Power Struggles: Understanding It and How To Disengage From It

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Power Struggles: Understanding It and How To Disengage From It


"A power struggle collapses when you withdraw your energy from it.  Power struggles become uninteresting to you when you change your intention from winning to learning about yourself." —Gary Zukav


Does this sound familiar—how often do you find yourself saying this?

"Do it now."

"Because I said so."

"How many times do I have to tell you?"


As a mom of a teen daughter, you try to prove to your daughter that "you are in charge," especially when you feel like your authority is being challenged.  There are two crucial developmental time frames when your teen daughter will flex her power—during her terrible two's and adolescent years.  The reason is due to self-will and the underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex area of her brain.


Power struggles are about control, who has the most control—parent or teen.  A power struggle is when you (mom) try to get your teen daughter to change a particular behavior or comply, and she is resisting.  It is a repetitive cycle.  The cycle is not about whatever the battle is over; it is about the tug-a-war between you and your teen daughter.


Moms, please make no mistake that exerting an authoritarian parenting style might seem like the way to go.  However, research shows that an authoritarian parenting style causes your teen daughter to respond in one of two ways— by complying out of fear of punishment or mouthing back, which amplifies the power struggle.


Unfortunately, power struggles are a lose-lose situation because it is no longer about what your teen daughter is or is not doing.  It is now about your teen daughter challenging your authority and you pushing back.  The longer this goes on, the longer it continues.  Just think, what is your teen daughter learning by engaging in a power struggle with you—nothing, but how can she get out of doing something she doesn't want to do.  You want her to learn to make choices that will help her develop positive decision-making skills.


Moms, you have to pick battles wisely.  It would be best to spend time deciding what is essential and insufficient, then genuinely focusing on those issues that truly need it.  For instance, how important is it if your teen daughter dye's her hair, or will it be the end of the world if she wears a specific outfit.  Many mother-daughter conflicts are not worth the time and energy.  At times, you have to let it go.  Ignore the attitude.  Agree to disagree.  By avoiding minor disagreements, you create a peaceful environment and the space for your teen daughter to approach you when significant matters arise.  However, if you are on her for every little thing—she will not come to you for anything.  Just like an argument takes two, so does a power struggle.


How to avoid power struggles?  Be realistic about who holds power—whether your teen daughter skips school, smokes, has sex, puts dirty clothes in the laundry, or takes a shower.  When you realize she has power, you will stop struggling with her for it.  Moms want to make their teen daughters behave the way they want them to, do something they want them to stop doing, or something they don't allow. Mom, you have control over your car, time, wallet, computer, cellphone, video games, and specialty foods—these are privileges that can be revoked at any time from your teen daughter.


Your teen daughter's responsibility is to change her behavior, not yours.  For instance, when you take on the onus of changing your teen daughter's behavior, she is no longer responsible.  Please be weary; you can't make anyone do anything they don't want to do, not even your teen daughter.  Why—because you can only control yourself.  You can't force your teen daughter to do her homework, wash dishes, clean her room, be honest, never lie to you, or not break the rules.  Moms, you probably have noticed that the longer you argue or try to force your teen daughter to do something, the more attitude and struggle you endure.  Nothing is accomplished when you and your teen daughter are annoyed and upset.  Teen daughters and moms enter power struggles for different reasons.  When your teen daughter engages in a power struggle, it delays her starting and completing the task.  At times, teen daughters like pushing their mom's buttons in an attempt to get out of doing things.  Moms enter power struggles intending to win.  Winning equates to the mom getting their teen daughter to do what they wanted and the teen daughter to do what she didn't want to do.


Ways to combat power struggles:

The best way to detour power struggles is to set clear expectations of what you want your teen daughter to do and link that task to a privilege—this is called the When-Then method.  So, mom, you will take a privilege that she enjoys and wants and link it to a task (when she completes the dishes, she can play video games).  It might be helpful to develop a contract that spells out the expectations and how her privileges are connected to these expectations, meaning whether she can or cannot do something.  Do you remember the famous dry antiperspirant slogan—never let them see you sweat.  It would be best if you remained calm when your teen daughter wants to pull you into a power struggle.  Issue a single warning by informing your teen daughter that she has choices—comply or lose privileges you have afforded, such as phone, computer, tv, video games, etc.  Let your teen daughter know that she has choices in life—she may not like or agree with those choices, but she has choices.  Let your teen daughter know she has to decide which is the better out of the options presented.  At this time, after you reiterated your expectations, you walk away, stay calm, and let her learn from the consequences of her choices.  She will have the power to complete or not complete the task.  If she didn't comply, you could show sympathy by saying, I'm sorry you missed out on whatever.  Please don't feel any guilt or blame; the choice was in her hands.  Again, by walking away, you don't allow her to get into an argument with you.  Ignore the pleas, begging, and remarks that she didn't hear you.  Moms, please beware that if this tactic is new, your teen daughter may take some time to adapt.  Also, your main focus is to remain consistent.  Consistency, consistency, consistency is critical.