Parenting During The Narcissistic Years Through The Back Door

Several years ago, we wrote a book called The Back Door to Your Teen's Heart. The "back door" is our parenting philosophy for Narcissistic-age kids. Why the back door? Because the front door simply doesn't work with teenagers.

To the degree that kids can predict you, they will dismiss you. Any parent of a girl between twelve and fifteen has felt dis-missed—by either a look, a grunt, or a "whatever." To come in the front door often earns an immediate dismissal.

A fifteen-year-old recently told us about a father-daughter conference she attended. Halfway through the conference, the speaker told the fathers to turn toward their daughters. They were to look their daughters in the eyes and say, "You are beautiful."

You can imagine this young girl's reaction. "It was so stupid. Not only did I feel dumb, but my dad didn't even mean it. They told him to say it."

This was a front-door approach. A back-door approach might be something more like, "Honey, your mom's birthday is coming up. You have such great style. I would love for you to help me choose some clothes for her."

The back door invites your teenager to relationship, rather than commanding it. It is unpredictable. If you pick your daughter up from school and ask her how her day was, you already know the answer you are going to get—"Fine"—and she knows you are going to ask the question.

Instead, ask her something different. Ask her what the cafeteria served for lunch, or ask her if she could go anywhere in the world right then, where would she go and why? And you can always ask about her friends—not in a way that makes her think you are trying to get information, but in a way that lets her know you genuinely care about them. "You said Sally just found out her mom has cancer. How was she today?" Be unpredictable. She is much more likely to participate in a conversation when you relate to her in a way she doesn't expect.

The back door takes a little more creativity but gives you a better chance to connect without being dismissed. A great back-door approach is to talk with your daughter while doing something else. We often have the best talks with kids at this age sitting on the dock at camp or on the pontoon boat. Make cookies with your daughter. Watch one of her favorite movies. Play basketball with her and engage her in conversation while you're shooting. A fourteen-year-old recently told us that her favorite things her parents do are "drive, shop, and love." The driving and shopping are also back-door type activities.

Girls in these twelve-to-fifteen years are narcissistic. They are awkward and unsure of themselves—which really makes them unsure of everything else. This is often especially true of their relationship with us. It's not cool as a fourteen-year-old to be close to your mom, but, as we sneak around and come in the back door, they are caught off guard. They are often talking to us without even realizing it. They are relating and allowing us to drive, shop, and love them through these Narcissistic Years.

CHAPTER 5

Autonomous Years:

In all of women's descriptions (of themselves), identity is defined in a context of relationship and judged by a standard of responsibility and care.

Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice

One of my (Sissy's) strongest memories of my junior year in high school was with my friend Tracey. We were both privileged to be a part of a group of nine girls who were fun, kind, and very serious about our faith. We would pray together often and were committed to doing the "right things" — that is, not doing the "wrong things" — like drinking, smoking, and so on. We were what you would consider "good girls." And, much like the quote above by Carol Gilligan, our identities had much to do with relationship and what we believed to be—and not to be—our responsibilities.

I remember one afternoon when Tracey and I decided to go together to a Christian bookstore. We spent a long time browsing through the books and music and finally bought a Twila Paris CD. I remember sitting in Tracey's car that afternoon being very moved by a song called The Warrior is a Child. Then Tracey and I prayed together. It was an intense spiritual and relational experience with a dear friend.

The catch was that this took place at about 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon, which is significant primarily because, as Tracey and I

sobbed over Twila in the car, our names were being called in the roll for chemistry class.

We had skipped class to go to the Christian bookstore and pray together. What kind of irony is that? It is just the kind of irony that girls in their Autonomous Years live in the midst of.

We took ourselves very seriously. We believed we had the freedom to do as we chose. The rules didn't necessarily apply to us— because we were doing something "right." We were finding our own voices—who we were, what we believed in. Not to mention the fact that what we were doing carried with it a little of an edgy thrill because it really was skipping class. We never even realized the hypocrisy of our situation.

From sixteen to nineteen, girls are becoming more autonomous. As our friend Pace said, "Wheels make all the difference." Those wheels take your daughter farther away from home and toward a far-off land—a land where she is able to make her own choices and become her own person, and that person, even in these years, is continuing to develop physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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