As the mother of a child with special needs, I have struggled with my share of autism-related issues. On the flip side, I have not had to deal with many of the things that mothers of “typical” teenage girls do on a daily basis. Some things that come to mind are the “need” for stylish clothing and the latest-and-greatest cell phone, Taylor Swift and One Direction concerts, sleepover parties, manicures and pedicures, Alex and Ani bracelets, gossip, selfies and, of course, boys!
Mothers (and fathers) stumble upon countless fads and phases as their daughters transform from tweens to teens – and dramatic changes can happen faster than Taylor Swift writes a new hit song (hey, I never said I wasn’t a fan).
For the most part, these are all expected and accepted as a young woman’s rite of passage. Times may have changed, but if you swap New Kids on The Block (am I showing my age here?!) with One Direction, and a Swatch corded phone (really, they were super cool at the time!) for an iPhone 6s, you can imagine it was similar when we were our daughters’ age.
For me, it’s bittersweet. Is it easier to not have to deal with the expense and drama that goes along with those “typical” things? Of course it is. On the other hand, do I sometimes feel like my daughter is being slighted when other moms are talking about the most recent concert all the girls are “dying to go to” or the big party that my daughter wasn’t invited to attend? Of course I do. But my daughter has little in common with girls her age and it doesn’t bother her at all. Why should it bother me?
But then there comes a time in every mother’s life when the unthinkable happens: your baby (she will always be your baby, no matter what her age) is embarrassed to kiss you in public. “Mom, please, do you have to do that it front of people?”
In disbelief, you step back and watch your daughter walk over to her group of friends as you try to wrap your head around what just happened. Thoughts race through your mind: “Does she still love me? Is she ashamed of having me as a mother? Does she even want to be my daughter anymore?”
Hold. The. Swatch. Phone. Momma.
Rest assured, your daughter loves you dearly (“to the moon and back,” just like she has said to you every night since she was five-years-old). You have always been her hero and the person she looks up to the most in this world (whether she will admit it or not). And, you are the best mother she could ever ask for and the only one she could ever wish for. At this point in her life, she just doesn’t want her friends to know how much she adores you and certainly not that she waits for you kiss her forehead at bedtime each evening.
Be honest with yourself: you did the same thing when you were her age. So pull up your big-girl panties, about-face, go back to your car and head to Target while your daughter hangs out with her friends. Target will cheer you up – it always does. And when you pick your daughter up later that evening, she will give you a kiss – once you drive down the block. Out of sight. Away from any other human. Hey, you’ll take it!!
Since she began middle school three years ago, my daughter’s bus stop has been right in front of our house. I would walk her down the driveway to the front door of the bus, kiss her goodbye and tell her to have a great day. Last year, she told me: “You don’t have to walk me to the bus.” That was fine with me because I was still in my mismatched pajamas and half asleep, so I would kiss her goodbye at our door and wave as the bus drove down the street. This year, something odd happened. As I went to kiss my daughter goodbye, she halfheartedly gave me her cheek and sheepishly left the house without a word. What’s going on here? “Maybe she is just having a bad morning,” I thought. But the next day, the same thing happened.
Then, like a ton of bricks, it hit me. My teenage daughter doesn’t want to kiss her mother in public. Even though it was only the bus driver and a few other children, who might see the quick sign affection, but my daughter was aware of it, owned her feelings and did not want to be embarrassed.
At that moment, I tried to wrap my head around what happened. The first thought that raced through my mind: “OMG – isn’t that how a teenage girl is supposed to react when her mother gives her a kiss in public?” After a quick victory dance (the Running Man is still considered a dance, right?), the typical mom questions set in: “Does she still love me? Is she ashamed of having me as a mother? Does she even want to be my daughter anymore?” These questions entered and exited in my mind for 2.2 seconds before I threw my hair in a ponytail, pulled on some yoga pants, drove off in my car and skipped my way through the aisles of Target. It was time to celebrate because my teenage daughter with autism doesn’t want to kiss her mom in public and at that moment it was like I scored front row tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, with special guest – One Direction….and backstage passes.
Yeah, it felt that good.