Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Mother-Daughter Group: A Survival Strategy

It all went dark. The curtain came down and the trap door opened dropping us into a veritable abyss of absolute craziness. The first semester of high school. After homeschooling for six years.

My very last post here reveled in the bliss of being child-free for the day and the milestone of having a freshman in high school. Having a high schooler is momentous in and of itself because it's hard for me to believe that I am old enough to have a kid in high school. Brings new meaning to the old adage, "The days are long, but the years fly by".

Those memories of myself in high school feel like almost yesterday. Vivid. Real. Touchable. Yet, they are in essence so very far away. My husband and I always freak at the thought that our daughter is closer to the age that we were when we met each other in college than we are to that very same age. It's a little weird.

I really felt like crying those first two weeks of adjusting to Horsegirl being in high school. It wasn't because she was away. Although, that was rather strange. The Bee and I did feel a little sad and adrift at the change. Mainly, it was that I felt overwhelmed with the paperwork of signing forms acknowledging that I had received and read each teacher's syllabus. And figuring out the teacher websites. The running back and forth to Staples for the very specific items each teacher wanted Horsegirl to have for that class.

Figuring out the homework assignments and adjusting to a grueling schedule was a little overwhelming for Horsegirl. And for me. And for the Entrepeneur. Really, for the whole household. Everything turned upside down. Frantic seems to be a good word to sum it up.

And that's just summing up the actual schoolwork adjustment. Another level of angst was added by the sheer level of human suffering occurring within some of the student body at the school. Second week in began with a suicide of a girl at another school who was close friends with the crowd Horsegirl was hanging out with. Then weeks later another school friend was committed to the UCLA psychiatric unit for suicidal feelings. In general, there seemed to be a lot of medicated kids. And kids with struggles.

I kind of felt like we had been living in an alternative universe for years and we were suddenly dropped in the midst of a place I didn't really understand. I went to a Catholic high school where if you put one toe out of line you were picking up trash in the quad. A private school has the power to kick a student out if they misbehave. So hearing stories about how a girl in class wastes class time arguing with the science teacher about not turning in her cell phone after inappropriate use, making a big scene and finally getting sent to the deans office or about another offender who calls the teacher a "bitch" to her face stuns me into silence. I simply cannot comprehend.

Since we are not in the financial realm to send Horsegirl to a private school here in Los Angeles, we console ourselves with the idea that as a loving and strong family, our daughter is protected from many of these negative factors. We pat ourselves on the back for our wonderful parenting. One really should never do that too soon.

Because then we discover that Horsegirl herself was struggling with adolescent issues which brought with it a new wave of frenetic coping to the family. I hope at one time to be able to write about these when they resolve (now is not the appropriate time), but in the meantime just open to the first chapter in Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and you'll get an idea of what life is like in my world.

You know, I read that book when my girls were really little. Took me while to get to it to -- not a real heart warmer, you know? I think I believed I could avoid the painful part of this phase by doing "everything right" earlier on. But, adolescence snuck up on me.

I don't really feel prepared for this phase: the high school, the life stage of my daughter, her challenges, my challenges, looming independence, dealing with the cold, cruel world -- one's confidence starts to plummet. I am much better at mothering babies, toddlers and younger kids -- I did feel confident. Now I sometimes feel like I am walking through a land with grenades hiding all through it. Small chance of getting through unscathed as an explosion of some sort is more than likely to be set off any point; I'm just trying keep damage to a minimum. As we move through this minefield of adolescence, the mission is keeping whole selves as intact as possible.

A life-saving device? The Mother-Daughter Group. Horsegirl and I belong to a Mother-Daughter Group based on the book The Mother-Daughter Project. The subtitle continues as, "How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds and Thrive Through Adolescence". We began this group shortly before our daughters were ten and have been meeting for a little over five years now. Which, honestly, is an amazing commitment here in Los Angeles, the land of flakes.

Our group was starting to fall apart a little bit due to scheduling conflicts and the distance we live from each other -- the challenge of trying to bypass L.A. traffic and of finding a convergent time with all the scheduled activities was sometimes like trying to solve an intricate math problem. My concern about Horsegirl galvanized me to seek support from the other mothers of this group (okay, I basically begged that we continue for my own sanity and Horsegirl's sake) and we renewed a focused commitment to our group this year.

We began our year with a mother/mother meeting. Talking together we realized that our girls were challenged by similar feelings all expressed in different ways. Being in the supportive presence of these other women really bolstered me (although the menopause discussion left me a little concerned for my future). Seeking support is a definite weakness for me. I will suffer silently -- not always a great strength.

We decided that we had certain topics that we wanted to cover, but also felt that one thing our girls really needed during this anxious time was some extra TLC at home. Our other plan of action this year is to do fun activities together as a group which means a little more effort on our part (we're tired, you know?). But we felt that we need to set an example of positive and healthy good times. So far, so good.

Our Mother-Daughter Group gives us the chance to talk with our daughters about subjects that might not come up otherwise. As a group, we mothers we can broach issues that might feel embarrassing or taboo in a one-on-one setting. There is definitely strength in numbers. And our daughters have the opportunity to openly discuss issues on their minds. And hear responses in a supportive environment. As the girls have matured, we have had many in-depth discussions that I really don't think would have happened without this group.

I remember a mother who dropped out of the group stating that discussions were happening organically with her nine-year-old and that she didn't need a group. I can honestly say now that once your kid is a teenager, there aren't too many "organic" discussions of this nature. Teenagers are often secretive and developing their independence -- having a a formal group to discuss certain issues and topics is enormously helpful.

I am now on my second Mother-Daughter Group with the Bee (so I have two ongoing, different groups -- yes, my schedule is quite, uh, full. Thankfully I only have two kids). The difference between the two groups is readily apparent. The new group is a full of fresh, enthusiastic moms with their first group and they have lots of energy and project ideas (and then there is me -- believe me, I need their freshness!). My first group was the same way in the beginning. Now we are a little more tired. Life happens.

But, I am committed to both groups with whatever energy I can spare. A Mother-Daughter Group has so many benefits, some you may not even see until the time is right. If you have a daughter, I encourage you to read the book The Mother-Daughter Project and create a group in your own community. It's never too late to start a group, but it's easier when your daughter is in the open and enthusiastic ages between 7 and 10 years old. Creating a supportive community is beneficial to mom and beneficial to daughter.

Driving with Horsegirl to our monthly Mother-Daughter meetings, I will, of course, sometimes hear her teenage grumbling and complaining. Heck, I think it's a teenage developmental requirement. But in the end, my adolescent daughter knows we are committed to this group. Through my commitment to our M/D group, my commitment to her during this strange and trying journey of growing up becomes loud and clear. She is worth it.