My oldest daughter recently turned 13. (I’m sure that’s a recordkeeping error, as I am in no way old enough to be the mother of a 13 year old.) She has been a joy, a pain, a source of contentment and of frustration. Meaning, she’s a regular teenager.
Oldest children are typically described as conscientious, reliable, organized and even dominant. Unlike many oldest children, mine tends to be the opposite of most of these things. She’s emotional and emotionally needy. She’s flaky and more interested in fun than victory. She’s disorganized to the point of messy. She asks ridiculous questions and feels no disgrace if she doesn’t know the answers. And despite being firmly entrenched in middle school, she wears whatever she wants (including an array of My Little Pony hoodies, complete with manes), ignores “cool” or “trendy” to pursue her own interests (my kid skips study hall to play more violin!), and she laughs loudly and often, even when people stop and stare.
She’s taught me more about life than I’d ever expected. Here are 13 things I needed my child to teach me:
1. Battles should be chosen wisely.
I’ve seen her do this with her brother and sister – if she thinks she’s going to win, she bares her claws. If not, she lives to fight another day. That taught me a valuable lesson. If the standard was, “you break a rule, we have a fight,” my teen and I would be fighting all the time. And nobody wants to live like that. Instead, I cut her slack on the messy room and the unfolded laundry, and save my fight for the really important things.
2. Housekeeping is overrated.
In the theme of choosing one’s battles, my teen has taught me to view housekeeping appropriately – meaning, there is almost always something more valuable to do with your time. At the end of the day, does it matter more to make sure beds are made or to make sure you’ve had a 10 minute conversation you’re your child (even if the only answers you get are monosyllabic)?
3. Ask questions.
I’ll be honest, sometimes her questions are a little over the top. Sometimes, a little irritating. Sometimes, my response is to scream, “your phone has Google! Go look it up yourself!” But the fact that she constantly asks questions means she is constantly curious – and constantly willing to be educated. Many of us would benefit from those qualities.
4. Be unafraid of failure.
5. If people are staring at you, assume it’s because you’re doing something right.
Like I said, my teen laughs loudly and often. (She actually has this witch laugh that she loves to show off.) She fails at things and she asks aggravating questions. And when people stare at her for doing all those things, she acts like she is the star of the show, instead of shrinking away in embarrassment. It takes a lot of self-confidence to pull that off, and she does. Consistently.
6. Keep hugging.
My oldest may be 13, but she cuddles like a toddler. I’ll be honest – sometimes, that’s annoying, and I often find myself wanting to talk to her about respecting personal space. But then I realize that (1) she already knows that, because she doesn’t go around hugging strangers, and (2) that I should be as comfortable showing my love for the people in my life as she is. So I hug her back, and thank the universe for sending me someone to teach me this.
7. There’s always room for ice cream.
My teen is never one to forego a pleasure. Already, she understands that life is too short for that!
8. Having fun is more important than looking like you’re having fun.
I know I’m biased, but my teen is gorgeous. I wish I’d looked like her when I was her age. And yet, she is completely oblivious to her beauty. At an age where other girls are worrying about their hair and makeup and just looking good, my kid is out there having fun. If anyone cares that her hair isn’t perfect while she’s doing that, it certainly isn’t her.
I think kids sometimes think of their hearts as being finite like a house – the more people you love and have in your heart, there less room there is for each person. After you have children, you realize what it means for love to be infinite, and how unconditionally you can actually love.
10. That I never understood fear, either.
Before I had my daughter, I worried about things that could happen to me. Now, those don’t even make my top ten list of things I worry about. I can’t watch a crime procedural on TV without thinking, “That’s something I wasn’t scared of…until now.”
11. They’re my dreams, but it’s your life.
This one was a tough one. The day she was born, I decided that my daughter would have the “perfect” life. At least, perfect by my definition. So I enrolled her in ballet and karate, I took her to art museums and to fancy restaurants, I bought her everything trendy and “cool” I could think of (or read about). I did my best to Disney-princessify her, and yet, over time – well, ballet has been replaced by cheer, karate with soccer. Art museums are out, orchestra is in. And trendy and cool? No interest whatsoever. But she is awesome exactly the way she is, and while I would’ve loved to have a frilly, fancy sidekick wanting to explore fashion, art, and culture, I couldn’t be happier that she is following exactly the path she wants to be on.
I truly believe that giving my kid a childhood filled with lemming-like activities helped make her unique. Adulthood is about individuality – but you can’t teach a child to be an individual by forcing them to be different than their peers. That’s because childhood is about assimilation, feeling like you belong. And it’s only when you feel like you fit in that you can build the confidence to stand out.
13. Democracy is fine for government, but families are corporations.
The more social studies my teen learns, the more outspoken and confident she gets, the more she believes in democracy and wants everything to be a vote. Well, I wasn’t born yesterday. In our house, we are no democracy. We vote on equity share of the mortgage. Which means I have controlling interest of everything.