Years ago, when my then 8-year-old daughter was as sweet as sugar and my then 5-year-old son a holy terror, someone wise said to me "It all changes when they become teenagers." While my now 16-year-old daughter is still as sweet as sugar and my 13-year-old son limits his terrorizing to the soccer field, there are definitely some changes.
Here are 6 things only a mother of a teenage girl understands:
1) It's OK for them to have secrets, even though we are hurt when they keep them from us.
While we miss hearing every detail of their school day and activities, teenage girls like to keep some things to themselves. Actually what they like to do is tell their friends, instead of us. That's an ouch. While we know that moving their confidences from us to their BFFs du jour is just part of the independence process and not a bad thing, we suspect that all moms initially will feel a little hurt. I sure did.
The first time my daughter slammed the top down on her laptop when I came into the room, I assumed she was up to no good. "What are you looking at?" I asked.
"Nothing," came the reply.
"Not nothing," I escalated. Turns out she had been innocently Skyping with some friends about homework. So why slamming shut the laptop before I could see? Because feeling that they have their own lives makes teenage girls happy.
Sometimes, you just need to allow them to draw some boundaries.
2) PMS is real.
Yowsa, is it ever. It's important to know that later that week, there will be apologies offered for every door slam, eye roll and "you wouldn't understand." Little brothers know to steer clear and that this isn't the time to put their stinky feet in their PMS-ing face or ask their Big Sister to play Minecraft with them unless they have a death wish.
It's hormonal. A force larger than them takes occupancy of their bodies and they become the scene in the Exorcist where the little girl's head spins around her neck. It is awful; it is ugly; it is best to stay away.
3) It is better to let their Dads teach them to drive.
In my family, teaching my 16-year-old daughter to drive has several rules. Chief among them is that nobody tells me when she was behind the wheel until it is after the fact.
Teaching a teenage girl to drive is something that Dads start and Moms finish. It isn't that Dads are more patient or smarter or better drivers. It's that they see the driving lesson as an opportunity to listen to the game on the radio without interruption, unless of course, she crashes. This makes them happy and more relaxed -- again, unless of course she crashes. And Moms, well, we are nervous wrecks and nervous wrecks don't make for good driving instructors.
4) The best you can hope for is that they make their own mistakes, not repeat yours.
Lectures, warnings, stories of your failures shared from a deep place in your heart may stop them from doing the things that caused your own mother to go gray. But rest assured, mistakes will be made -- just different ones. It feels to us that the risk bar is so much higher now than when we were growing up and screaming at The Beatles was seen as an act of revolution. And because we are so convinced that today's dangers are so much more, well, dangerous that we want to just shout louder, shake our teenage daughters by the shoulders more. It won't matter. You just need to trust that everything that came before will kick into play and they will make smart choices. And when they don't, that they know you will still love them and will do your best to fix it because that's what moms do.
5) Sex isn't a four-letter word.
Moms spend a lot of time worried about how and when their daughters will become sexually active. The worst advice someone shared with me was this: Put a condom in her purse and hope she remembers to use it. Not that simple. I started talking to my now-teenage daughter about sex when she was five or so -- using age-appropriate language, of course. I explained how a girl's body changes, how she would feel, etc. But in addition to teaching her about the act of sex, I also taught her the difference between sport-sex and intimacy. Sex in a loving relationship feels much different than a one-night stand. So far, so good.
6) Diet is a four-letter word.
I used to tell people that as a size 10, I would always be considered 30 pounds overweight in Los Angeles. I meant it as a joke, but like all good jokes, sometimes there is a grain of truth in it. I stopped saying it when my daughter became a teenager. Body image is huge in the lives of teenage girls. They stand in front of the mirror for hours, twisting and turning and trying to decide if the comfy jeans they wore last week are now Public Enemy No. 1.
I want my daughter to be healthy (she is), exercise (she does), and appreciate how good food can complement your life (she has always had an inquisitive palate). We don't talk about dieting; we talk about maintaining good health and doing right by our bodies. And we also talk a lot about how some girls don't eat right. And yes, I know enough not to bring it up when she is PMS-ing.