Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who Owns My Heart?

So why are adolescent girls so likely to quickly form deep emotional relationships that border on (if they don’t just plain cross over into) enmeshment?  I’m not a psychologist but I have a theory.  What are the first relationships that our daughters form?  They bond with their parents and if they have siblings, they also form a bond with their brothers and/or sisters.  My theory is that our daughters will pattern non-family relationships on what they have observed in their previous relationships, with their family members.  Girls tend to be interested in personal relationships, though each girl’s personality will make a difference.  Some daughters will be naturally shy, but when they do form connections they seem to follow this same jump into family-style relationships.

These bonds with immediate family are extremely transparent; we know what their worst moods look like, and we encourage them to share almost every thought or feeling with us.  I have talked to many moms who have experienced post-bed-time confessions where their young child comes down to confess something they did or didn’t do.  The guilt of hiding something from us drives them to climb out of bed and lay bare their soul to us before they can find the peace to sleep.  Oh, that we would treat our heavenly Father with such love and awe. 

Our daughters’ first relational bonds are also…time consuming.  We live together.  We eat together.  We sleep in the same house and often siblings share a room.  A school-age girl spends a great deal of her day with the same classmates.  Again, we see a pattern of spending the better part of a day with the people we have the closest relationships with.  I remember a time long, long ago when my middle child thought that when I used the pronoun “I” (as in, “I will go the store.”) it included her.  It was interesting to see the shift in her very young speech as she became her own person separate from mom.  Our daughters also observe that mom and dad (their introduction to male-female relationships) live together and spend a lot of time together.  Admittedly, in today’s culture busy evening activities or divorce might have lessened this to some extent.  It is only natural that when our daughters begin to forge relationships with boys they pattern after what they have observed.  I wish that I could say I spent as much time with God as I do with my husband and children.

Lastly, our daughters’ first relationships with family are centered on deep emotional bonds.  I would be willing to bet that most days our daughters will be better behaved with their friends’ moms then they will be with us.  Our daughters may not recognize it, but they feel safer making mistakes around us.  The safety of our love is their first taste of grace.  Sometimes our young daughters will question our love for them when we are angry at them.  Our reassurance of unconditional love creates that deep connection that sustains our daughters’ innate desire for relationship.  This parent/daughter bond is powerful even in cases where there is abuse or a distant parent involved.  Just ask any woman who did not have a good relationship with one or both of her parents how that has effected her current relationships.  Our daughters will be quick to shape their new relationships with girl or boy friends after this same model of deep love and trust.  Imagine if we could trust in God’s love for us as much as our daughters trust in our love for them.

None of my children have been very shy and that has certainly put us in some interesting situations.  I have heard my young daughters exclaim they had a new best friend after one hour of play at the park.  They are older now, but not really any less quick to give their hearts away to a new friend, boy or girl.  Have you ever had a discussion with your daughter about why they didn’t need to share [insert private family matter here] with the grocery store clerk?  These conversations start at a pretty young age, but they need to continue as our daughters are older.  We generally don’t sit around with our daughters and their peers at school or while they are just hanging out with a pal, so we might not hear how much they are sharing.  It pays to discuss with our daughters the difference between family relationships and friends, just like you would speak to them about not talking to strangers; especially in this age of technology when texting and IM’ing make new friends just a click away.

The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.    Proverbs 15:7

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.    Proverbs 16:23

He who fears the LORD, has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.    Proverbs 14:26


  1. Tamara, that is a great point about how different types of relationship require different levels of disclosure. Obviously we want our children to be able to open up on a deep level emotionally when appropriate. But we also want them to guard their hearts and not share too much too soon. It may be hard for them to discern what's appropriate when -- interesting to think about how we can guide them in this matter.

  2. Oh, to trust in God like she trusts me. This is an encouragement to renew my trust in His unconditional love for me. What would that do for my relaionship with her? I can only imagine the deepenIng that would happen. Thank you for reminding me!

  3. I love how you said: "Our daughters may not recognize it, but they feel safer making mistakes around us. The safety of our love is their first taste of grace." I often fault myself for being a different person when I am with my husband and daughters versus other people in my life. My husband has often said, "why do we get the leftovers?" Now I think I understand why I am this way. My family is safe. They allow my mistakes and still love me. They show me grace.