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The A to Z's of Teenagers: U Is for Understand

I vacillate between thinking I understand my daughter perfectly and fearing I understand her not at all.

I should understand her. I raised her. For at least the first 10 years of her life I pretty much knew everything she did, every teacher she had, every friend. I knew where she went, what she ate, the books she read, the music she listened to, the jokes that made her laugh. I knew what she dreamed at night.

RELATED: The A to Z's of Teenagers: T Is for Trust

And I should understand her because I was a teen girl once. Sure, that was before cell phones and Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft. It was before Bill Clinton made oral sex not really sex. Before Red Bull. Before (thank heaven) Justin Bieber.

But being a teen is being a teen, despite changes in technology and pop culture, isn’t it? The heart of it, the gist of it, is the same today as it was when I was my daughter’s age. That off-kilter mix of vulnerability and invulnerability, the way you can feel both carefree and hyper self-conscious at the same time; the compulsion to be different coupled with the need to be accepted; the social discomfort as you find your way (or don’t); the loneliness; the mad, wild ride of that first (second, third, fourth) crush; the sudden realization that your parents are unbelievably lame and boring. Yes, yes. I understand. I understand her.

But then I don’t.

I think I know how she’ll react, and I’m wrong. Like really, really wrong. I buy her something I just know she’ll love, and she doesn’t. She does or says something—good, bad or neutral—and I have not a clue where it came from, what motivated it, what she was thinking. And it feels, eerily, as if she’s some stranger who just happens to live in my house. There’s everyday life when things make sense, and then there are these moments—sometimes long moments—when little makes sense, when she mystifies me, when I struggle to understand this person I’ve known since birth.

What don’t I understand? Here’s my mother’s litany. I bet you have your own.

1. How is it that she knows how to apply makeup perfectly and I don’t?

2. How can blue not be her favorite color? Her eyes are blue, like mine. Blue is my favorite color. What’s up with that?

3. How come one minute she will blurt out an intimate detail that I would never have dreamed of telling my mother, and the next she won’t tell me how she did on a math test?

4. Why doesn’t she want to spend time with the family anymore? (I mean, we’re so cool. Especially me.)

5. Why doesn’t she do chores without being nagged? (For that matter, why doesn’t she do chores after being nagged? Repeatedly.)

6. Why does she spend more time texting with friends than actually being with them?

7. Why has she decided all of a sudden that she’s a vegan? Or a paleo eater. Or a raw foodist. Or anything that our family isn’t, that will make more work for me.

8. And why, oh why, does she refuse to take my sage advice? About anything.

Hold on ... don’t tell me I was like this, too.

She wants to be independent, but she also wants to belong, both in the family and at school.

And now a word from the teenage daughter:

I’m all about the lists today. This post will be super easy to UNDERSTAND.

Here are five things your daughter wishes you understood about her:

1. Her perspective on ... well, everything. Remember the movie Freaky Friday when the daughter suddenly becomes the mother (inside) and vice versa, and they experience life through each other’s eyes? Wow. If that magic (a fortune cookie, right?) could happen in real life, just for a minute, that would be awesome.

2. What she goes through every day at school—the nastiness, the boredom, the stress. All those things she will never talk to you about when you ask, “So, how was school today?” It’s just too complicated, involves people and personalities you don’t know (and would take forever to background you on) and, honestly, would open up some big long conversation your daughter doesn’t really want to have anyway because she can’t wait to STOP thinking about school.

3. That her every outburst or hurtful remark is NOT actually about you, about what you just said, or about the relationship you have. Sometimes you just happen to be there.

4. That being a teen today is different than being a teen when you were one. So advice that begins “When I was your age...” may not be the way to go.

5. How she really sees herself. As in NOT your little girl anymore. As in mature (almost), capable (often), independent (her biggest wish)—a whole, separate human being.

And now, four things you’ll NEVER understand about your daughter:

1. Why she makes the bad decisions she does. (She probably doesn’t even know herself.)

2. What she sees in her boyfriend. (You see the slacker bad boy. She sees the hunky cool dude. And the guy that’s going to save her from spending every night with her lame parents.)

3. Why it’s so important for her to fit in—even if “fitting in” is fitting in with the outcast group. This IS hard to understand. She wants to be independent, but she also wants to belong, both in the family and at school.

4. How she really feels about you (which can change in a heartbeat).

RELATED: The A to Z's of Teenagers: S Is for Secrets

And finally, three things she would like to understand about you:

1. How you got to be where you are today. It didn’t just happen. And it wasn’t just about those big things you tell her about (college, that trip). Details! Details!

2. The best decision(s) you’ve made in your life so far—and don’t answer, “Deciding to have you.” Of course that’s true! But what else?

3. The worst decision(s) you’ve made in your life so far. OK, maybe not all the gory details, but she can learn from your mistakes not just your successes.

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