As I Parent My Daughter, I Can Feel Everything About Being a Teen All Over Again

My 15-year-old, Nora, was recently in a musical produced by a local community theater program. It was funny, and sweet and mildly irreverent, and the schedule leading up to the show dates was increasingly busy. When it was over there was the expected letdown although, to be honest with you, Nora does really well with letdown.

It’s like she was born with the ability to experience peace, to succumb to a deserved state of rest, without all the emotions that get in the way of fully enjoying it. The sadness or regret or wondering what’s coming. I’m not saying she doesn’t feel those things at all, but she’s much better at navigating transitions like these than I am.

Mother and daughter
It’s hard not to insert myself into my daughter’s life. (Photo credit: Cara McDonough)

My daughter is better at navigating transitions than I ever was

After the last performance and the cast party, she and a few fellow cast members went to see yet another show at a high school a couple towns away. I drove her and a friend, listening to them chatter about the previous few days, laughing over photos they’d taken, texting others who’d be meeting them there.

I remained contentedly quiet, hands on the wheel, eyes on the directions. It’s like an observational tower, really, the front seat of a minivan. 

The part of parenting I can’t get over at this juncture is remembering exactly how it felt to be Nora’s age-exactly how-and not mentioning it every other second. Holding myself back, at least for the most part, from uttering that truth, which would undoubtedly be met with quick dismissal, total disbelief. Letting her moments take their own shape.

It’s so hard not to foist my knowledge on my daughter

What I can’t get over is how hard it is not to foist my current or former emotions, my wants and my know-how on her unique experience, as though the teen-now-adult me knows better, because lord knows, I do not. I don’t know better, I just know. And teenagers, the thing about them is that they don’t think anybody does. I realize this because I have and was one. The latter, it seems like yesterday, I swear.  

It’s what makes that age so glorious and terrifying, I think. That feeling of being the first person to experience a particular feeling ever is what makes the friendships so intense, and the heartbreak so unbearable. It’s what makes the fun next-level. 

I can feel that next level fun still, can pull it so easily from the depths. The time my friends and I tore the silly poems we’d been writing for each other all year from our lockers and submitted them to our high school’s literary magazine five minutes before their deadline. The time we got the cartilage of our ears pierced, all together, all giddy and on display in the middle of the mall (I removed my earring days later; it hurt when I slept on it and I was a complete wimp in the presence of that relatively minor pain).

Sleepovers, laughter, late, late-night meetups at the diner. So much running. So much urgency. There’s plenty of urgency in my grown-up life as a parent and a professional. Not the same, though, not the same in the slightest.

I think about how invisible my parents were to me when I was 15

When I dropped Nora and her friend off for that show, they tumbled out of the car and said goodbye, but otherwise, as they scouted the scene for friends, made last minute calls, I was invisible. As it should be. I think about this all the time these days.

How present, loving and sometimes invisible my parents were to me when I was Nora’s age. Not in a negative way. Not that they weren’t there, every step of the way, when I needed them. But that they let the harmless teenage glory be. They let me have it. 

And driving home, some deep emotional trench opened up. Not the kind where you’re longing or clinging or sad. But like I could feel that part of my life again, and be grateful for it, full stop. Like I could be both ok with and deeply moved by it, having had it. Witnessing it again now. It’s so rare, that feeling. A deep alright-ness with the ways of this world, of your world, where you don’t want it different.

I’m now just in charge of logistics

I let that feeling carry me home, where I’d soon be summoned to deliver or pick a child up from another location. Them lost in the singularity of their days, me contentedly tethered to the logistics that make it possible. 

I am probably right in guessing, considering the usual patterns of our family life, that Taylor Swift was playing in the car, the ultimate soundtrack for days gone by tied to these days now. I settled into the comforting role of chauffeur, keeper of many secrets, like the fact that I, too, was once very young. 

More Great Reading:

At 15 I Hold Onto the Boy but Also the Emerging Young Man

About Cara McDonough

Cara McDonough lives in Connecticut with her scientist husband and three children. Her work has appeared in many outlets including  The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Hartford Courant and others, and she publishes regularly on her blog, She enjoys writing about the ordinary moments in life best, connecting with readers over the mundane yet moving experiences we all share.

Read more posts by Cara

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