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I don’t know if it’s an adolescent thing, a hormonal thing, a generational thing, or just my daughter’s thing–but whatever the thing, my once-amiable girl has taken to speaking to me in a tone that’s half pity, half distain and 100 percent loathsome. 

I will pose perfectly reasonable questions–sometimes trying to glean information, sometimes because I’m sincerely interested–questions like, “Do you have math homework?” or “What time is the band concert?” or “Did the ending of the movie surprise you?” and my daughter will scoff with exasperation, like she can’t believe something so stupid fell out of my mouth, and what rotten luck she has to be burdened with such a numbskull for a mother. 

If I ask her to repeat what she said because, God forbid, I didn’t quite catch it (the NERVE of me!), she rolls her eyes in annoyance and annunciates each word, like she’s talking to a prehensile lizard she thinks has poor hearing from sheer laziness. 

This tone of hers has spilled over into conversations with other adults, like an unchecked gas leak. They’ll make an innocuous comment like, “Look at that blue house,” and she’ll act like she’s never been exposed to ignorance so thick and noxious in all her 11 years. “That’s not blue, it’s Aegean.” It’s downright embarrassing and I find myself apologizing, not only for my daughter’s rudeness, but for my flimsy, ineffectual parenting–because I’m the one who enables her, right?

My friend, who was recently on the receiving end of my daughter’s attitude, generously commiserated, saying the You idiot! tone is rampant amongst girls that age. She went on, “The way they talk sounds like they mean to add, ‘—you idiot!’ after everything.”

I thought about it, replaying certain exchanges in my head, and you know what? My friend nailed it. That is EXACTLY how it sounds, and once it was pointed out, I couldn’t stop hearing the You idiot! implied in my daughter’s tone. For example:

“I already told you I have math homework (you IDIOT).”

“The band concert is at 7:00 (you idiot!).”

“Why would the ending of a movie I’ve never seen surprise me (you big idiot)?”

“Why would I make my bed if I’m just going to sleep in it again, tonight (you idiot)?”

And so on.

What bothers me more than being spoken to like a tiresome servant, more than the sting of disrespect, and even more than being just plain hurt is the shame of having judged this very same behavior from other people’s kids in the past. 

Yes, I was that priggish mom who witnessed a demonstratively strong-willed child and thought, “My kid will NEVER talk to ME like that,” then proceeded to change my infant’s diaper and feed her a bottle. I assumed, before she could communicate beyond cries and coos, our relationship would be molded in the image of my ego, that she would laugh at my jokes and agree with my perspective, that she would follow my rules and do exactly as she was told–right away. But I had only imagined my side of the dialogue, my intentions, my objective; I never dreamed that by cultivating her voice and instilling independent thought, my daughter would have. . . her own voice and independent thoughts. 

It’s an odd dichotomy, being incensed by the very character traits I’ve encouraged, not to mention poetic justice that my sanctimoniousness has come full circle. When my daughter and I are in public and she You idiots me, I can feel the disapproving recoil from mothers within earshot. Some days it bothers me and I try to explain, red-faced, that she wasn’t always this insolent, that she was once docile like their kids; other days I hold my head up and carry on, resigned to her insubordination.

I could whip her into shape if I wanted to, demand she lose the You idiot tone, punish any rebellion, quash her defiance, but I truly believe this is just a phase. Despite my complaining and intermittent humiliation, all is not lost. My daughter is stretching her assertive wings, flexing her confidence, testing the power of her expression with someone she trusts. If I can give her some practice before she faces a world full of challenges and wicked pushback, I gladly will. Something tells me she is going to need it. 

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Michelle Riddell

Born and raised in Detroit, Michelle Riddell now lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan where she happily braves her husband’s penchant for DIY projects and her daughter’s passion for wildlife-as-indoor-pets. Her publishing credits include Parent Co,  Sammiches and Psych Meds, Mamalode, MOPS International, and Club Mid. In addition to being a reviewing editor at Mothers Always Write, Michelle is a substitute teacher at her daughter’s elementary school where she tries very hard not to embarrass her. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

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