When We're In Public, Pretend You Don't Know Me: Surviving Your Daughter's Adolescence so You Don't Look like an Idiot and She Still Talks to You
By Susan Borowitz, Ava Siegler, M.D.
Who Will You Be?
Not long ago I witnessed a stressful moment for a young mother who seemed almost desperate when laced with the horrific reality of her adorable four-year-old someday growing up.
She was in a bookstore cheerfully buying a stack of books to read to her daughter-obviously a favorite activity for both of them. When she mentioned to the cashier that they were both excited about starting the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, the cashier, an older mom, praised her and shared her pleasant experiences of reading to her own daughter when she was a cherub: "I read to her until she was nine," Cashier Mom said, ruefully adding, ''and then she thought she was too cool for it."
I could see fear gripping Pooh Mom as her face turned ashen. "I am really not looking forward to that time, when she gets too cool for me and won't let me hug or kiss her," she said. This woman, I thought, who cherishes the special time she spends with her little girl so much, what course will she choose when she does become-and she will in fact become-uncool in her daughter's eyes?
We who have cherubs-all of us-must make a choice when our babies first roll their eyes at us in disgust. Some women choose to ignore the fact that teenage attitude and separation are both part of a necessary stage of life. I call them the Clueless Moms. They deal with the problem of their daughters growing up by forcing the girls to share their own view of the world-that they have a loving relationship and that nothing as irritating as teen rebellion is going to shake it. Mom will always be Mom: Daughter will always be her little girl. They give their kids zero control over their own lives and are usually overprotective.
Best Bud Mom
Other women manage the threat of losing such a warm and chummy relationship by continuing the warm and chummy relationship into the teen years. These are the Best Bud Moms, and they deal with their daughters' growing independence by forcing themselves into their adolescents' views of the world. If Daughter is going to have a new teenage life. Mom's coming along. And since they're friends, anything goes-no limits! Best Bud Moms give their kids total (and premature) control over their own lives.
An Uncool Mom recognizes that she and her daughter are two separate individuals with two distinct lives. She is warmly supportive and active in setting limits, but knows where to draw the line. Her job is to bring up her child to be a happy, healthy, and productive member of society, and she thinks the best way is to let her grow into the role of adult-to take control of her life bit by bit-which means that Mom has a lot of painful letting go to do.
To help me navigate this rough terrain, I use one indispensable tool: remembering my own adolescence and how important and difficult those years were to me, the teen, as well as to my own mother.
A Declaration of Independence
I recall one of my earliest attempts at teen rebellion. My mother, to whom I had been extremely close as a young child, was annoying me in a way that only mothers can annoy their adolescent girls: She was being my mother.
Of course there were times when she would do much more active things that mortified me and therefore I hated, such as humming while washing the dishes, or standing with her left knee cocked, forcing her left foot en pointe behind her, or sometimes making a high-pitched whistle when she breathed through her nostrils-all of it was torture. But this was worse: She was asking me about my day at school.
I was tired of being the dependent little kid who came home to Mommy after school. I really wanted to spread my thirteen-year-old wings and show her I didn't need her anymore and that it was high time she got off my back. How dare she ask me about my day? Who did she think I was-her child? It suddenly struck me that this was as good a time as any to be a smart-mouth.
"Face it. Mom. You're obsolete," I said.
I had recently learned the word from a series of kitchen counter-top commercials. I forget the actual product, but whatever it was, "it made Formica obsolete." Like any good seventh-grader, I looked up the word. And like any good student, I knew that I just had to use it three times and it would be mine. One down; two to go.
Mom didn't see it coming. She thought we were having fun just as we always had-me with my afternoon snack, her with her questions that I now viewed as interrogation. Fun, and then shock. "You're obsolete." It hit her smack between the eyes, and the impact seemed to bring an incipient tear. Uh-oh. Did I do that?
"C'mon, Mom, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it," I called out to her as she left the room. I swore to myself that I'd never use that word again, and therefore it would never, ever be mine.
In fact, I can't hear or see the word today without being reminded of the time I tried to be tough and independent, to break free and take a shot at the impervious goliath I called Mom only to see her crumble. Was this one of those incidents that she would often refer to as another nail in her coffin?
Now, thirty years later, it is my turn to be obsolete. It is my turn to relinquish the role of MVP in my daughter's life gradually by allowing her to grow up, break away, and ultimately depend on herself. Completely. Without me. Whether I like it or not. Motherhood is the most time-honored and effective form of planned obsolescence since the world emerged from primordial soup. VCR manufacturers can't do better.
So why do I accept becoming obsolete to my own flesh and blood? Because it's the natural course of things. Because I don't want my adult daughter screening her calls to avoid me.