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My Teenager Made Me Finally Grow Up


May 1 2013
The unexpected surrender of parenting adolescents

New parents are often told that giving birth to a baby makes them adults. That 'round-the-clock responsibility for another human is a life-altering shift that pushes us into our next life stage. Responsibility alone didn't transform me into a true adult, but parenting a teenager did.

You know you're an adult when you're at a crowded mall with your preteen daughter and debating what to tell her about the adorbs (her word), inappropriate (my word) outfit she's picked out. Is it…?

A) too tight.

B) too short.

C) not something my darling baby girl should wear.

D) a mile marker. You're growing up. I love you. The answer on this particular outfit is no. Let's keep looking and see if we can find you a look we can both live with.

When I began these conversations as my firstborn hit early adolescence, I realized that both of us were growing up. This was markedly different than the "instant adulthood" I entered on the day of my daughter's birth, when I drank in her first cries, an emotional cocktail of joyous connection blended with the sobering weight of responsibility.

"Most of us become parents long before we have stopped being children," author Mignon McLaughlin observed, and young parents' transition into their new role can bring self-indulgent and socially awkward behavior. Take today's "oversharenting" trend. Blair Koenig, who is not yet a parent herself, created a blog with the blunt title STFU, Parents as a snarky response to parental oversharing on social media.

The blog recently became a book, marketed as a cautionary tale to new parents who breathlessly report on every moment of their child's life, right down to tweeted descriptions of the Technicolor contents of their baby's diapers. I have a lot of compassion for parents of young children. I well remember the joys of first words, first steps, and toilet training successes. If social media existed when my kids were little, I'm pretty sure my updates would look like those featured on Koenig's blog.

Oversharing quietly evaporates as the kidlets become older. Mommy bloggers eventually become the parents of teens, and their stories tend to have a wistful tone. After all, when our kids are little, we are the ones responsible for every aspect of their lives, right down to the brand of chicken nuggets they eat. As they get older, they begin making choices for themselves, which may or may not align with ours. Few parents exit their children's adolescent years with the same sense of certainty about parenting as when they entered.

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