“I heard something so true today, Mom,” she tells me, sitting at the bottom of the stairs, tying her Converse before running off to babysit. “When you are smart enough to admit that your parents were right, you have children who think you are wrong.”
I pause, rewind and replay this nugget of wisdom, her smiling face waiting for my fuddled middle-aged brain to comprehend.
“Okay,” I tell my teenage bearer of wisdom, “so, if I tell you that I still haven’t got to the stage where I think my parents were right, does that mean you don’t think I’m wrong?”
She laughs, chestnut eyes shining, perhaps not expecting that answer. But I am unsettled when she confirms what I have been forced to slowly internalize over these last few months—that my girl, who just days ago thought I was the source of all knowledge, the fortress of motherhood, goddess of womankind, thinks I’m wrong.
“Want to tell me about it?” I ask, but she shrinks from voicing her dissension out loud and carries on with life nonchalantly. I am cracked open, though, and leaking.
She is already 14, this sapling of a woman who has just passed me in height and blooms with youthful shine just at the time that I am fading. So far I have been spared most of the painful expressions of assessment, anger and separation that mothers of teenage girls experience: just a few slammed doors, not-too-frequent eye rolls, very few angry absolutes—”You never…” or “You always….” I’ve been wishfully thinking that this is proof that sensitive and relaxed mothering could overcome the budding of that mother-daughter thing, that tension, that critique, that growing apart.
I’ve resisted many of the traps. I’m not trying to stifle her independence or mold her into a better version of me. I don’t intrude on her space or criticize her choice of clothes, hairstyle or friends. I trust her, and she mostly repays me with good behavior, but still, the bond between us is strained.
I get it. There is something that happens between mothers and their teenage daughters that seems to be uniquely feminine and inevitable.
My 16-year-old son grew up, realized I was, in fact, imperfect, crowned himself holder of all truth and knowledge, and then went on his merry way with nary a snarl to singe my whiskers. She is different. She assesses my clothes, my hair, my body, every word that comes out of my mouth and everything that goes into it. She notices how I spend my time. She watches my interplay with her father, and she has much to say.
I, on the other hand, grow more in awe of her with each passing day. She is sprouting technicolor flowering tendrils through the spiky roots of adolescence, which heavily hint at what an amazing woman she will be. I tell her this often, but the fan club goes one way.
I didn’t expect to be her idol forever. I know about separation, and I’m so glad she’s where she needs to be, but I would at least like some acknowledgement of the pink, cuddly girl-power thing we had going on for years.
We were budettes, cooking up a sugary pink cupcake storm together, crafting greeting cards, tag reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and mooning over Taylor Swift.
Now I’m the mother who doesn’t get it, whether it’s guessing what “BRB” stands for (be right back, if you’re clueless like me) or knowing whether it’s Rihanna or Sia who’s singing. I’m the mom who hates the scream of Dance Moms and doesn’t get the point of Snapchat, or why she needs 50 different shades of nail varnish.
“I never thought it would happen to us,” I want to say, like the dazed half of a happy couple who has lost their way and found themselves in the divorce courts.
At some stage, hopefully, she will come back to me. She’ll understand that she can be her own person, but still my daughter. She’ll accept that I am not perfect, but can be a source of advice and comfort if needed. She’ll learn that she can always depend on me for help without it impinging on her autonomy.
In the next curve of our relationship, I’m hoping that she will get to know and love me as a person and not just as a mother—just as I am coming to know and love her as a young woman and not just as my daughter.