thrown it in your face" is likely more accurate.

Here's the thing: teenagers are shits, just like two year olds are. And I say that as the parent of a child who just turned three, and as someone who was a righteously shitty teenager her own self. But they are shits for *the same reasons*; they are balancing the desire for independence with fear of failure, and experiencing the conflicts of imperfect knowledge and uncertain futures.

Your daughter isn't lying, and she isn't blowing anything out of proportion. She is reacting to a life-altering crisis of identity called "growing up." She can't trust you because she doesn't know if she can trust anybody, and she's coming to the jarring realization that you're a human being instead of some kind of Ur-Parent. Just like ice melting on a lake in the spring, these events cause horrible cracks in the psyche and terrible noises that can scare the bejeezus out of anyone, and since you are safe and she knows you will always love her, you are the first target.

Don't belittle her concerns, or blow them off. They are real and profound. But also, know that they have very little to do with you and your objective actions; these are largely concerns that are internal to her, that are taking place with her own relationship to the universe. There's nothing, sadly, that you can do to fix it except to let her know that you love her and you want her to be happy and safe.
posted by KathrynT at 3:27 PM on October 18, 2009 [10 favorites]

Best answer: There was a lot of push-pull between my divorced parents when my brother and I hit college age. For my brother and I, college would have provided the escape we desperately needed from all of our Family Drama. Let's just say forces conspired against us in that endeavor, k?

I just clicked on PhoBWanKenobi's link to get the background. Noted.

Like everyone above who advises you to leave it for a few days, I agree.

I just want to add that this is probably an awful time for your daughter.

Just imagine it from her perspective..... Being told that one parent (dad) absolutely will not contribute to your college education is demoralizing. Plus, all that other Drama. And then there are the various "roles" she's been playing out, roles I'm sure she would like to re-define or drop entirely -- because isn't that the definition of "Growing-Up"? When you become an Adult, you get decide who and what you are instead of conforming to the ideas of your parents, teachers, or the bully in first period. Instead, she's been informed she will have to live at home for the next 2 years and basically continue High School - i.e. the same life she's been living.

Laid out this way, I'm sure you can agree her life actually is very difficult. I have no doubt she would sound "nonsensical" laying it all out for you. It's difficult for an adult to voice appropriately.

I imagine most of your daughter's peers are looking forward to moving out and moving on with their lives after graduation. Is the instability in resources maybe part of the equation here? Maybe she would like to have a plan, but she just can't trust things from one day to the next? And by "things" I mean... dad's financial contribution to his actual family, pain she copes with living down the block from dad and his new family, maybe she would prefer an environment without siblings competing for (or avoiding - teenagers;) mom's attentions ... do you know now what I mean by "things" that might be a bit wobbly in her view? Some of it is probably normal teenage stuff, but other stuff is fairly unique to her. But, you know, it all factors in.

I guess what I'm saying is that there is probably an overt trigger for the outburst, but I'm willing to bet it is the Bigger Picture that is most overwhelming.

No suggestions. Just (maybe?) providing a little insight.

posted by jbenben at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far.

Yes, I'm anonymous. No, my name here's not my real name and I don't use it elsewhere. So that's probably not it.
posted by dzaz at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2009

Mod note: comments removed - instabanhammer for someone pulling real names into a thread where they haven't been used. don't do that. thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

dzaz, considering all of the factors, this incident isn't a big deal and her behavior is perfectly normal for a healthy kid of her age.

She's already lost her father and thinking about college is a reminder that she's getting older and closer to moving on and away from you.

I would try to remain a strong and somewhat stoic figure that she can rely on without fear of retribution for her acting out. As she's evolving you should try to evolve too, in your relationship with her. Treat her like a fellow adult and maybe ask if she wants to go get a latte or something sometime.

Nothing I have ever done as a parent has been very different from teaching my kids how to walk. Guide and back away.

Best of luck to you and your kids, you guys sound very cool.
posted by snsranch at 4:25 PM on October 18, 2009

Not to harp on this, but your question about your daughter could show up as the result of searches that she might enter as she researches her educational options. For example, your question is the second result in Google if your daughter enters the search term I entered, which seeks to determine whether the transfer program discussed in your question applies to the type of animal-health degree she might be interested in (hemming and hawing here to avoid attracting Google even more).

When I was 17, if I had discovered that my parent was discussing me on a forum, I wouldn't tell the parent, because I would want to keep checking what they were saying without them knowing. But then I was a sneaky kid.
posted by PatoPata at 4:57 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

P.S. By "your question about your daughter" I meant the previous question about colleges.
posted by PatoPata at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2009

What happens to the horse when she goes to school? Maybe she's worried about having to sell her horse and, for teenage reasons, doesn't know how to bring that up.

Also, if dad doesn't plan to help pay for school, maybe she's super bitter about that and, again, unable to find a way to discuss this with you.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:38 PM on October 18, 2009

Response by poster: Not to harp on this, but your question about your daughter could show up as the result of searches that she might enter as she researches her educational options.

Could be.
posted by dzaz at 5:50 PM on October 18, 2009

Best answer: My thought is that it's "mom is asking me about stressful application which I don't want to talk about, saying that and she'll just keep pressing, need big distraction now!"

Wow, hi me-26-years-ago, it's been awhile!

I was famous for using accusations that had no merit in order to distract my parents from poking around in my life. If I told them I couldn't trust them, then they would be more diligent about NOT poking around and finding out that I was a) hiding clove cigarettes under my mattress, b) close to failing Trig that first senior semester, or c) changing my mind about my college major or even going to college in general because I was so freaked out by it which was going to make them even more disappointed in me because OMG I couldn't do anything right and I hated my life GAH!

Being a teenager sucks. And being a parent who loves a teenager has to suck a bit more, I imagine. Already, I'm dreading the first day that my 3 year old slams a door in my face.

Definitely let it go for a few days. I wonder if opening up a conversation about 2 or 3 of the options she has would be helpful at that point. Or saying something unsolicited where you don't expect a response. Something like, "You know, daughter, I don't know for sure, but I'm going to guess that trying to decide what you want to do after high school and how you're going to make it happen is pretty stressful. I just want you to know that, whether you decide to go to college and be a vet tech or whether you think you'd rather take a year off and be a ranch hand, I will do everything that is humanly possible to help you make that happen. Including sitting down with you and figuring out when, where, and how it will get paid for. Period. Just wanted you to know that I've got your back." And then walk away.

I think that would have blown my mind when I was a teenager. YMMV.
posted by jeanmari at 6:29 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think that would have blown my mind when I was a teenager.

Let me clarify that this would have blown my mind BUT I would have never let you know that it had blown my mind until 10-12 years later when we were sitting around having a glass of wine after Thanksgiving dinner and I was feeling relatively at peace with my life. I would have never let you know it had blown my mind when I was 17. Nope. I would have covered that all up with my famous scowl and eye roll.

Just so we're clear.
posted by jeanmari at 7:05 PM on October 18, 2009 [7 favorites]

When I was an angry teenager with divorced parents, I remember quite frequently my mother and I getting caught in this space of: I am too stressed/overwhelmed to deal with X issue right now (college, for instance), when you try and talk to me about college, it stresses me out more, then I get angry, then dealing with college gets harder, rinse, repeat. I just wanted to be left alone and trusted to deal with it on my own, instead of being bothered about it.

Questions about what my plans were for dealing with college were pretty infuriating because, while trying to be helpful, she kept coming up with schools and scholarships I should apply to & pressuring me about it, despite the fact that I knew these schools were a terrible fit for me, and all of this just added to the stress of the situation, leading to lashing out and more arguments.

And I had a deep-rooted anger at being pressured to achieve, academically, because it felt like my mother wouldn't accept me the way I was, that I was only good enough if I kept getting A's. Which I did, and it took me many years and a very expensive and painful graduate school burnout to realize that I actually hate school and don't care about A's and academic prestige, at all.

I don't know whether this sounds familiar or helpful. But, for smart, socially awkward, sardonic type of people especially girls, high school tends to suck. Going away to a big state school might look like spending two more years with the same annoying people who you were trying to stay away from in high school. My opinion on college choices is.. she can change her mind and do a lot of things over, she can switch schools, she can do two years and then transfer to a more prestigious school, she can quit, she can retake classes, the biggest factor that is going to follow you around and limit your future options is DEBT. If you were looking at borrowing $40K/year for undergrad like a lot of people do, I would stress about that. Otherwise, why not do community college if it is affordable, and see how it goes? You don't have to have everything all mapped out four years down the road. One step at a time.
posted by citron at 7:44 PM on October 18, 2009

I agree with others that the "trust" isn't about honesty / truthfulness. The "trust" is that your daughter doesn't trust your discretion in handling information about her personal / private life. At 17, she has likely a lot of sensitive personal private life stuff that she can't trust anybody with. For instance, if you tell your office friend about a pimple your daughter had, it's equivalent to broadcasting the most embarrassing fact about her to the entire world. Not that you've done this, or would do this, but she's happy to keep these types of personal decisions (that have of personal emotions attached) to herself.

There are just 2 categories of teenagers out there: (1) teenagers who don't trust their parents and tell them, and (2) teenagers who don't trust their parents but do tell them.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:18 AM on October 19, 2009

Nthing the "mom is asking me about stressful application which I don't want to talk about, say that and she'll just keep pressing, need big distraction now!" idea, because I've been there too. She's 17, it comes with the territory.
posted by Xany at 3:34 AM on October 19, 2009

"I don't have any reason to trust you" doesn't have to mean trust your honesty

Possibly she may mean that, since you're from a different generation and at a different point in your career or life, she can't trust your recommendations on how to handle college applications.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:53 AM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: I do feel better.

I sat her down this morning and gave her the talk about whatever it takes, whatever she wants, I'm there. I told her that I could find money under rocks and break legs of admissions officers. Anything. If she wants help, I may be able to do something but if she'd prefer I stayed out, I trust her decisions.

She then said she had to go to the grocery store after school and wanted to know if I wanted anything. I said a Dora the Explorer coloring book and Phish Food ice cream, she started smirking. I came home from work and the coloring book was on the dining room table with the first page all colored in and a smiley face on top saying, "Look in the freezer." And there was the ice cream.

So I think we're good.

Thanks to all.
posted by dzaz at 1:36 PM on October 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

Dzaz, that's awesome. You have a very special relationship with your daughter.
posted by KathrynT at 8:49 PM on October 21, 2009

« Older Where can I find a printable copy of Nike's "If...   |   Need a solution to keep my sisters feet warm in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.