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How Much Should I Share With My Daughter?

“What’s the worst thing you ever did in high school?” my daughter asked me, apropos of nothing—at least I hoped it was apropos of nothing—a few days ago. We were drinking tea together around the kitchen table, all civilized and mother-daughter-like.

I blew over the rim of the steamy mug and took a careful sip to give myself time to think.

The time I wrote irregular verb conjugations on the palm of my hand and cheated on a final exam in Spanish?

The mornings I spent on the corner across from the school smoking the cigarettes I stole from my mother’s purse?

The time I told my mother I was sleeping over at Paula’s, but I went to Linda’s instead? Linda, the “wild one” my parents expressly forbade me to see? Linda, who had a fake ID and knew the bouncers at the local bars by name?

I took another sip of tea. Wait a minute. Did I even want to answer this question? How much of who I used to be did my daughter need to know?

I know I do not want to be like my own mother was to me: opaque and unknowable, a woman of masked emotions and with no past.

That’s a question us mothers of older teens face more and more as our kids get increasingly curious about us as people, not just parents. Have you noticed the evolution in their concept of us? (Baby) Mama is that soft, warm thing that feeds and holds me to (Toddler) Mommy is the one who takes me places and does cool stuff with me to (Adolescent) Mom is the one who makes stupid rules and forces me to do chores to (Tween/young teen) She’s is so totally clueless and lame that I can’t believe she can tie her own shoes. (If your 13-year-old daughter still considered you to be the goddess she thought you were when she was 8, I really don’t want to hear about it.)

And now we’ve arrived at older teen, that stage where our kids are really hard at work trying to figure out who they are. Figuring out who we are, and especially who we were at their age, is part of this. So now my daughter suddenly wants to know: “Who did you love before daddy?” and “Did you used to lie to your parents?” Yikes.

I know I do not want to be like my own mother was to me: opaque and unknowable, a woman of masked emotions and with no past. But I also know that I don’t want to be like my friend Robin, who made a confidante of her 16-year-old daughter during one of those awful divorces that takes no prisoners. In telling her daughter everything, in baring herself and her past and her problems, Robin made a casualty of her own daughter.

But there’s a lot of room between opacity and TMI, and it’s that terrain I am slowly learning to navigate. Maybe you are too? Here’s what I’m doing: I tell the truth. But maybe not all the truth all at once. I expose vulnerabilities but tack on a teaching moment that I hope is far less obvious than I just made it sound. And, most importantly, I listen not just to the question but to the question behind the question. I am learning a lot about my daughter this way.

MORE: What I want My Daughter to Know

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