Sil and Eliza Reynolds on the Best-Kept Countercultural Secret of Mothering and Daughtering | Field Notes | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Sil and Eliza Reynolds on the Best-Kept Countercultural Secret of Mothering and Daughtering 

To Have a Heart

Last Updated: 01/12/2020 4:07 am

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Battleground No More
Any sideline observer can espouse the importance of harnessing all that raw energy. Spending time with Eliza and Sil, however, it's obvious that their insight is truly hard won. They clearly have a real relationship (when we met they were on their way to get haircuts, and then to the city for "meetings"), and they don't gloss over the terrifying dangers of growing up, or of mothering. Sil writes, "I caused my mother anguish on a regular basis, I am sorry to say, and she watched helplessly as I pushed her away," and when we talked, she made it clear that this battleground was serious and painful, and led her to the same hand-wringing anxiety many of us feel about raising girls.

Eliza shared details with me about her much older high school boyfriend, and her need for privacy, and the ways she found her mother's rules frustrating. While Sil and Eliza had their share of conflicts, their basic connection remained intact. One of the barriers to this kind of stability through the teen years is the entirely reasonable but perhaps unhelpful tendency for mothers to resist the changes the relationship must move through. Daughters do need to take risks, individuate, explore their identities—and then there are all those hormones. However, mothers make a mistake when the take their daughter's "attitude" personally, get defensive, and distance themselves. Daughters, for their part, shut down and even feel deserted, though they probably won't say that. It is natural, as we know, for teenagers to test boundaries. What Sil and Eliza suggest is that mothers (dads, too, but that is a different story) need to stand firm, respectfully, and not abandon their post as parents. And this is the main thing, and the hardest thing. Sil writes, "Eliza's adolescence forced me to face my own unfinished adolescence and to actually grow up, so that I could be the adult she needed in our relationship." Right.

Tips from Sil & Eliza
Doesn't it all make so much sense, and sound so good? As every parent knows, talk is cheap, especially when it comes to raising kids. And so I asked Sil and Eliza to help me see how this all plays out in real time, and they gave me some great tips, some of which I have already begun enlisting.

Instead of punishing, grounding, etc., bring your daughter closer. As Eliza suggests: "If your daughter makes a big mistake, tell her, okay, that was bad. We're going camping for the weekend."

Start early with establishing Auntie connections. Sil says, "By the time Eliza was three I was creating what Gordon Neufeld calls an 'attachment village,' giving Eliza lots of chances to develop real relationships with other adults who I trusted."

Be flexible. When Eliza says, "Sometimes I was annoyed that we didn't have juice or sugar, but I got used to it," Sil pipes in and adds, "but we did have some treats in the house—I wasn't too rigid about it," and Eliza agrees. Apparently, Sil's flexibility worked, as Eliza now eats according to her childhood "restraints," and, contrary to popular belief, never "rebelled" against them.

Don't give in to the pervading suspicion of so-called "hovering," or "helicopter parenting." Sil and Eliza agree: "Teenage girls need their moms!"

Directness is not always best. Instead of overwhelming your girl with questions like "How's it going with your friends?" you might get better results by holding your tongue and asking, as Sil suggested, "Hey, do you want a cup of tea?"

Satisfied that I had gathered the gist of what Sil and Eliza were telling me, we started wrapping up. We all felt like we could have sat and chatted for hours, but they had things to do, people to see, and I had my own day ahead. Just as I was about to shift my orientation toward my own to-do list, I felt overwhelmed by an avalanche of questions, like, What do you do when your girl refuses to do this, or that, or the other thing? What then? What do you do when your consequences, even the camping trip, just don't touch her? What happens then? I pleaded with Sil.

The proverbial cool mom, she firmly, but gently told me, "You have to have her heart," she said, "from the beginning."

"Wow," I said, "but isn't that selfish, or pushy, or narcissistic, or something?"

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