Illustration of a wall of photos that show a goth teen beside baby pics


I Don’t Recognize My Teen Anymore

Feb 23, 2021

There’s a stranger among us.

Or at least that’s how it feels as I watch my young teen breeze by me. I do a double take, startled to see just how different she looks from only six months ago.

And it’s not just because she’s grown taller or that she’s looking more like the young woman she’ll soon be. No, she has transformed into a novel creature that I no longer recognize. It’s taking a hot minute for me to adjust.

"I hate to admit it, but I’ve caught myself sounding like the parent I said I’d never become."

Sometimes she sports a dog collar with pearls. Other times, she dons torn mesh pantyhose stretched over her arms. She’s dyed her caramel hair black, and her blue eyes are forever ringed in purple. I don’t know if she’s emo, goth or grunge, but I’ll admit she looks cool. Like a rock star perpetually ready to hit the stage. But she no longer resembles my little girl, and I’m trying to be OK with it.

Before I was a mom, I could never understand why some parents cared so much about their kid’s appearance. I mean, they’re not hurting anyone — who cares how they wear their hair or the way they dress? I vowed never to tangle with my future teen about such trivial things.

Illustration of dog collar and pearls

Flashback to the smallish town I grew up in during the ‘80s, I witnessed the constant push-pull between friends and their parents. Fights eternally erupted over skin-tight jeans, excessive eye shadow and high hair. And while my parents didn’t give me grief about fashion, there’s a story in my family’s folklore about my sweet grandfather’s panic when my uncle refused to cut his Beatles-style hair for my parents’ wedding.

Now here I am, the mom of an artsy adolescent confronting the promise I made to myself all those years ago. I hate to admit it, but I’ve caught myself sounding like the parent I said I’d never become. The kind that occasionally makes pointed comments about my child’s style. Does she really need to wear that much makeup? Wouldn’t she look better with her natural hair colour? Is that outfit appropriate to wear out?

"She, like all kids, will face plenty of judgement out there in the big world and the last person who should be contributing to the criticism is me."

What I didn’t understand about parenthood before I became a mom was how much grief it involves. There is mourning mixed with pride watching your child evolve. It can bring up feelings of sadness that have nothing to do with eyeliner. Fears surface about them growing independent of you, concerns of how others will judge them and even what people will think of you for letting them look like that.

I’m not exactly living up to the hip parent I thought I’d be, but I’m working to do better. My wise teen conjured up a Freaky Friday moment by temporarily reversing roles to help me through this phase.

Illustration of a plaid shirt, safety pins and lace.

I was looking through old photos on my social media when a picture popped up of my daughter when she was a younger and less adorned kid. Without thinking, I gasped at how cute she looked back then.

She reminded me that one day I’ll look at a photo of her at this phase and will feel nostalgic for it too.

And I know she was right.

Do you use emojis? Take it from Laura — who is being schooled by her daughter — we're all probably doing it wrong.

This is her time to experiment with her look before she is all grown up. It’s her opportunity to express herself. She, like all kids, will face plenty of judgement out there in the big world and the last person who should be contributing to the criticism is me. So I’ll try to tap back into my former teenage self, the girl with the asymmetrical permed hair, rat’s tail and the shoulder pads.

I’ll rely on her to help remind me to keep my comments to myself, and to just sit back and enjoy the metamorphosis.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the co-artistic director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the co-host and producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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