Maybe it’s already too late to tell you to put down this book, because I know you don’t like to waste your money. At least you don’t like me
to waste your money. Anyway, I know you want me to believe that you would never intentionally waste your money—not that I’m totally convinced of this, but never mind about me. It might not be
too late for you, Mom. If you’re still in the bookstore, trying to decide whether or not you’ll like this book, wondering if it will be worth your time (oh, did I mention your money?), it’s not too late to just set it down and walk away. Just walk away, and no one will get hurt, because, seriously, what is there about parenting me (your
sweet, innocent teenage daughter) that you don’t already get? You’re a cool mom—you can handle this, right?
Even if someone gave you this book, that doesn’t mean you need to read it. Who cares if Grandma or Aunt Sue thought it was just the ticket to help you work out things with your beastly teenage daughter.We know Grandma and Aunt Sue aren’t that smart about this stuff.
Oh, maybe they’ve heard you complain about me, or maybe they even heard me mouth off to you (that one time) or saw me freeze you out (I was irritated, okay?), so they decided you need this how-to book to straighten me out. Well, you know as well as I do that they just need to get a life.They obviously don’t realize that you really do know what you’re doing, Mom. They just can’t appreciate that you already have things under control (everything but me, that is, and we both know that’s not gonna happen). So why waste your time with this book?
You’re still reading, aren’t you? You’re still not convinced? Fine, Mom, I’ll make it easy for you. Here are six reasons why you should toss this book right now.
1. You won’t like what you read, and you know the saying— ignorance is bliss.
2. You think you already know what’s up with me.Why trust someone else to fill your head with nonsense?
3. You already know how to fix what you think is wrong with me.
4. Maybe you think I’m perfect as is…At least that’s what I’m hoping.
5. Get real! You don’t really have time for this.What mom does these days?
6. And finally, whatever happened to just leaving well enough alone? Things eventually work out, don’t they?
I see you haven’t given up yet. You’re still reading.Well, don’t say you weren’t warned, and don’t think that just because you’re reading this book, written by a so-called teenage girl, that you’re reading about me. I am a one-of-a-kind book and cannot be read or understood in a single volume.
I know you watch me sometimes, especially if you think I’m not looking. You might assume you’re seeing who I really am.Maybe you are, but maybe you’re not, because I have learned to hide certain things, especially those things I don’t like about myself.
It’s not easy to admit this, but I am practicing the art of concealment. I’m learning to disguise, even camouflage, the parts of me that don’t measure up. You may ask whatmeasuring device I’m using. Well, that just depends. It’s all related to how I’mfeeling at any given moment—and my feelings are constantly changing, and so is the
specific insecurity I’m attempting to hide. Trust me,Mom, there are plenty of them.
The Interior Things
First, there are the inner things, those qualities that the adults in my life try to convince me are the most important, like being honest or kind or generous or faithful. I’m not saying those traits aren’t important because, duh,
I know they are, but it’s difficult to get a grasp on them. It’s like they turn into a slimy wet bar of soap that slips out of my
For instance, I’m really trying to be honest and forthright and suddenly someone (maybe even you, Mom) asks me a tough question that I can’t truthfully answer.Whether it’s incriminating to me or you or someone else, I just cannot force myself to tell the truth. So I don’t. Then I feel guilty. I dislike myself even more. Would I admit that to anyone? to you? I don’t think so.
Or say I’m striving to be kinder to those around me. I know it’s the right way to be, so I’m thinking kind thoughts and asking God to help me change this area of my life. Suddenly my younger sister, without even asking, borrows my favorite Lucky jeans and returns them ripped and dirty and buried in the bottom of my dirty-clothes hamper.
Well, kindness goes right out the window. Can you blame me? Yes, as a matter of fact, you can blame me, and you do. After baby sister runs crying to you, saying that I just called her mean names and threatened her life (which may or may not be true), you side with her. You put on your stern face and point out that I’m being
selfish and mean, which really aggravates me.
I cannot help defending myself, which only makes me look worse. Okay, it makes me look way
worse. My voice gets loud, and my anger flares. Will I back down? Will I admit that maybe I’ve been a bit harsh or a little cruel or even slightly vicious to baby sister? Will I apologize right then and there? Probably not, but maybe I’m thinking about it. Maybe I even want to bury the hatchet, but not when you’re forcing me,Mom. Not if you’re scowling and shaking your finger at me.
If and when I apologize, I want it to be on my terms, in my timing, and I’d prefer it to be somewhat sincere. Anything else and you’re making me feel like a child. Okay, maybe I’m acting like a child, but give me a break, I’m trying to grow up. It’s just not easy. I want to do one thing, but I end up doing another. I want to be one way, but I am totally the opposite.
I Am a Puzzle
Perhaps you’re beginning to see a pattern in my life about now, or so you imagine, because it’s a randompattern that cannot be predicted. It’s a pattern of inconsistency and contradiction. You look at me and scratch your head as you wonder where you went wrong. You thought you were doing a good job. You assumed that you raised me
to be such a nice girl, and you can’t understand how I can be such a total monster at times. Then, just when you’re ready to completely give up on me, I surprise you and do something genuinely nice.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a dichotomy, a mystery, a quandary (yes, I know some big words, but I don’t use them much since I wouldn’t want you to get the idea that I’m overly smart or you might complain about things like academic underachievement). The fact is, I
don’t even understand who I am. I often feel confused and frustrated. Just like you, I get disappointed in me. Not that I let it show—not intentionally, that is. Remember, that’s the big cover-up.
So here’s my confession, Mom: in the same way that I use a flesh-tone cosmetic concealer to hide a loathsome zit, I’m developing concealers to hide the things I don’t want others to notice. It’s just the game we girls play,Mom. For the most part, it’s a game that most of us learn from our mothers.
Before you get all defensive, be honest with yourself,Mom. You were a teenager once too. You went through these very same things (maybe you’re still going through them). You found yourself falling short in some areas and didn’t always like who you were, but you devised ways to hide your insecurities. You had cover-ups for your
Only now you’re a grownup, and you pretend that you’ve got it all together, that you never fail, that you don’t remember what it was like to be a struggling teen, or that you’re not still concealing parts of yourself that you’re not proud of. Maybe we’re more alike than you think. Are you willing to admit that? to yourself? to your best
friend? to me? You see, we women really are complicated, aren’t we?
Those Outer Things
Trust me,Mom, it’s not those important inner qualities that concern me the most. I started there, because I wanted to get your attention. I wanted to put my best foot forward and act like I’m deep and caring and want to be beautiful on the inside. I really do, but if the whole truth and nothing but the truth was revealed (and isn’t that
what I’m doing here?), I’m way more concerned about my exterior than my interior. Okay, it’s kind of painful to admit that. It makes me sound shallow and superficial and insecure and sort of pathetic, but it’s the truth.
As you like to point out (and I vehemently deny), I am
influenced by what I see, whether it’s movies, TV, magazines, MySpace.com, or whatever. I’m not blind. I can’t help but notice the discrepancies in the way we look, and it seems to me we are not all created equal. Though I’d never say something this lame, I wouldn’t complain if I woke up tomorrow looking like Jessica Alba.
Just for the record,Mom, I’m not stupid, and I don’t live under a rock. I know I’m being duped by the media, but sometimes I just can’t help it. Yeah, I’m fully aware that those glossy images are the result of painstaking hours of makeup and hairstyling by crafty professionals, who are paid big bucks to make ordinary women look absolutely fantastic. I know that models’ photos are airbrushed and digitally tweaked to portray a picture of perfection. Yes, I know this in my head, but sometimes I don’t believe it. Sometimes, like when I’m feeling particularly low, I am convinced that 99 percent of the females on this planet are prettier, skinnier, or just plain happier than I am. Some of them are all three. That is so unfair.
“You’re such a pretty girl,” you might say tome, as you catch me looking in the mirror and frowning. I can tell by the tone of your voice that you’re feeling slightly sorry for me. You think this is what I need to hear.
“Yeah, right,” I might say. You probably don’t see me roll my eyes.
“Oh, you are, sweetie. Everyone
“Everyone who?” Okay, now you’ve slightly piqued my interest. Do you mean everyone
as in Josh Green, the hottie who lives across the street?
“Well…your grandmother was just saying—”
And that’s when you lose me, Mom. Not that I think you’re lying exactly, but you are
my mother.What else are you going to tell me? What else would my grandmother say? Of course, you must think I’m pretty or at least act like it. I know that. It’s your maternal, biological duty. The fact is, it just doesn’t help.
When I look at myself, all I see are my imperfections. I try not to compare myself to others, but I can’t help it.Maybe I learned that from you, back when I was a little girl and you didn’t know I was watching you stand in front of the mirror, poking at your midsection or frowning at your nose or complaining about your hair. Maybe I’m just caught up in the female curse of our beauty-trap society of tummy tucks, Botox injections, liposuction, nose jobs,
teeth whitening, breast implants, and breast reductions.We live in a never-good-enough culture. When I look at myself in the mirror, I think there is lots of room for improvement.
My Attempts at Improvements
So perhaps I decide to take matters into my own hands. I decide that, okay, I can’t afford plastic surgery (not that you would ever let me, anyway), but I can work out more often.Maybe I can eat fewer french fries and drink more water. (Who knows? It might even help my complexion.) I know you’re freaking that I might become anorexic. (Okay, maybe I’ve toyed with the idea. What teen girl hasn’t?) But commanding me to put an end to my self-improvement plan is not helping one bit. If anything, you make me want to dig in my heels and really go for it. (I really do like pizza, though.)
Seriously, Mom, the harder you push one way, the harder I will push the other way. So maybe you need to just trust me a little. Give me credit for having a little common sense. (Okay, maybe not consistently, but I’m not a total nut case either.) Give me a little space and see what I do. Better yet, maybe you can partner with me for a healthier lifestyle. I realize that you may know more than I do about oods that are good for us (like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and good proteins). Maybe we can do this together, but instead of assuming the worst and pushing the panic button, give me a chance to figure out some things for myself.
Yes, I know you hear frightening reports about girls my age with eating disorders.Trust me: I know it’s a real thing. I have eyes. I have friends. I see what goes on. Okay, if I show signs of anorexia or bulimia, you should be concerned. Hopefully, you would be honest but gentle with me, and we would work together to deal with it. But
you should know that I need to feel I have some control in my life. I need to grow up; just don’t tell
me I need to grow up. That will only bring out the immature side of me.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the things I don’t like about myself. It would be embarrassing to list all of them, but I can give you a generic list, a list I’ve compiled based on my friends’ comments. The list starts with, “I hate my hair. It’s too curly, too straight, too thin, too thick.” It moves on to, “I hate my eyes. They’re too small, too big, too blue, too close together, too far apart.” Then it goes on to, “I hate my nose. It’s too fat, too skinny, too long, too short.” Then it’s, “I hate my zits,” “I hate my freckles,” “I hate my ears,” and, “I need lip injections,” or, “I need a boob job,” “My feet are too big,” “My thighs are too fat,” and, “My butt’s too small.” You get the picture. I’m sure you can guess at other things on my list, even if I don’t mention them here.
I wonder if you remember how you felt when you were my age? Do you recall the things you didn’t like about yourself, way back in the Dark Ages? I’ll bet your list wasn’t all that different from mine.
Or maybe you were perfect and you have no complaints about adolescence. In that case, don’t talk to me.
Taking Off Masks
Here’s the thing,Mom: it would probably help me if you were willing to admit some of the things you struggled with as a teen. If you could get real and tell me about some of your own challenges with self-esteem, identity issues, self-image, or even some of the things that still bother you as an adult, who knows, if you get transparent with me, I might be willing to let my guard down a bit more around you. Okay, no promises here, but it could happen.
I should warn you that timing is everything,
my timing, that is. Just because you might suddenly get the urge to disclose your deepest, darkest secrets (as you’re driving me to school one morning), does not
mean I’m ready to hear about it at that particular moment. I mean, I might be so busy obsessing over my own life and troubles or freaking over whether or not my hair looks okay or if Jeremy is going to talk to me in geometry today that I could really care less about your past.
Sorry. It may sound shallow and selfish, but it’s the truth. Still, if you catch me at the right time—and I’ll try to give you some clues—it could be life changing. Or at least it might bring us a little closer, until I needmy space anyway and have to remind you to back off again. Maybe I’ll remind you a bit more gently next time.Who knows?Ways to Help My Self-Esteem
* Don’t point out my flaws in public or in private.
* Be honest with me about your own self-esteem issues.
* Don’t compare me to others.
* Show me that you love and accept me just as I am.
* Notice my achievements. Just don’t throw a party.
* Don’t make fun of my attempts to improve myself.
* Don’t be too focused on outward appearances.
* Speak positively about my future.
* Don’t dwell on my failures.
* Don’t be too quick to help me.
* Don’t pick on my wardrobe choices.
* Don’t be overly sympathetic or coddling.
* Expect the best from me, but don’t complain when I don’t deliver.
* Don’t belittle me or make me feel more like a child than I am.
Excerpted from Dear Mom by Melody Carlson. Copyright © 2009 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.