5 Unhelpful Things Mothers Say To Their Daughters
There's a good chance that no one will love you as much as your mother does. There is an equally good chance that you will find this infuriating at times. This begins around age eight and peaks in adolescence, and will likely switch back to awestruck worship as you enter adulthood. Throughout all of this, Mom will be saying things that she truly and honestly thinks are helpful, but aren't. Things like ...
"You know, he's only mean to you because he likes you!"
Cast your mind back to the playground. Aaron and the other boys are playing tag, and he won't let you join in. The louder he insists, the harder you try to insert yourself, the situation escalating until Aaron sticks his leg out and you go flying. If he was trying especially hard to embody a cliche, he might even pull your pigtails. So far, so normal. Kids are cruel and weird. As a kid yourself, you're doing a pretty weird/normal job of processing the exclusionary nastiness ... until you hear from Mom that sometimes being treated badly is actually a good thing. "You know, he only does that because he likes you!" she says, spinning the meanness as a compliment.
Even worse, you're at that age when you can detect that "He likes you" means something different here, even if you're not quite sure what. There's an implicit idea -- perhaps in part because you don't understand -- that it's a special condition of feeling. As such, it entitles its "feeler" to a whole different criteria for good and bad behavior.
Mom is trying to prepare you for something she knows you won't understand, that soon boys are going to start acting strangely, that you're about to spend the rest of your life misinterpreting each others' motives. But "He's mean because he likes you" is such a tragic and bizarre introduction to the idea. It's like having your driving instructor begin the first lesson with "Remember, sometimes pedestrians scream because they're happy!"
Even if it seems harmless on the playground, wait until high school, the workplace, cohabiting relationships, and marriage, hoo boy. He's calling every three minutes because he loves me. He hits me because I drive him to it, his passion overflowing as violence. Even if it's true that the boy on the playground acts badly because he has a crush and this is his weird preteen way of processing it, that doesn't need any reinforcing.
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"Why don't you have the party here? I'll pick up some snacks!"
You're somewhere between 13 and 18 and you are going to have A Party. It's been weeks in the planning stages. Someone's big sister has been coerced into doing the booze run. Someone's parents have been stupid enough to OK a get-together and leave their house at your collective mercy. The stars have aligned, the fates are in your favor, and this is the most excited you've probably ever been. A whole evening of unsupervised, uncomfortable, elated nonsense!
The prospect has practically had your teeth chattering. What do you wear? He'll be there. Which song will be playing when your sparkly hair clips convince him to kiss you instead of Charlotte? What is the right ratio of soda to vodka?
Of course, hearing your mom's cheerful "Why don't you have the party here?" is nothing compared to the obviously life-ruining "You're going to that party over my dead body" or even "Be home by 11." But therein lies its stealthy power. You could justify a teenage tantrum over your attendance being vetoed altogether, or even a curfew, but how to rebuff the thinly veiled bid to oversee proceedings disguised as an innocent offer to host? You are suddenly playing a subtle, deadly game.
How to articulate that any amount of meddling would crash the imaginary ecosystem of this social event, where everyone likes your shoes and laughs at your jokes? Or that you're both too old and too young for the kind of party where snacks play even a supporting role? How to refuse categorically without letting on that homey safety is kryptonite to a Successful Evening? You wriggle quickly and smilingly away. "Oh, Lila's parents will be home. They've already taken care of everything." Now you can only pray that she doesn't call to verify this.
"I'll leave you lovebirds to it!"
This one is said when a young girl is about to be left alone with a young boy, regardless of relationship or circumstances. Maybe he's the weird son of Mom's friend from work. No! Don't leave us to it! He breathes through his mouth!
At that age, it seems incredible that she can't pick up on how much you don't want this to happen. The intensity with which adolescent feelings are felt (I've never hated anyone as much as I hated my math teacher) would lead you to believe that they can be felt by anyone in their orbit. A teenager in love is one thing, and should be as legible as Times New Roman to anyone paying attention. A teenager seething with disgust, though, is strong as a poltergeist. How can she not know?
So while you can't believe that your mother would think you're enjoying the way her boyfriend's nephew is eyeballing your braces, she's only thinking of you when she suggests the two of you take a joint trip to the corner shop. You walk as far away from him as the pavement will permit. You shudder when the heavy breathing intensifies after bumping into each other, fumbling by the till. This will happen again and again. "Oh, here's the offspring of my roommate from college. When's the wedding, amirite?" How to break it to her that you're more interested in his sister?
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"You know you can always talk to me about your sex life! I remember when your father and I first got together ..."
This invitation to spill your beans probably crops up before you even have any to spill. Sure, there's a whiff of something. Maybe she's caught you gazing at a classmate at school pickup. Maybe you tell too many stories about Amy's brother when you come back from her house. "Amy's brother doesn't listen to that band." "Amy's brother said he liked my jeans." "Amy's brother, Amy's brother, Amy's brother Amy's- brother, Amy's brother."
Anyway, someone told your mother that it's important to be open about these things. She wouldn't want you to develop a complex, would she? What better way to ease your discomfort than "I remember when your father and I first got together." WELL I REMEMBER WHEN I DIDN'T HAVE TO PICTURE MY PARENTS HAVING SEX.
"You can always talk to me about your sex life" just serves to highlight your lack of one, which is especially bruising when sex is all you think about -- tinging the corners of your heavy-breathing dreams, chronically manifest in your peripheral vision, but just out of reach. Knowing too much about it will recontextualize innocent fantasy into something scary and dirty. Hey, you've seen people making out in films. That lingerie ad. Then there was that video clip Paul sent round the class. You got through 12 seconds before switching it off like a scary movie.
Of course, these scraps and gaps have generated so many questions that it's hard to know where to start. And your mother would be more than happy to explain "why people make those noises" and that no, you don't "stand on your head to stop getting pregnant." But you will refuse these invaluable pointers. The final nail in your pre-adolescent coffin would be to hear that your parents were at it more than you are (not hard, but still unfair). Sex isn't sex yet, but what it is belongs to people your age -- fumbling, yearning, et al.
You'll get over this, but it's a hard pill to swallow that is offered A) when it is most crucially needed and B) when you couldn't be less receptive to it. Give it ten years, and you'll be calling her after every bad date.
"Are you sure you're happy? By the time I was your age ..."
You're cleaning up together -- look how responsible you are! -- after a family dinner. Back in the home you grew up in, and moved out of, just for the evening, or maybe the weekend. Either way, this is you as a proto-adult: feckless as ever, but somehow funding a life beyond the cocoon. Conversations like this are sprung when handwork is available. You don't have to look at each other, there's a time limit imposed by the activity, and silences can be filled with industrious scrubbing, etc. Variations include "How's the novel coming along?" and "Why don't you call Childhood-Friend-With-Whom-Your-Relationship-Ruptured-Very-Painfully-Somewhere-Along-The-Way?"
"Are you happy?" is the killer, though. Amidst a lifetime (or at least an adolescence) of cringing every time your poor mother tries to join in or make your life easier, this is the splinter beneath a thin nail built from half-truths and self-trickery. The end of that WMD of sentences is some version of "by the time I was your age, I had you and your sister," "I'd met your father," or "I'd already started working at [place she'll be working at until retirement]."
She asks because she worries about you, but that just means that managing her worries is another thing you've failed at. Answering in a way that will ease her fears isn't easy when the truth is you're not single out of some concerted effort to make peace with yourself before launching into a relationship, or renting because you "like the flexibility." That you are, in reality, lonely and poor.
On the one hand, maybe Mom doesn't know what a digital marketing account manager is. On the other hand, maybe that is not a job anyone sensible wants in any sincere way. Maybe she just doesn't recognize how, even though your boyfriend is always hungover at family lunch and doesn't pick up when you call on a long weekend, he's actually really artistic and authentically himself. Maybe your latest diet looks like an eating disorder, your latest phase a personal crisis -- and then again, maybe it is. God, Mom, you've sent me down a spiral! "I'm doing fine!" you'll say. And some day, you'll probably get that same answer from your own kid.
For more, check out Why Parents Who Over Share On Social Media Ruin Their Kids:
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