My Teen Daughter Is Amazing, I Just Have No Idea Who She Is Anymore

I was looking up boarding schools that take middle schoolers last night. I was so smug before I had an actual teenager. I was sure I would let the angst roll right off me. You know what they say about plans.

My daughter is amazing. I just have no idea who she is anymore. She went from being a funny Patriot’s football jersey-wearing tomboy to a Hottie Hot 2.5” high-rise poolside junkie. For anyone with a 13-year-old girl, you will know what these are. You have shelled out $68 plus tax to keep the peace in your house for a day.

Heaven forbid I suggest the 4” shorts. I feel the internal eye roll. She is smart enough not to let me see it. But I am her mom. I can feel it.

Teen with struggles
My 14-year-old daughter is a work in progress. (@umuller via Twenty20)

My daughter is a great kid with everyone else

She has proper manners. She is a hard worker. She does well in school. She is kind and thoughtful. She cares about her friends. Anyone who runs into her comments that she looks you in the eye and says hello. She just doesn’t do this with me — unless she asks me for something, which is often these days.

The requests for Drunk Elephant, Mad Happy, and Stoney Clover Lane poured in overnight. I hope we are mostly through the (RIP Roberta) Roller Rabbit overpriced pajama phase. Mine are from Target. The rest of my wardrobe is from Costco.

My mother would not have responded to my asking for indulgences

I did not grow up with a mom that would have responded to any of these indulgences — even if she could have afforded them. She is a Depression-era baby. She washes my used Ziplocs. My husband jokes that we spend more money washing the dishes from the one bite of leftovers I find her hiding in my fridge than we save. I appreciate this about her. I am not all the different, except that I only do the Ziploc thing with gently used gallon-sized bags.

With that background, I am finding this newfound teenager-ism hard to handle. I am trying to teach her that she needs to respect our hard work and earn these things herself. She babysits; she even built keyboards for a while. But, I Guess-jeans it’s no different than when I was a kid — the Benetton rugby or the Camp Beverly Hills Sweatshirt; wanting five Swatches on your arm or an expensive mullet styled-perm if you were lucky enough to be a teen of the 80s. Acceptance as a teenager has always stemmed from blending in and looking the same; only the brand names change.

I try to remember how hard it’s always been to be a teenager

It’s not that different as an adult. Sure, in my suburban community, you may choose tennis over golf; or an SUV over a minivan (okay, I am the only one with an 11-year-old Honda Odyssey), but it’s all the same. I am internalizing this to try and remember that the world is hard; to understand where she is coming from.

I am trying to keep my mouth shut when she uses the word “preppy” to describe whatever of-the-moment-brand some influencer glorifies on TikTok. But I am finding it hard to do. I am so used to interacting with her under our pre-teenage terms — when she valued what I thought and wanted me to help her with her ponytail.

Dealing with my teen is like a break-up I never saw coming

Dealing with a new teenager feels like going through a breakup you never saw coming. My pre-teen daughter ghosted me. The lunches, cookie baking, and movie-watching. Gone. Seemingly overnight. She went from being my proverbial “best friend” to being an ex that wants nothing to do with me.

It’s a hard transition. All the things you thought you knew are totally Missy Elliot style-Work(ed) It. What’s up is down. Friends are the front, center, and only. Family dinners are a bore. Friday night dance parties are no more. TikTok is her religion, and Taylor Swift is her god.

Using words like fire and ship or preppy doesn’t mean anything listed in Webster’s Dictionary. And she doesn’t even know what a dictionary is with Alexa and Siri. She’s an unreliable narrator and an expert gas lighter at worst. She called me at 8:20 a couple of days ago to ask if I remembered to “bring the donuts to school.” I am sure she never asked me to get them…or did she….?

I still see and hear glimpses of my daughter as she was before

I know I am not selling this growing-up thing. It’s a hard sell. Little kids are so sweet because you need to believe your teenager will come back as some hybrid form of this new creature and the old one. I catch glimpses of her — when I hear her old carefree laugh playing basketball with her friends. On the rare occasion, she seeks me out to find an outfit for a party. Or borrow a fancy purse for dinner with friends.

When I break down and buy her a new pair of Jordan’s, I immediately see that old familiar smile. It’s usually worth it, even if I’m temporarily buying her love. I’ll pathetically take it.

Being a teenager is more complicated than it was when I was passing triangle-folded notes in class. Text chains, Snapchat, TikTok — the game is harder and faster. You say you will hold out and not get a phone until 8th grade, but I caved like many.

There is something to teaching your kids how to manage these adult tools while they are young enough to listen to you — even if it’s only because you pay the phone bill. My daughter has TikTok, and she mostly uses it for recipes (or so I choose to believe); she doesn’t make them with me.

But she does let me try them. She also promises to clean up the kitchen. Her version of clean and mine remain different. It’s a challenge to ‘Let It Go’ (in the plus column, spending on Disney is also gone), but I am working on it.

I am trying to get to know this new person. We have reversed roles. She is the middle schooler, but I am back to feeling like I am chasing my 7th-grade crush; it’s just that my crush is substituted by my child.

We are making progress. I am learning to navigate day by day. Some days are better than others. But, if I step back and pretend I just met her and I am not chasing her childhood self, I am impressed by her — studying so hard for finals amid a June hockey tournament, squeezing two lacrosse team schedules into learning her haftorah and becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

Mostly she still is that funny, Patriot’s jersey-wearing tomboy — I have to watch from the sidelines for now. And, watch out if I have forgotten she is now 13, and I have woken her up before 10 am. At least if she can’t get over it, I now have a list of boarding schools that take middle schoolers. Thank goodness we taught her to work hard…maybe they’ll take her. But boy, would I miss her.

More Great Reading:

14 Things Your Daughter Needs to Hear…But Maybe Not From YOU

About Alexis Gold

Alexis Gold spent more than two decades on Wall Street, where her creative writing was used to analyze companies, primarily in the retail space. Following the recent implosion of her last fund, she decided to stay at home with her small children. Her writing offers a funny and brutally honest take on what life is like for a working mom in NYC/turned unexpected stay at home suburban mom. She is a freelance writer who currently writes a column called “I’m Just Saying” for You can follow her adventures on Instagram.

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