Laura Sessions Stepp’s parents divorced when she was a child. She lived with her father, whom she remembers as being very strict. By contrast, her mother was lenient. “I went between those two parenting styles for years,” Stepp says. Now a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Washington Post, Stepp compiled in-depth interviews with families of adolescents for her new book, Our Last Best Shot: Guiding our Children Through Early Adolescence (Riverhead Books, 2000).
Her World Falls Apart
“Chandler, one of the girls I interviewed for my book, had always been a sweet, obedient child. But by the time she was 14, her parents’ marriage was disintegrating. Buffeted by her parents’ arguing, Chandler felt her world falling apart. She started going out with rough boys and refusing to let her parents know where she was. Her mother, Tracy, was at a loss about how to cope. The dissolution of her marriage had unraveled her energy. Chandler’s behavior was eroding Tracy’s self-confidence as a parent. ‘These kids have been my life,’ she said about Chandler and her sister. But by the time I interviewed them, Chandler couldn’t even say ‘I love you’ to her mother. Tracy could get the words out, but barely.”
A Chorus of Voices
“During adolescence, a girl is asking who she is and what she has to offer the world. At this time, she needs a chorus of voices telling her the rules and directing her to reach her potential. If the two main voices—her parents’—are arguing, that chorus disappears. Like Chandler, a girl in this situation often becomes confused, angry and frightened. She’s likely to act out those feelings.
“If you are a parent going through a divorce, you’re probably facing one of the hardest challenges of your life. You may be aware that your daughter’s foundations are crumbling. But you also may be struggling just to keep your own head above water. That’s how Tracy felt when, pushed to her limits and feeling deserted both by her husband and by the girl Chandler used to be, she said, ‘I don’t even want to be a parent anymore.’ If you’ve felt that way, you’re not alone.
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