‘Beautiful the way you are’: The challenges of mothering an adolescent daughter

Carly Gibbs

Weekend writer

Mothers hitting midlife can find their daughters’ pubescent changes ‘triggering’ as they worry about their ability to role model body positivity at a time of change in their own lives. Ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday, body empowerment coach for mums and tweens Mariana Sala shares tips for a healthy bond.

Mothers rarely reveal their insecurities to their growing children.

However, as adolescents transition into a new phase of life, so do mums hitting midlife.

Mariana Sala, a Bay of Plenty body empowerment coach for women and adolescent girls, says that some mums have lost confidence as role models because of society’s ideals around beauty.

“Mums struggle with body image, and their girls are starting to step into that world as well,” she says. “With friendships, they want to fit in, and if they don’t look like the girls on social media, it can leave them feeling insecure.”

A daughter’s worry about her physical appearance can be “triggering” for a midlife mother (35-55) as she grapples with similar issues due to aging, perimenopause and menopause.

“They are both growing,” Sala says of the parallel shift.

Mariana Sala and her daughter Eva. Photo / Alex Cairns
Mariana Sala and her daughter Eva. Photo / Alex Cairns

The 43-year-old from Argentina will launch an eight-week pilot programme called Tween to Teen Goddess: Discovering your Superpowers this term at Pāpāmoa’s Tahatai Coast School. She will work with Year 4-6 girls on body empowerment through a tween avatar she created called Skylar. If the programme succeeds, she hopes to expand its reach.

Skylar, who is described as a brave explorer, nature lover, confidant, and “deeply connected to herself and the world around her”, teaches girls aged 8-12 how to tap into their eight superpowers: their growing body, feeling heart, thinking brain, social sparkle, super mind, creative spirit, inner light, and community unity.

Tween personal development coaching is already prominent in the United States, and in New Zealand, the need is growing, with puberty hitting as young as 8.

Tahatai Coast principal Matt Skilton was keen to offer Sala’s programme, saying social pressures on tween girls present earlier every year, especially with online social media forums.

He says that strengthening physical and emotional confidence is essential, and Sala’s programme aims to address the challenges tweens face instead of waiting until it is too late.

Sala says that girls knowing who they are before they hit college helps with puberty positivity, including periods.

She has two children, including a daughter, Eva, 8, to whom she delivers these messages. Eva has asked for a “boob cake” when she reaches puberty.

“They are like sponges at this age. She will tell me, ‘Mum, you’re beautiful the way you are’. This is a window of opportunity before they close the door.”

Sala's tween avatar she created called Skylar. Image / Supplied
Sala's tween avatar she created called Skylar. Image / Supplied

Not life’s purpose to be at ‘war’ with our body

Outside of school, she works individually with mums who want to “reclaim” who they are, or they can learn alongside others in free monthly masterclasses. She also works with mums and daughters together.

She takes a holistic approach, focusing on intellect and potential. Worrying about the physical body separates females from their real purpose, and social media can distract mums from being the role models they want to be.

She gives the example of the pressure to get Botox and fillers. Celebrities like Pamela Andeson, who promote being okay with skipping makeup and being unfiltered, help, but there is still a “war” between women who agree and don’t.

She says you can’t get rid of social media but can “turn down the volume” by being mindful of the accounts you follow.

“Your body is going to change all through your life. Let’s celebrate that rather than trying to manipulate it.”

Social media can distract mums from being the role models they want to be. Photo / Alex Cairns
Social media can distract mums from being the role models they want to be. Photo / Alex Cairns

Adriana Litchfield is one mum working hard to model healthy messages to her daughter Sofia.

“I see in myself a lot of stuff that I don’t want to transfer to my daughter,” she says, explaining that she hasn’t had a good relationship with food until recently, which is hereditary.

In addition to therapy, the 43-year-old worked with Sala one-on-one to be more comfortable in her skin and prepare for her only child’s tween years, which are still a few years away.

She has learned that body image is much more than weight or shape, to nourish and appreciate that and that “growing Sofia’s character is my priority”. She’s written a children’s book, The Little Girl With Big Feet, which celebrates diversity and self-love.

Parallels between puberty and menopause

Dr Linda Dear of Tauranga’s The Menodoctor Menopause Clinic says it’s normal for midlife changes to cause or reignite body insecurities.

Research shows that the average weight gain from midlife onwards is at least 0.5kg per year—and for many women, more.

In the Menodoctor Survey NZ, of which 4000 Kiwi women participated, weight gain was the third most common symptom of perimenopause and menopause. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents said it negatively impacted their body image.

Perimenopause begins anywhere from the late 30s to mid-40s and is marked by fluctuating hormones and a raft of challenging mental and physical symptoms.

Her advice is for women to try to be kind to themselves.

“Our bodies are going through an amazing but also stressful change.”

Feeling better means focusing on nurturing the body instead of judging it. When chatting to your daughter about what you’re experiencing, Dear says to be honest. “There has been too much taboo and silence around menopause, including within families.

“Sharing what’s happening and how you can relate to your daughter’s feelings can bring you closer together,” she says. “It’s amazing how many parallels there are between puberty and menopause.

“Mums and daughters can face these challenges together as a team and be a support for each other.”

Tips for connection

Compassion: Show compassion towards your daughter as she navigates the transition from childhood to young womanhood. These times can be both exciting and daunting for her. Remember also to extend compassion towards yourself; it’s okay to make mistakes as you learn to navigate this new phase of motherhood.

Connection: Connection is key. Start by connecting with yourself and your community. You don’t have to go through this alone. Then, prioritise connecting with your daughter. Be present and give her your undivided attention. Validate her feelings and let her know you believe in her and are always there for her.

Courage: Be courageous to show up authentically and vulnerably in front of your daughter. This creates a space of trust and ease. Remember, we are all imperfectly perfect. By embracing your imperfections, you give your daughter the freedom to be herself without needing to change or fix anything.

Source: Mariana Sala

Mariana Sala runs free Mums Clarity and Breakthrough sessions, her Tween to Teen Goddess programme, and Healing Hearts for mums and daughters. For more information, visit @mariana_sala_coach or phone 021 265 2671.

Carly Gibbs is a weekend magazine writer for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post and has been a journalist for two decades. She is a former news and feature writer, for which she’s been both an award finalist and winner.