Parents entertainment editor Jessica Hartshorn explains what it's like to transition from parenting a child who is your biggest fan to parenting a teen who deserves some praise.

By Jessica Hartshorn
Courtesy of Jessica Hartshorn

Part of my work at Parents includes testing toys, so for years, my two kids understood that I had the best job in the world. They played with toys before they even hit the shelf! We went to special events for American Girl and previews of Target’s holiday toy line. I still go to those events. But when they reached about age 10, Mom’s toys elicited little excitement.

Recently I brought home new Beyblades for my once-obsessed son and he played with them “ironically.” After all, he is 14 and my daughter is 16, and that’s about the best I can hope for from teens.

The truth is kids think you’re cool until they don’t. No matter what you do or how you dress, you are number-one in your kids’ eyes when they’re tiny and then embarrassing as they approach their teens. It’s a cliché and true that they go from wanting to basically marry you to eventually wanting you to stop following them on Instagram and please not talk in any school situation. That is why older parents implore you to “enjoy it while it lasts” even though I well remember that having a small child physically attached to me for years got to be, um, a lot.

It's not only my work perks that are less than cool these days, either. My husband is a freelance musician, and his job is to be up on stage in front of both small club crowds and giant festivals—soon he’ll be headlining Bonnaroo with his main employer, The Lumineers. I can not tell you how many people say, “Your kids must think he is the coolest!” His job is to be a rockstar. He’s not a Bruce-Springsteen-level frontman or anything, but still, he plays bass and sings on national TV and in sold-out arenas.

But, in true teen fashion, my kids are pretty neutral about it. Often when he’s up on stage they look proud, but sometimes they look stricken, and mostly they want to tackle him and reclaim him the minute he is off stage. Bruce Springsteen explains this phenomenon best in his autobiography Born to Run, “At the end of the day, as parents, you are their audience. They are not meant to be yours. I always figured young kids wouldn’t mind seeing 50,000 people boo their parents, but what kid wants to see fifty thousand people cheer their folks? None.”

That is the truth. As preschoolers, kids imitate their parents. But things slowly shift, and soon it is supposed to be us watching, admiring, and cheering them on as they move through school and into young adulthood. That’s the natural order of things. So maybe it’s not so much that we aren’t cool—it’s that our kids are, rightfully, so much cooler. And it becomes our job as parents to let them know that. Besides, when they become adults and look back on their childhood, surely they will appreciate how great we were, right? That’s the next cliché I am banking on!

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