The Unexpected Way I Connected With My Teen Daughter

by Suzanne Hayes
Originally Published: 
Suzanne Hayes

Sometimes I feel like everything I say to my teen is wrong:

“How was that social studies test?”

“Fine, mom.”

Oh crap. She hates when I ask about her tests. She can handle it on her own. She thinks I don’t trust her to study and do well.

Other times, I know I’m trying too hard:

“Molly, remember when we used to play Just Dance together? Do you want to hook up the Wii and dance like old times?”

“No thanks, Mom.”

Damn. Trying too hard. Back off, Suzanne. She is onto you.

Oh, how I miss the days when we would spend hours in the backyard collecting rocks and flowers together. We would spin around in circles until we got so dizzy we would fall into the grass. It feels like just yesterday she would crawl up next me to me in bed and say, momma, can I sleep with you? Although people would often tell me just how quickly time flies, I never really believed it. Until now.

These days, I am lucky if I get a five-word response because, well, she is busy being a teenager and tackling life with a fierce will to be independent. It is a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing that makes my heart just a little (okay, a lot) sad. I am not ready for her to be independent. I am not ready to let go — not even a little. Can I press rewind? Or Pause? Because this is all happening too damn fast. I find myself trying desperately to force something with my teenager.

“Mom, I really want to get this new shampoo. It’s called Deva Curl. I was talking to Sydney because her hair always looks so good and she sent me pictures of the shampoo and conditioner she uses and it is supposed to be great for curly hair like mine. Can we get it?”

Put the phone down, Suzanne. Make eye contact. Act interested but not over-excited lest you scare her away. Use this opportunity to bond with your teenager. This is it! Don’t just buy her the shampoo — make this an outing, an opportunity to bond, a memory in the making. Let’s do this!

The truth is, Molly was asking me to buy her something. I should have said yes, logged into my computer and granted her request. But I was so desperate to make this something more than it was. I wanted to find her a bigger and better shampoo and conditioner. I wanted to take her to a special hair salon and go on a huge shopping spree for all things curly hair. I wanted to make this simple request about me — about us — and force this bonding experience that I had so been craving.

And so I did. It wasn’t what she wanted or what she was asking for at all. But we shopped. We tried lots of products. We went to salons and stores and I wanted to try everything except the one thing she requested: The Deva Shampoo and Conditioner. I wanted to be the hero and the one responsible for finding the best option for her curls and I wanted to be sure we made memories as we searched for it. See, I didn’t want Sydney to get the glory for finding the best shampoo — I wanted to find one that was even better.

After months of trial and error, she said, “Mom, can we just try the Deva?”

Ugh. What had I been doing? Molly already had the answer to this one. She knew what she wanted and I stood in between her and a bottle of shampoo. Sure, it is just shampoo. But what next? Would I try to help her find a new, better boyfriend after she brings one home for dinner? When she decides on a prom dress, will I say no, let’s keep shopping — all because I want to be the hero and I want to be needed?

“Of course, we can order the shampoo, Molly. I should have done that the first time you asked.”

I did what I should have done the very first day and I ordered her all the Deva Curl the world has to offer. I admitted defeat because I — with my fine, straight hair — knew nothing of the world of the curly-haired.

As she styled her hair in the morning with her new products, I saw something that I needed to see (as I spied on her from the hallway): not my child, not my baby, not the years flown by. I saw my daughter as a girl becoming. There she was staring in the bathroom mirror, scrunching the ends of her hair with something I knew nothing about — smiling, singing to her favorite music. She was becoming the woman she is meant to be: independent, confident, a young woman who finds the answers herself. Just as she did with the curly-haired shampoo.

This what adolescence is all about. I exhaled in relief as this epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks: Molly’s newfound independence is something to be celebrated, not mourned. She is preparing for life as an adult and it’s my job to encourage this growth, not stunt it.

And on that morning, somewhere in between her dash out of the bathroom, through the front door on her way to school, she stopped for a few seconds, which felt like minutes to me. With her perfectly-shaped curls, she touched the door knob and stopped her hurried self, looked back at me and said, “Oh mom, thanks so much for all the Deva Curl stuff. You’re the best.”

You’re the best. Sure, she wasn’t holding my hand in the backyard as we picked flowers, but it felt just as special.

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