Navigating parenthood is hard. Navigating the mind of a teenage girl is impossible. Just forget it. It will cause you much hand-wringing and drinking if you think too hard on it. Instead, watch Lifetime movies with her.
All summer long, Emma and I have made it a weekly habit to watch a Lifetime movie together up in my room while hanging out on my bed. Some have been, let’s say, interesting; the one when the teacher seduced the student, killed him and framed his girlfriend for it. That was kind of entertaining. But there was one that I actually think was incredibly powerful and useful. It was about a teenage girl and her abusive boyfriend. I think it was called Reviving Ophelia. Now, I’m not here to promote the Lifetime network or anything. I’m here to share with you how I hope and pray my daughter never has a domineering, abusive boyfriend, and if she does, how she will have the tools to get the hell out of that relationship.
I’m so glad we watched this movie together. We talked about the choices the characters made, the feelings they must have felt, and hypothesized how we would react.
I’ve never had a boyfriend that hit me. But I did have a boyfriend that I think bordered on abusive. Watching this movie made me realize those things. I was 15 when I started to date. Well, dating isn’t very accurate. That makes it sound like different boys were asking me out and taking me to the movies and out for french fries and milk shakes. No, when I was 15, I went on my first ever date and then didn’t date again until 1 year and a half later because he became my serious boyfriend for that entire time. I didn’t know any better. I was flattered. He showered me with flowers and stuffed animals. He called me gorgeous and beautiful. No one had done that before. So when I got the attention, I stayed with the source of the attention, at whatever cost.
Things that I realize were not healthy- he dominated my time. I never saw any of my friends that summer. It was hard to hang out after school with any friends once the school year started. I went from any afternoon activities straight to seeing him. Not my homework, family, or friends like I should have. When I was late, he got mad. We didn’t have cell phones then, but if we did, he would probably have texted me constantly. We went to different schools. He would show up at my school on campus to ‘surprise’ me. Sure he’d bring a balloon or flowers. But I think back now, maybe he was checking up on me.
It really is hard to tread that line of devotion and flattery to just plain stalking and obsession. Whenever I would try to explain to him I needed space, he would pout and make me feel bad. As if I was the only reason for him to live. Of course, this is a heavy burden on a young teenage girl, so I would just stay with him because that was so much easier than trying to explain to him I wanted to spend my time elsewhere. Ugh. That sounds horrible, but now I realize I did do that.
The good news- I know what to look for when Emma starts to date. I found a wonderful husband in James. Sure I was in my 20s and knew a thing or two, but he respected my boundaries, my friends, my life outside of ‘us’.
What was startling about the movie, after the boyfriend, Mark, hit the girl- Elizabeth, SHE apologized to HIM. She was sorry for making him angry enough to hit her. After her parents forbid her to see him, she pretended to break up with him and then saw him behind their backs. I know. It seems crazy. But she loved him. She did. And anyone that has been in an abusive relationship knows that there’s much more to it than just leaving the guy because he hits you.
Emma was baffled. Which anyone would be that hadn’t been through that, right?
If any of this strikes a chord with you or your daughter- check out these sources for help or guidance. Pay attention to the signs. Don’t make your daughter or yourself, feel guilty or stupid for being in a relationship like this. You are not the one at fault here.
Use the strategies professionals use to guide people away from the toxic situations and taking ownership for their own feelings, instead of banning, grounding, or forbidding any contact with the abuser. It’s easier said than done, but without the right steps and self-realization, the cycle will continue. I’m not an expert, I watched one movie, I had one situation with a boyfriend of the past, but there’s so many resources out there for help. Don’t ignore the signs. Seek help.