I am Afraid of my Twelve-Year-Old Daughter

There, I said it. It occurred to me yesterday that this is what that feeling is, but it took a while to say it. I tried to couch it in different terms like “intimidated” or “nervous,” but it turns out I’m afraid of her.

She isn’t violent or mean, physically abusive or bullying in any way. And even if she were, she’s petite, so I could totally take her.
She is … well, certain.
Fiercely independent.
This child taught herself to walk. Bit by bit, methodically and with a decided refusal of assistance from any other human being, she pulled herself to standing, shimmied along the couch on her own, practiced standing in the middle of the room to catch her balance. For days she seemed on the verge of walking, but made certain she could do it without incident by standing and clapping one day, standing and waving her arms another. It is the same when I’m in a yoga class working on eagle pose, starting with the arms and then lifting one leg to wrap around the other. Once I’ve got that steady, I center myself and lift my gaze molecule by molecule to ensure I won’t fall. Eve did that with walking. Two weeks after she had begun standing and perfecting her balance, she took a few steps. She practiced sitting down slowly so she wouldn’t topple over. She never fell. She was not one of those toddlers you see with bruises on her face and arms because she was overconfident. She didn’t have that drunken gait most eighteen-month-olds do. She took it slowly, step by step on her own and worked it out.
She also potty-trained herself and refused all offers of help. When she was learning to read, she was adamant about not letting me look at the book with her. We had to sit cross-legged on the floor, facing each other so that I could only see the cover of the book and she read out loud to me if I was lucky.
The day she noticed that the neighbor kids all rode their bikes without training wheels, she banished me to the house after asking me to remove hers. She put her helmet on, pushed her bike out to the cul-de-sac, and fought that thing for 30 minutes. I know because I was hiding under the living room window stealing glances every once in a while. She fell, got up and tried again. I knew enough to not go outside and offer assistance. Even then I was afraid. Not that she would get hurt, but that she would be angry with me. From the day she was born, Eve has known somewhere deep in her soul that asking for help means she can’t do something herself. That she isn’t capable. God I hope I didn’t somehow instill that in to her DNA. That’s what I was taught by my parents. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
She did it. And the entire neighborhood heard about it when she began whooping with joy as she rode that tiny bicycle back and forth like it was Seabiscuit in the Kentucky Derby. The smile on her face was absolutely the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Pure pride. Joy of accomplishment. Triumph.
And so we come to middle school. Where she struggles to convince Bubba and me that she is an adult. She can handle it. She understands more sophisticated inside jokes now and reads more adult books and is certain she knows how to deal with anything that comes her way. But she isn’t. She’s twelve. And offering to help her with anything is throwing down the gauntlet. It infuriates her despite the fact that I spend hours crafting my speeches to her in order to not make her feel ‘stupid’ or ‘juvenile.’ Trying to tell her that I am here to support her in any way she deems fit, not show her how superior my intellect or experience is. It doesn’t matter. She’s not buying it.
I have set up a cozy place in the kitchen for her to do homework while I cook dinner. Bought scented candles to light while she does it. Offered to put on any music she likes and ban Lola and her boundless energy from the room so we can have a peaceful place to work together. None of it works. She prefers to head straight up to her room and blast Taylor Swift and reappear fifteen minutes later to announce, “I’m done. Can I play on the computer now?” Occasionally, she will admit she is struggling with a particular assignment and, in the same breath, say that she’ll save it and ask the teacher the following day at lunch. Rather than have me sit with her for five minutes to figure it out.
And therein lies the rub. I want her to feel successful. I want her to know that there are many people in her life that she can reach out to. But I want one of them to be me. And it isn’t. And that hurts. And I wish I could say that this is a tween-girl phase, but it isn’t. Eve has always been fiercely independent and stubbornly refused my assistance. I have been rebuffed so many times I am afraid to offer, but I know that this isn’t about me and my feelings. There are times when I am the only person available to her and she is only twelve. We have to find a way to work together without anger or resentment, but I’ll be darned if I know how to do that.
I suppose if I’m being ‘enlightened’ about all of this, the first step is admitting that I’m afraid of her. Okay, did that. Now what?
10 replies
  1. Carrie Wilson Link
    Carrie Wilson Link says:

    Now you work on letting go and letting Eve. I'll let you know when I master that one. Got a ways to go. First born daughters are ass-kickers.

  2. Kelly @ Ahimsa Mama
    Kelly @ Ahimsa Mama says:

    Your daughter sounds a lot like me when I was her age! LOL If it's any consolation…after we were done having ten years' worth of knock-down, drag-out fights, we get along great now! My mom wasn't as enlightened as you seem to be so maybe the transition period won't be as bad for you two!

  3. Tania
    Tania says:


    Beautiful post, thank you for admitting your fears. I can't believe the intense nature of the mother daughter entanglement…beautiful on good days, ferocious on bad, and some days when the sun comes up I am praying to be be strong enough to withstand what the day might bring between us. No doubt about the love and it has stretched me to grow…and I knew exactly what you meant with your title. Bless you for sharing. I'm not alone.

    B. WHITTINGTON says:

    Beautiful post and deeply thought out.]
    Good luck! I had three daughters all needing me in different degrees. It hurts not to be needed. There will come a time, when she's hurt and someone has disappointed her that she will come to you. Be ready. Not overly so. Just have your arms open and your mouth closed.
    Trust me on this.
    AND blessings to you both!

  5. Sandi
    Sandi says:

    I could have written this post. Only, it was my youngest who wouldn't let me near, refused my help, and by high school was screaming that she hated me and wished some awful things. I cried a ton, prayed continuously, and finally, when I was broken to bits, I let go of wanting to have her want to be around me. I was so sad and depressed.

    Somehow, I honestly don't know what it was, she started letting me into her life, little by little, when she was a senior. But it still wasn't comfortable. I felt like she was "acting".

    When we moved her to college, I was childless for the first time in 34 years, and I was relieved, something I never expected. (I sobbed for weeks when her sister went to college two years before!)

    During that first year, I was pleasantly surprised when she actually told me that she appreciated her parents, and was very grateful for our support, but also for letting her make her own mistakes (she made a few big ones early in high school!) and learn from them.

    Today, we are really close friends, something I would never have expected to happen three or four years ago.

    You are a wonderful mom. Your writing demonstrates that over and over. Your daughter needs to have her own space, and she will love you forever for giving her the space she needs.

  6. Kaitlyn S. C Hatch
    Kaitlyn S. C Hatch says:

    As a fiercely independent and stubborn child myself I can tell you honestly that she does need you – just not to hold her hand. I completely appreciate and love my parents for giving me space, time and independence. I love them for letting me learn things for myself. And ultimately, the things I've learned have stuck that much better because they weren't a dictation on how I was supposed to act or think.

    You've shown her that she needs to you to show her how to be herself – her own vibrant independent individual self.

    Congratulations. The world needs more parents like you.

  7. ankhseojhal
    ankhseojhal says:

    I have the same experience with my son. Sometimes he accepted our help as parents but sometimes refused bluntly. It took very long time to wait patiently and now he is a grown up man lives with his wife and son. Many of his life's important decision were taken by his own and I think now he himself is responsible for all them. But now sometimes he makes an occasional call to ask some help in any untoward situation and gives us unexpected pleasure and takes our sweet prayers. You are also a loving mother, be patient and do not get dejected. A time will come when she will come to you.

  8. Alicia D
    Alicia D says:

    Wow, she sounds incredible. this girl is going to be a "force" as a woman. in a good way. but i can totally understand how it must feel for you too. mb it will be flip flopped. i mean, you know how little girls need their mommys and grow into women who don't? well, mb right now your daughter feels it is a sign of weakness in some unconscious way, but as she matures and grows she may retain all the cool things about being fiercely independent but have the maturity to know how to let others she loves and love her back "in."

    thats the hard part in life. The waiting to see how it all unfolds…

  9. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready says:

    Dear Kari,
    Having never been a mother, I suspect I do not fully appreciate the depth of your feelings, Kari. The words "I'm afraid" seem not quite right–to me–after reading your post. It's more like "I'm hurt" by the fact that she doesn't seem to need you when you'd like to be there for her through all of life's vicissitudes.

    But if you say "I'm afraid," then I accept that's what you are and all I can say, after teaching girls for many years is that they are strange and mysterious creatures who end up surprising us all.


  10. graceonline
    graceonline says:

    For a minute there I thought you were describing my oldest daughter. To a T. Everything exactly the same. Funny thing is, to this day my own mother rails about what an independent cuss I was, and how she could never me tell me anything. Not! A! Thing! That's how she says it, her face angry.

    It never occurred to me she might be afraid of me, although she has told me plenty of times she was afraid for me. But perhaps she was.

    My children are in their 30s and 40s and I still have to watch what I say, plan it carefully, and I recognize the signs now.

    When I was young, my mother-in-law treated me just as gingerly. We don't realize when we are young how very difficult we make communication with the people who love us most.

    I refuse to give up trying though. And I know that my children love that they are cherished deeply. They have children of their own now. They're experiencing all the things I experienced. Sometimes we laugh about the difficulties of communicating with our respective children!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *