Sharing music saved my relationship with teenagers

it starts with ACCIDENT.At the suggestion of a friend, I sent my 15 year old Bell and Sebastian Song “If You Feel Sinister”.

“Cool song,” she texted back. “I like it.” It’s only five words, but it’s the most she’s deliberately communicated to me in months.

Over the past few years, my once feisty daughter has grown sullen, with anger and resentment swirling around her. There appear to be several factors contributing to this. Covid-19 has undoubtedly played a major role in her darkness, depriving her of high school graduation, prom, and the busy social life that fostered her outgoing personality. But her friends also suffered, I don’t know anyone who hid in their room and stopped talking to their parents. Somehow, I became the enemy, and nothing seemed to bridge the widening gap between us.

We have been a team for many years. A single mom, in the mother-daughter relationship, I have been relying on her and she has been relying on me. But everything has changed.

“I’m trying to understand you,” I told her one day, being careful not to make eye contact with her.

“I just don’t want you to know me anymore,” she replied. “I don’t even know myself!”

She was right, of course. If she doesn’t know herself, how can I possibly know her? I am well aware that our unusual intimacy is actually part of the problem. She needs to leave me, but how can she do that when I’m trying to prop her up? We need a new way to connect.

Hours after her texting, I could hear Belle and Sebastian playing on a loop, and she came out of the room to sit down for lunch with her sister and me for the first time in weeks. I tried to interact with her and asked a few probing questions: How is her science project going, and where is her best friend going to camp this summer? It soon became clear that I was mistaken. She rushed back to her room, slamming the door behind her.

As a psychologist, I communicate in words—I feel that communicating through music is beyond my depth. So, I called my friend Shannon Lorraine, a former musician for the Seattle band Witholders.

‘Try this,’ she says, ”on a sea plane’, author Neutral Milk Hotel. But when she expresses interest, don’t get too excited. Cool play. “

I sent the song to my daughter and resisted the urge to follow up with words. This time, she came out of the room for a few hours. I called Shannon and told her, “I think you’re a snake charmer. Tell me what to do next.”

She continued to recommend songs, and the cloud around us gradually dissipated a little. But words remain elusive.

Eventually, Shannon ran out of recommendation letters. For a while, I let Spotify take over, offering songs from bands I’d never heard of: postal service, francoise hardy, Beirut. But if I wanted to have a relationship with my daughter, I realized I couldn’t rely on algorithms, so I started making my own suggestions: steve wonder, the Beatles, Jonny Mitchell, cureand my favorite as a kid—Malvina Reynolds. These are little snippets of my past that I hope words can’t seem to connect us.

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