The creator of Pajama Diaries, the popular syndicated comic, talks to Your Teen about finding the humor in raising teenagers. Terri Libenson finds humor in the most unlikely place — adolescence.
Interview with Creator of The Pajama Diaries Comic
Q: How did the idea for the Pajama Diaries come about?
Libenson: I glean a lot of my material from real life. Before I started the Pajama Diaries, I had a weekly newlyweds strip that I’d started right after I got married. Then once I had kids, writing about motherhood was just sort of the natural progression.
At the time, a lot of literature and mom blogs were challenging the supermom myth of having it all and getting real about how motherhood is not all roses and sunshine. I connected with that and thought this sort of everyday challenge would make a perfect subject for a comic strip.
Q: How closely does the Jill character mirror you?
Libenson: Jill is a lot like me in the sense that we’re both antsy, anal retentive worriers. We’re both also in creative fields. She’s a freelance graphic designer and I’m a cartoonist. But unlike me, she’s more outspoken.
Q: Jill’s parenting style is all over the map: She can helicopter one day and be hands off the next. What’s your style?
Libenson: I’m usually the pushover, although I try not to be. My husband lays down the law, and I’m a little more easy going. We’re good, though, about teaming up and communicating when making parenting decisions.
Q: In Pajama Diaries, you deal with some sensitive and potentially embarrassing issues. How do your kids deal with this?
Libenson: They see whatever I write before it gets published. Usually, I’ll lay down one week’s worth of cartoons on the table before I turn them in. They’ll tell me if something’s wrong or if something’s off. My younger daughter is actually really good at catching spelling mistakes and punctuation errors.
I won’t publish anything that embarrasses them. There was one time I wrote a whole series about the character, Amy, getting her period. I knew while I was writing it that it wasn’t going to go over too well with my older daughter but I wanted to try writing it anyway. I made sure to get her opinion and, of course, she completely shut it down. She didn’t want to have any connection to that subject matter, whatsoever. And I totally understood.
Q: Do you ever use your cartoons to start conversations with your daughters?
Libenson: Last spring, I did a series on body image and used it as a springboard to talk to my kids. We hadn’t had a lot of conversations on the subject before — my kids, thankfully, haven’t expressed a lot of unhappiness about the way they look — but I didn’t know what they were thinking internally.
Body image is so important, and girls get such confusing messages about their bodies and how they should view them. I know in the past, I’ve had my own issues with dieting and restoring my self-image. It’s such a common thing. I’d like to do another series on the subject.
Q: What will you be using next?
Libenson: Now that my older daughter is in high school, I’d like to address the pressure of education and how different things are nowadays compared to my school days. In future strips, I’d like to see Jill struggling with how to help her daughter through the college admissions process — wanting to give just the right amount of pressure to motivate her, but not so much that her daughter ends up in therapy for life.
Q: Has your parenting style changed?
Libenson: I’m not as hard on myself as I was in the beginning, and I think that’s true of a lot of parents. I think parents start to get more laid back as they gain experience and their kids grow. You learn to let the little things go more.
Q: Why do you think you’re more laid back?
Libenson: Because I’m tired (laughs). I feel like I’ve put in a whole decade of overachievement—or trying to—in the parenting and professional arenas. I’m just pooped. I need to give myself a break. Luckily, my kids are at that age where their friends matter more than their parents, for the most part. They tend to do things more on their own. I’m no longer the cruise director.
Q: How do you feel about that?
Libenson: I love it, actually. Raising a teenager is hard, but I like seeing them as their own people. I like seeing their personalities emerge and learning about their goals and dreams.
It’s also nice as a parent to just have more time. My older daughter can stay home by herself or watch the 12-year-old. It’s very freeing. We don’t have to worry about hiring babysitters. I think sometimes the teenage years get a bad rap. There’s a lot of good things that happen too.
Q: Now that you’re writing about raising a teenager —and living it in real life—does it bring back memories of your own teenage years?
Libenson: Oh yeah. I don’t think anyone ever forgets their teenage years. I have a daughter in high school and I think, “OMG, I was just there.” How did this happen? My daughter doesn’t understand that nothing really changes. The things she goes through, I swear I just went through, but she’ll never believe I went through the exact thing because, of course, that was the 80s. That was years ago.