5 Ways Trying To Be A 'Cool' Parent Always Ends In Disaster
There's a specific moment in life when you realize that your parents are lame, and then, ten seconds later, declare that you will never fall into that trap. No, when you grow up, you shall be the cool parent, succeeding where billions before you had failed! They just didn't try hard enough! Only now, with a teenager of my own, do I realize that she needs me to be an embarrassing, cringeworthy, uncool mess of an adult. This is because ...
They Love Having You As Their "Wingman" ... Until They Abruptly Start Hating It
The other day, my badass daughter and I were standing talking on the sidewalk when she saw a group of friends approaching, so she body-slammed me into the nearest bushes. The shame of being seen in public with her mother of all people would have ruined her, like if Taylor Swift's mom interrupted a concert to bring her the butt ointment she'd left at the hotel. Just a year ago, she loved it whenever I coordinated with another parent (i.e. a friend of MINE) to get together, do something badass, and bring our kids. Then, one day, a switch was flipped.
The last time I threw a party and one of her best friends showed up with her parents, they both rolled their eyes at me in frustrated embarrassment and told me off for setting up a "play date." Dudes, you live an hour's drive apart. How else are you going to get together if your parents don't set it up? Somebody's got to drive!
So now, in order to provide at least the illusion that my daughter is constructing her own social life, I have to play a complex game. "By the way, Josie's parents and siblings are coming over on Saturday. You might want to text and ask Josie if she wants to come too?" Or "Hey, I'm going to the movies with Bob later tonight. I don't know if he's bringing his son. In fact, I don't even know he has a son, let alone one who's been blowing up your phone."
Then, when I see her friends, my role is to nod and grunt. I must not get into a conversation, or even make eye contact. It's even better to just collapse into myself like a deflated tent and lie there flat on the ground, blending into my surroundings. This goes against every "cool mom" instinct I have inside me. I want to show that I'm one of them! We like the same bands! I'm not just the lame baseline by which my child can measure her own coolness, dammit!
You Must Pretend That You And Your Kid Don't Like Any Of The Same Things
My daughter will totally deny this if she or any of her friends read this article, but the truth is that it's scary how much we're into the same stuff. We download the same music. We read the same comic books and freak out over the same artists at conventions. Her favorite article of clothing right now is a concert T-shirt from a concert I went to, which she stole right out my drawer. Basically, she treats my closet like a free mall, and whenever I walk in wearing something new, she gives me a cold, calculating side eye, like I'm a mannequin she's planning on dashing out the front door with before leaving me facedown and naked in a back alley.
But am I allowed to acknowledge that she likes my taste? Hell no! Not even to her. And especially not in the presence of another human being. If even rumor of such a thing were to get around, she would be ostracized from teen society forever. News of her shameful secret would spread around the globe.
So I develop sudden amnesia when I catch someone complimenting her on her new coat, boots, and gloves before I head out to drag the dogs through the snow in sneakers and a sweatshirt. If she tells a story about some cool trip she went on, I have to pretend I'm hearing this for the first time and am not actually the person who planned, booked, drove, and paid for the damn thing. I can guarantee that when she shows off what she got for Christmas, she'll never acknowledge that I bought it for her.
She is -- as we all once were -- in that terrible in-between phase of wanting desperately to earn street cred for her style and travel, while being almost totally powerless to acquire those things for herself. I must allow her to steal credit for the awesome lifestyle choices I imposed upon her. In fact ...
At Some Point, You Just Stop Trying To Buy Surprise Gifts
My grandmother was one of those sweet and tiny ladies who didn't believe in spending money on anything that could be made, borrowed, or scrounged from one of those suspicious-smelling jars she kept in the basement pantry. So the day she bought me the one and only doll I ever had in my childhood will forever shine in my memory with "What the hell did I just witness?" infamy.
It was the '80s, and we were standing in a large department store in the days before Christmas when a shaky, war-weary teenager rolled out a pallet of Cabbage Patch dolls. Heads rose above the aisles as rabid shoppers sniffed the air. Then, as if moving as one, they descended on him with a wild and feral howl, tearing him and each other to shreds to get their hands on a plastic, dimpled, curly-haired monstrosity.
My grandmother turned to me, her eyes shining with a courage and determination the likes of which I'd never seen before and haven't seen since, and asked, "Do you want one?" I nodded. She dove into the mob in a blur of purple wool, and while I've never told anyone what I witnessed that day, she emerged victorious.
So when my kids were little, I, being a Cool Parent, would leave no fad unturned to make sure they had the hottest toys. Was it advertised six times a day with creepy child actors in the lead-up to Christmas? Then it was already wrapped and sitting under the tree. Is the news running stories about the impossibility of finding this year's must-have toy? Then I'm scoffing at the amateur parents who didn't foresee the problem and set up multiple online alerts months ago. Then I bought her a Fidget Spinner, she snorted at my lameness, and I watched all my Cool Mom cred crawl limp and bleeding for the door.
It turns out there's a tipping point with fads, when your child abruptly becomes a budding adult full of opinions about which "hot" gifts are actually lame garbage for children and sheep. And it's during that tipping point that you have to consider giving up the "surprise" aspect of gifts and just outright ask them what they want. Oh, you can still get creative. I look for original, funky Etsy things related to her favorite fandoms, for instance. Then weeks later, she can show them off to her friends as examples of her amazing ability to find cool things for herself.
They Need To Figure Things Out For Themselves ... Or At Least Appear To
"I need to murder someone from English class," she says, standing in the middle of my basement lair, surrounded by the bones of my enemies while various lethal concoctions bubble away in the background. "Should I text Uncle John or Aunt Sally for help with that?" (Answer: John for untraceable poison, Sally for brutal bludgeoning.)
It's tricky. She, being a child, wants to learn stuff I know, but she never wants to learn it from me. I can't even blame her. I've been teaching her stuff every day of her life. I wouldn't want to have one teacher randomly teaching me everything from how to use the toilet to how to do math to which three Doctors to invite to a Who-orgy. Would you?
This again leads to that delicate, subtle dance with another human being who needs me but cannot admit this to herself or anyone else. That means crucial life lessons (as well as trivial ones) must be relayed through roundabout means. Sometimes that means filling her life with interesting and amazing people she can learn from. Other times it means teaching without teaching. Have you ever dealt with a co-worker who didn't like taking instruction from anybody because they prefer to pretend they already know everything? There's a trick managers use whereby they kind of pretend that they themselves just discovered the helpful tip. Well, it works with teenagers too!
It seems like a pointless and unnecessary step, but it allows them to take the advice without admitting that's what's going on. Instead of "You're doing this wrong, do it my way," it's "Hey, I recently found a way to do the thing you're doing that may be less likely to burn down the house!" Again, this works against everything we naturally want as human beings -- that is, credit for the great job we're doing.
How many of you got called "ungrateful" as teenagers? Your impulse will be to say the same when you have your own, but it's not about being ungrateful; it's about your kid having a healthy, human urge to take control of their own life. This is the very fuel that will eventually launch them right out of your house before age 30.
I Have To Accept That My "Special" Traditions Are Boring As Hell
A couple of years ago, millions of young parents had the mortifying experience of taking their kids to see a brand-new Star Wars movie, only to see said kid trying to surreptitiously watch YouTube prank videos on their phone the whole time. "Don't you get it? This isn't just a cool sci-fi movie, this is the film series that raised me! It's special!"
Then, suddenly, those new parents had a flashback to all of the lame, boring stuff their parents dragged them to or made them watch. And no amount of reminding kids of what it's supposed to mean to them is going to change the fact that even though it's a sacred family tradition that the family cuts down a Christmas tree every year, they're still tired, cold, and doing the same old thing they did last year. "I know for a fact that there are easier ways to do this!"
This one really continues across all age ranges, in different forms. Little kids think everything is special. A surprisingly shaped twig? Special. A piece of gum under a park bench? Special. A toad that just peed in your hand when you picked it up? That's a new level of special. Telling that kid that a particular toy is special because it once belonged to Grandma is just a string of nonsense words.
Then, thanks to the mysterious trickster god known as Puberty, suddenly a whole new range of things are "special," and your teenager develops a deep sense of dread and loathing toward anything old or outdated. Tell them a boring activity is REQUIRED because it's SPECIAL to the OLD PEOPLE, and you've only given them a nice horror story they can share with their friends on Monday.
This is when you realize you'll pass along lots of things to your children, including many inheritable diseases, but the warm feeling you get inside when doing something "special" is probably not one of them. You can totally think it's special to go Christmas caroling and then sip non-alcoholic eggnog until you pass out in front of It's A Wonderful Life. No one can take that away from you. But it's the right of every teenager to walk past and roll their eyes so hard that they can see the bottom of their own brain, knowing that when they grow up, they'll be the coolest parents ever.
Mags writes books about dead people and kissing. You can bother her on Twitter. Bring cookies.
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