Mothers - How to survive your daughter's adolescence

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

NEW YORK -- It's a rite of passage for many teenagers: They mistake their parents for lepers.

The teens would rather walk home from school than be picked up in the family's station wagon -- or even a slightly hipper SUV; they don't want to gather round the family table to break bread; and they most certainly don't want to be seen at the mall or the movies in the company of parent chaperones.

It's especially true for girls and their mothers, says author Susan Borowitz, because, until adolescence, girls work very hard molding themselves after their mothers, often playing dress-up in their mothers' clothes and mimicking their makeup routines.

Then, the day comes when they realize they want to be their own young women. That's the day everything changes.

"Teenage girls reject everything that would link them with their mothers," says Borowitz.

"Teenagers define themselves much more by what they are not than what they are; it's much easier to do it that way. So, they'll purposely take the opposite position of whatever their mothers say."

Borowitz chronicles the ups and downs of her relationship with her daughter Alexandra and how it differs from the relationship with her 8-year-old son Max in "When We're in Public, Pretend You Don't Know Me" (Warner Books).

Sometimes, though, Borowitz acknowledges, daughters do go through a period when they don't want to talk to their mothers or, if they do talk, less than kind words come out of their mouths.

Borowitz says she can take it when her suburban-mom wardrobe is the target or even when Alexandra cringes when Borowitz opens her mouth to sing along to an Abba tune. Borowitz can even deal with a door slamming but she draws the line at cruelty.

"I let my daughter get to a certain point ... and then I speak up. The garden variety of tactics to push me away is OK. But I'll tell her, 'You can reject what I think but I am a human and you should respect all humans, including me.' Period," Borowitz explains.

But even if children's behavior is hurtful, mothers are the adults in this scenario, Borowitz says, and it is up to them to be mature and not take any of this stuff personally.

Stepping into a girl's Sketchers for a minute, Borowitz says it's even harder for today's teens to create their own identity because they find themselves competing with middle-aged women who don't want to give up their reign as society's favorite females.

The girls resent their mothers going to pilates class to maintain their buff shapes and applying high-tech, age-defying serums to their skin. "These girls want to be the hottie -- and it is rightfully their turn," Borowitz adds.

So Borowitz, 44, now strives to be "uncool," a parent willing to sometimes use the word "no" but one who also realizes her daughter has her own very important world filled with unfamiliar pop culture icons and a language all its own.

She says it's a better fate than being Clueless Mom, who stifles her daughter's growth, or Best Bud Mom, who has no parental authority, Borowitz says.

In the book, the Uncool Mom is described as "warmly supportive and active in setting limits, but knows where to draw the line. Her job is to bring up her child to be a happy, healthy, and productive member of society, and she thinks the best way is to let her grow into the role of adult -- to take control of her life bit by bit -- which means that Mom has a lot of painful letting go to do."

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