As a precocious seven-year-old, whenever my daughter was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was always the same.
“I want to be a teenager.”
A cute, funny, and charming response from a pigtailed little girl who insisted on dressing in pinks and purples – a child whose teenage years seemed to be very, very far away.
But as the years flew by and my daughter grew older, we discussed what I’d thought was an exhaustive list of potentially troublesome situations that might confront her – problematic friendships, scholastic concerns, peer pressure, bullying, body image issues, and toxic relationships.
I had ideas. I had strategies. I had rules. I was prepared. Or so I’d thought.
But as all parents know, it is impossible to anticipate every single challenge that might arise as their children grow older. Still, I never expected that I’d need to come up with strategies for an activity my daughter and I had always enjoyed – together.
But seemingly overnight, the little girl whose favorite parts of a trip to the mall had been a romp through a now-shuttered toy store followed by a stop at the Food Court for a sprinkle-topped cookie dough ice cream cone had morphed into…a teenager!
It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d need to devise a new set of rules. For myself.
1. Eat first. Trust me that a hungry adolescent on a shopping trip with her mother will not bode well for either of you. Whoever coined the term “hangry” was onto something.
2. Follow the leader, and in this case, that will be your daughter. Keep your face neutral as she steers you into store after store stocked with mountains of trending-for-teens clothing and accessories. And although the floor may vibrate with the kind of thumping, bassline-heavy music that makes you want to run fast and far, do not cover your ears.
3. Unless you are asked (and that time will come), do not choose and pull clothing from the racks for your daughter. She knows best. Just ask her, and she will tell you that. Your job will be to help her carry her selections as she searches for the perfect pair of jeans, leggings, shirt, jacket, sweater, dress, hat, or all of the above. As these things accumulate, if you’ve come equipped with your lightweight and hands-free shoulder or (even better) crossbody bag, your arms and shoulders will thank you. When you become more familiar with your daughter’s go-to stores, you’ll learn to make a beeline for the nearest chair or bench where you can comfortably keep watch over her growing pile of “maybes.”
4. Do not assume your daughter will invite you into the dressing room with her. In fact, it’s best not to assume anything. Remember that this is new terrain – for both of you.
5. Do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, roll your eyes, shake your head, sigh, smirk, or (heaven forbid!) laugh. And never ever begin or end a sentence with, “When I was your age…”
6. Use the sandwich approach. If your daughter steps out of the dressing room in an article of clothing that is in your opinion, too short, too tight, or even just plain ugly, find something positive to say. The color, the fabric, the fact that it’s on sale – anything. Just say it. Then, oh-so-gently, suggest that perhaps she might want to keep looking before making a final decision. Follow up with a short lukewarm positive statement. Keep your fingers crossed, and remember that, if you’re paying, you do have ultimate veto power. This should be used wisely, sparingly, and only in the most desperate situations.
7. As you and your daughter move through aisles and racks of “stuff,” you might notice something that appeals to you. Yes, you! But keep moving, walk past it, and make a mental note to come back later. There will come a time when your daughter will be interested in shopping with and for you. This is not that time.
8. If possible, avoid visiting a mall or other teenage shopping meccas with your daughter during what, in her world, are considered “prime times.” These usually include Friday nights, Saturday afternoons, and any other times when you’re likely to encounter the roving bands of middle and high schoolers who tend to travel in packs…without their mothers. If your daughter does spot one of these groups, especially if she recognizes any of them, remember your own feelings as a girl of her age, and quickly duck into a store and remain out of sight until she signals you that the coast is clear. Extra points for doing this without being asked!
9. Keep smiling and keep moving. Do not yawn, groan, or complain that your feet hurt.
10. And always remember that at the end of the day, a sprinkle-topped cookie dough ice cream cone – maybe even with two scoops – awaits you both!