Last week I talked about the visceral, elemental, almost life-or-death struggle an adolescent goes through to not look lame and how looking lame is, for some of them, almost worse than death.
Today, I want to discuss a corollary to that. I'm sorry parents, but you won't like this. The reality is that, during your child's adolescence, you are not cool. In fact, as far as your child is concernend, you personify lameness. You are the very incarnation of all that is lame, uncool, nerdy, and mortifying.
As always, there can be some exceptions and outliers, but this is pretty consistent.
It does not matter how beautiful you are, or how cool you are in your own world. You might be the Queen Bee or the Alpha Male in your own social context. You might be buff and beautiful, witty, or wealthy. You might be the toast of the town. You might be all of the above. It doesn't matter. To your child, you will be a source of embarrassment.
This was brought home to me forcefully when my own child went through the middle school where I teach. In 6th grade, she thought it was kind of cool that I worked there. In 7th grade, every day was a long, slow, humiliating death for her. Remember Prometheus, the Titan who was punished by Zeus? Zeus chained him to a rock and then sent an eagle to eat his liver every day. Overnight, it would regenerate and the torment would start again the next day.
This was my daughter's life during all of 7th and part of 8th grade--terrible tortures every day as she had to watch me interact with her peers. She'd endure the day, managing barely to survive. And then, it would start all over the next day.
I'm a reasonably well-liked teacher at my school. My daughter's closest friends actually liked me quite a bit.
It didn't matter. My presence was a millstone around her neck. And that was just from existing. If I ever said or did anything--like use a funny voice in class or do anything at all out of the monochrome, monotone ordinary--it sent her into paroxysms of shame and mortification.
I don't blame her. I felt the same way about my parents growing up. Ironically, my dad was beloved as our bishop (the leader of our congregation) by nearly everyone--young and old alike. Except me. I hated it every time he got up to say anything (which happened a lot, given his role). He was, to others, young and cool, an attorney about town, driving a sports car.
I just wanted him to go away. Now I love and honor him and think he's the most amazing man in the world.
Now that she's in high school, my daughter is not reflexively allergic to my presence. Don't get me wrong--she still doesn't welcome it exactly, but the mere thought that someone she knows will see me is no longer enough to send her into hives or convulsions.
My older son is a junior in high school. He actually introduces me to people he knows.
So, this will pass. But you have to let it pass on it's own--kind of like a kidney stone.
Give your child some space. By all means be involved in their life enough to know what's going on. I happen to think you need to know their friends and know what they are doing. But do this as minimally as possible.
It hurts, quite frankly it hurts a lot, to realize that your child thinks you are socially toxic. It can really bother you when you consider all that you've done for this ungrateful twit who is now ashamed to be seen anywhere near you.
But bite your tongue. Swallow the hurt. It will pass.
At several school dances I chaperoned, I had to pull back--way back--from things I normally did--just goofy things that students usually liked. But I had to pull back and give my daughter room to enjoy her friends without me embarrassing her.
This bothered me. But I did it anyway.
One thing I've noticed about this--when parents just endure this with good humor and let it pass, it passes more quickly. If, for whatever reason, you fight it and insist that your child is being ridiculous, it will go on much, much, much longer than it needs to.
The other thing you should NOT do under any circumstances, is try to be cool or "fun." This is probably the worst thing you could possibly do.
Don't change--be yourself. Be the parent. Don't surrender--but consider doing reconnaissance secretly. Just realize that your child will be deeply embarrassed of you for a good 18 months to 2 years. They'll be moderately embarrassed of you for a while after that. Then, they'll suddenly start introducing you to their friends.
Endure it bravely. It will pass.
P.S. My show is this week, so things are a bit crazy here at bradenbell.com. I'll ask your kind indulgence with typos, misspellings, grammatical errors and the like. It may also take me longer than usual to answer your emails and comments. But I'll be back! And if you have any good thoughts and prayers to send out for me and the intrepid middle schoolers who form the cast of Into the Woods and Aladdin Jr., we'd all love them since it's a stressful week!
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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