by Jane Parent
“Mom, was I a mistake?” “Well, you WERE my sponge baby.” Or “You’re only here on this planet because Dad and I watched ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ on Christmas night with Daniel Day Lewis running around shirtless in buckskins.” Or “Your head was so big when you were born, I could barely deliver you and the doctor wouldn’t even tell me how many stitches I needed down there.” Or “I’m ovulating right now, and your father always looks really good to me when I’m ovulating.”
Yuck. GROSS! TMI! Your teenagers probably don’t want to hear about anything about how they were conceived, your episiotomy, or about Dad and your ovaries, but we parents do say these awful things out loud, don’t we? Why, WHY do we insist on oversharing personal information that our kids don’t need or want to hear?
Your youngest child was conceived when a condom failed? Dad really likes your bikini wax? You got pregnant with your daughter after a night of too many frozen raspberry margaritas, and you think it’s a hilarious story to tell every time you go out for Mexican food? Just – no. Your teenagers REALLY don’t want to know your personal stuff.
Oversharing isn’t just a problem for our social media-saturated generation, either. I think it’s something that all parents do. I remember my own mother telling me OF COURSE I was unplanned – she got pregnant with me because she had a cracked nipple and had to stop nursing my older sister. I was mortified, not just because she made me visualize my own conception but mostly because my mother had made me think about her nipple.
Some of it, I guess, is because it’s just plain fun to embarrass your teenager. It may also be based on a well-intentioned but misguided desire to be completely honest and open with your kids.
But admit it: some of the impulse to overshare springs from a pathetic need for your kids to think you’re cool.
Back in college, I had a roommate whose mother liked to come visit and “hang out with the girls.” She asked us to call us by her first name, and told us cringe worthy stories about her sex life, her IUD, and how she had finally decided to have it removed. I don’t think the word “oversharing” had been invented thirty years ago, but awkward, uncomfortable silences definitely had been. We were kind of horrified by her candor, but mostly because she had been so frank in front of her own daughter. We all agreed it was an embarrassing way for a mom to behave.
It’s not just about sex, either. Parental oversharing is also about dumb things we did as teens, or about poor decisions we made involving alcohol or drugs that began with a six pack of beer and ended with a golf cart in a pond. Some of it is because we want our kids to know that we remember what it was like to be young and foolish, but all too often, our kids interpret them as license to do stupid stuff.
One of my husband’s favorite college stories to tell our kids was about the class where he showed up to take the final exam, only to find that no one was there because the classroom had been moved after the very first class. He had – get this – never gone back after the first day. Hilarious, right? What I heard whenever he told this story: “What a moron! You flunked a class and wasted so much money!” What our impressionable young son heard? “You skipped class, and got away with it! AWESOME!” Fast forward a few years, when we sought counseling from a specialist for our bright, underachieving son, she was horrified that my husband had told our son this story. “Your son looks up to you as a role model, and I forbid you to tell this story – or any other story when you were anything less than your best – ever again,” she chastened him.
Truth is, in my experience, our kids don’t want us to be cool. They love us, of course – but they like us best when we behave like normal parents who listen, care, and don’t embarrass them.
A few years ago, we drove our daughter to college and spent the weekend unpacking, going out to eat, and getting her settled. My daughter’s roommate, in contrast, flew into town by herself, retrieved her boxes from storage by herself, and set her room up all by herself. Her parents were off being fabulous on a cruise to Italian wine country. After we left, she said “I can’t believe your parents drove all the way out here with you just to help you move in and unpack and be with you. It’s just so …nice.” Or the time when a lacrosse teammate told our son that he liked how we didn’t yell at him during games. “Your parents just come to watch and don’t yell at you the whole time. I wish my parents did that.” We weren’t cool – just normal.
Some families are more free and easy than others. You wanna show your fifteen-year-old son home videos of his live water birth? Have at it. Nope, not me. I am fine with being a little repressed. It’s okay not to share everything and to have some subjects that you simply don’t want to talk about with your teenagers. Ever. And I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.
Jane Parent is senior editor at Your Teen.