We often don’t realize that when our children seem embarrassed by us, are hostile toward us, or—most worrisome—begin to question the values that they’ve been taught their whole lives, it is usually directly related to a search for themselves. They are not deliberately trying to hurt us.
Still, be prepared for these types of comments as your kids pull away.
1. “You’re embarrassing!” Have you ever wondered why your teenager finds you so profoundly embarrassing? It turns out that viewing you as embarrassingly outdated is one of the quickest ways for your child to see herself as different from you and to achieve the needed sense of separation. She’s saying, “I’m trying to be cool. You represent the only identity I’ve ever known, so in order to rapidly distance myself from that old identity, I have to view you as so uncool that you’re actually embarrassing.”
During our focus groups, the kids tried to outdo each other with amusing examples of their parents’ uncoolness. Said one girl, “My mom sings aloud to the Muzak songs in the grocery store. She thinks that the other customers are smiling with her, but they are clearly laughing at her.”
2. “Oh, Mom, look at those pants!” Another signal of identity building is when those oh-so-sweet teenagers enjoy directly poking fun at their parents. For example, one day I (Lisa) was dancing around in some old jeans and my daughters started laughing. Hannah said, “Um Mom… how old are those pants?”
“I don’t know.” I glanced down. “Not more than fifteen years, I think.”
“Well, um… do you have a minute to come and see a video?”
She and Sarah pulled up an online video called “Mom Jeans,” which pokes fun at the typical attire of middle-aged females, including pants with high waists, nine-inch zippers, unflared legs, and the liberal inclusion of elastic. As the video played, my girls howled with laughter and pointed at me!
Afterward they said, “Mom, we’ll take you shopping if you promise to throw away your Mom pants.” True to their word, they got me some cool jeans from American Eagle. I was the only mother in the dressing room, but I must admit, I do like the new look.
Now they find other things to make fun of me about.
3. “I’m not even sure I believe what you believe.” This is one of the hardest things for a parent to hear. Everything is relative in the later teen years; this “whatever” stage kicks in about ages sixteen to twenty. According to the experts, this is an actual developmental stage characterized by rampant relativism, where even a child with strong convictions might start saying things like, “Well, that’s true for you, but I’m not sure it’s true for me.”