“Don’t say anything to embarrass me.”
“Why are you like that?”
“Even the way you stand makes me hate you.”
“Don’t come in with me.”
“Don’t come in for me.”
“Wait in the car.”
“OMG when you’re there don’t talk to me.”
“I hate you.”
No one can wound you like your teenage daughter
Every one of these invectives was spoken by various young teenage daughters of friends or by my own daughter during her early teen years. No, I won’t tell you which one came from my child but you can probably guess when I tell you that it was hurled at me when I had the audacity to stand next to her on a Manhattan street corner waiting for the light to change.
No one can wound like a teenage girl. Parents of daughters know what I’m talking about. We’ve all either survived it, are living it, or can see it coming for us.
I remember with embarrassment my own teenage cruelty to my mother. One incident, in particular, haunts me. My parents and I were visiting my older brother in Washington D.C. where he was a law student. My mother had twisted her ankle stepping off a curb one night and was, in retrospect, probably in a good deal of pain, a fact that went completely unnoticed by me and my teenage self-centeredness.
The next day we were due to tour the Smithsonian and my mother decided that it was just too much walking for her on the hurt ankle, so my father offered to get her a wheelchair at the customer service desk and push her around. I. Was. Mortified. Now you see, my mother was at the time quite overweight and I was sure (sure!) that people would think she was just too… fat… to walk around the museum. Just typing that sentence now horrifies me but there it is.
I spent an entire day trying to stay two exhibits away from my parents at all times, lest anyone know I was related to them. It was an episode that I promptly forgot about for decades until my mom brought it up as “that time you were so horrible to us and I spent the whole day trying not to cry.” Just as I would never forget that moment on the street corner, she had never forgotten how poorly I had treated her.
Just thinking about how I made my mother feel is devastating. Especially as I contemplate my own scars from the “raising a teenage girl” years and those sported by my friends.
We are either veterans of or soldiers in the same battle. We confide in each other, advise each other. “Don’t let her see she’s getting to you.” “Don’t let her see you cry.” We share tales of crying behind sunglasses. In our cars at stoplights. In the shower. We give each other pep talks: “Stay firm.” “You’re in charge.” “She doesn’t mean it.” “She’ll come around, just be patient.”
We lose our tempers. We feel terrible. We do it again. We console each other. We compare notes on what ages are the worst. “Oh my God, fourteen? Don’t even talk to me about fourteen.” “Fourteen wasn’t bad but fifteen was awful.” “Twelve. I barely survived twelve and then thirteen nearly killed me.”
There’s so much going on for girls during these years — carving out an identity separate from mom or dad means realizing that mom and dad are actually people — and that’s hard to grasp. A dizzying amount of freedom lies on the horizon that is both exciting and terrifying. We know it all by now.
They want boundaries, they hate boundaries. They crave guidance, they want to do it their own way. They need their moms and they 100% deny needing their moms for anything but rides and money. And let’s not underestimate the effect of hormones and the pressures of academics, friends, and the ever-present cell phones. Being a teenage girl is not for the faint of heart-let alone raising one.
You and your daughter are going to be okay
Underneath all this of course is the fact that teenage girls can also be pretty darn delightful (on their own terms of course). They can be whip-smart, funny, generous, kind, thoughtful, and caring. And too much of the time they get a bad rap, which is why, in spite of their challenges, I have tried so hard to understand and defend them.
It’s easy for me to sit back and reflect on all of this now. My daughter turned 20 this year and I felt like I should add an “I Survived a Teenage Daughter” badge to my resume. The slings and arrows of the tough years are mostly forgotten, replaced by a bond so strong it sometimes feels as though my daughter and I are the same people.
When I reminded her of this incident on the New York street corner, she was a bit horrified. She didn’t remember saying it, didn’t remember the moment ever happening. “I said that? I am so sorry!” We laugh about it now, even though I didn’t laugh about it then. I tell this story to a friend in the thick of teenage daughter life right now as a way of offering some hope that this won’t last forever. She is, at best, skeptical. And I don’t blame her.
When I was in the thick of it, it was impossible for me to envision life ‘on the other side,’ of all of this. That waiting for me would be road trips and movie dates and morning chats over coffee and long after-dinner conversations about our lives; random texts and tagging each other in memes, sharing clothes and secrets, and the last of the ice cream. That waiting for me would be my best friend.
Raising teenagers is a lonely business. Even lonelier than those nights I spent rocking an infant while I watched the darkened houses of my neighbors, knowing I was the only one on the street awake at that hour. Perhaps that’s why I try to throw my friends who are deep in the teenage girl trenches a lifeline when I can. Because I remember the relief I felt when someone would take the time to tell me I was doing a good job and she was going to turn out ok.
So if you know a parent of a teenage girl – send them some love, offer to buy them a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine!) while they commiserate. Tell them will all be ok. And if you’re a parent of a teenage girl yourself, just know that I’m sending you a “Hunger Games” salute and that you’re doing a great job.
Oh yeah, and it will all be okay.
Besides, you’re going to have some great stories on the other side.
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