I am to be a wall of strength for my teen daughter, according to this amazing piece of advice in a well-circulated Huff Post blog several months ago. The "Be a Wall" movement stems from the fact that being a teenaged girl sucks almost as much as trying to figure out how to raise one.
Teens rage because they experience copious amounts of pressure, both real and perceived. When they rage, we parents need to suppress our knee-jerk emotional responses of anger and hurt, remaining calm and sympathetic instead. We need to be steadfast in our unwavering love and support, even if it means we bite our tongues so hard they bleed.
We must recognize that their yelling and swearing and stomping is not really directed at us, it’s just life in general. Being a wall of strength and security for them gives them one thing in their life that they can rely on. It gives them the stability to deal with all the other crap.
I shared this article with my husband. He appreciated the sentiments so much that now we use that phrase, "Be the wall," in whispers when we see the other sinking into the fury and frustration caused by our brilliant and beautiful daughter’s transformation into that hormonal teenaged monster that darkens our days from time to time.
"Be the wall," he says with an ironic look on his face as my daughter snarls at me because I dared to ask her how she did on her Chem test.
Just yesterday, I made the rookie mistake of saying, “Good morning. How are you today?” to my 15-year-old. This kindness caused instantaneous eye rolls and a snotty head toss accompanied with the tight reply, “Fine.” She stomped away and didn't speak to me again. My husband was not around so I chanted to myself, "Be the wall."
I often hear or recite this line as I make many mistakes, like telling her she looks “cute in that top” or I am “proud of her A+ grade average” or that maybe she should “wear pants and not underwear to school.” (Okay, I get that one, but leggings are not pants and anything with a cotton crotch is underwear. Just saying.)
Be the wall.
Today, when I inquired why she randomly shouted a profane exclamation (because I was genuinely concerned), she muttered under her breath, “Shut up.” This is one of those moments when my "Be the wall" mentality crumbles. Rather than being a wall, I kind of want to push her into one.
In those moments, I imagine myself being a decrepit, ancient wall that cannot handle the weight of her need, her displaced anger, and her frustration. I crumble and then disintegrate, inadvertently crushing her.
When this happens, I look to my husband to be the mason, like a super hero who wears painter's pants and a canvas ball cap with a trowel in one hand and a chisel in the other. (Maybe instead of changing into his superhero clothes in a phone booth he pops into a cement mixer.)
When I explode into a million hurt, angry, incensed, confused, and loving shards that smother my daughter in her emotionally-irrational state, he must swoop in with his magic bonding agent and rebuild our egos and mend our fractured feelings. He must use his words to smooth us over and make us whole and strong. I cannot afford to be condemned because, as much as I want to crush her snotty attitude, I must be there to protect and shield her from the hurts of the world until she is ready to be her own wall.
My mason is a hero with many talents. Sometimes it's as simple as him changing the subject. Sometimes he defends me. Sometimes he reminds me to consider that she's tired or hormonal. Sometimes he just removes one of us from the moment. Sometimes I need to whisper to my mason-hero that I want to crush her and we laugh as we chant in unison, "Be the wall."
My daughter is amazing. I just want to love her, talk to her, know her, help her, and comfort her. At times, it feels like she wants to cling to me and, as she grips and claws at my aging and weakening frame, I try to shore myself up, knowing that she's not trying to hurt me, she’s just trying to keep herself together.
I remember being her age. I remember wanting a wall and not having one. The circumstances of my parents’ divorce necessitated that I be my own wall or to rely on my equally-broken friends to be my walls.
I want my daughter to know that I'm here for her, that I love her, that I am proud of her, and that I'm excited for all the possibilities her future holds. The older she gets, the more she opens up to me, and the more she seems to recognize and appreciate my support.
Perhaps we're not going to be so fragile too much longer. Maybe I have patched my crumbling wall well enough that I can withstand her immense need. She is clinging to me less often. She has found her own strength and relies on it more and more.
Mothers and daughters have complicated relationships. I envy my husband’s relationship with my daughter. Maybe I understand her emotions too much. Maybe I know how hard it is to be a girl growing into a woman. Maybe I expect too much of her too soon. I want to have the simple, light-hearted, bantering relationship she has with her dad, but it's too hard for me to let up and let go. The door to independence is getting too close too fast.
Is she ready? Did I teach her enough? Can I be sure she won’t cling to the wrong walls, the ones covered in poison ivy, if I'm not available when I let her walk through the gateway to adulthood?
Just like when she climbed her first tree or sat on the edge of a wall that guards hikers from the precipice, my body tingles with fear and worry. In those moments, I was right there ready and able to pull her out and drag her to safety or catch her if she fell. I won’t be there at college or at her first job or when she moves into her first apartment. The gravity of my duty to let her go weighs heavily on me. I'm glad my husband is my wall and my mason because, in a few years, I'll need both.