It’s normal for tweens to be embarrassed by their parents. A little before puberty, kids learn to separate from their mom and dad and start to see them as annoying, needy, clueless, out-of-it losers. The only reasons they spend time with their parents are guilt, responsibility and financial need.
This is not a phase. This is how we see our parents for the rest of their lives. We thought they were amazing before we turned 11 only because we didn’t know any other people.
I’m really lucky to have had great parents. I not only love them, but I like them. I don’t, however, have any desire to see them, not even around the holidays. When I visit or call, it’s mostly so I can feel like a good person afterward. I view my relationship with my parents as if I were a celebrity and they were dying. Which, if you want to stretch things, is pretty much true.
My parents have no idea I feel this way about them. When we get together, they think we’re all having a great time. The strangest thing about this is they didn’t love hanging out with their own parents. But they truly believe they’ve broken the millennium-long chain of parent toleration. They think that because they wear jeans and listen to rock music like we do, that exempts them from being annoying—even though they clearly wear the wrong jeans and listen to terrible old rock. It’s way less embarrassing to have your mom show up at your office in a long dress than for her to strut in wearing faded baggy Lee’s as “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” oozes out of her earbuds.
And parents have more ways to annoy us than ever before. Whoever thought it was cute to teach them to text was an idiot. Sure, I thought it was awesome when my dad would send texts that said, “I miss you, LOL” because he thought “LOL” meant “lots of love.” But that small amusement does not make up for allowing them access to an instantaneous method of annoying us. Our parents’ texts are so boring that if they’d had access to texting back when they were dating, none of us would exist. Plus, they’re lurking on our Facebook accounts, making creepy comments about our exes’ creepy comments. And they’re still calling, visiting in person and probably trying to send telegrams. This is why so many people still live at home: because wherever we are, our parents find us anyway.
They’re annoying not just because they’re old people. They’re old people who have known us our entire lives. Back when we were prepubescent and didn’t know any better than to trust them, we revealed all our weaknesses we’ve since worked so hard to hide. They’re still trying to solve our problems, even though we’ve given up. No, we shouldn’t eat that doughnut if we need to lose weight. Yes, we should fix up our résumé and leave our boring, comfortable jobs. And no, those aren’t things I hear from my parents, because there’s no way I’m revealing my insecurities to you.
Worse yet, unlike our friends, who just pretend they’re rooting for us and secretly hope we’ll fail, our parents really do want us to succeed. It makes them look better to their friends. But they have no idea how to give us advice, because the world has changed. They tell women to stop breast-feeding and use formula. They drink orange juice. They have cable TV and land lines.
I am 44 years old and successful enough in my field to have plenty of work, no money worries and a Wikipedia entry that lists four articles that horrified America. Yet every time I talk to my father, he gives me unsolicited career advice, despite not having any idea how the media industry works. Should I replace Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes? (Did he just notice that Andy is gone?) Speak to groups of businesspeople around the country for money? Write a TV show that’s just like Friends but not Friends? Maybe. But none of the people who work for media companies want me to do that stuff. In fact, the people in charge don’t even want me to do the little I’m doing now, so I can’t push it by asking for more.
Your relationship with any human is frozen at the point when you first met. It’s why all the rules in a romantic partnership are set in the first two months. It’s why your parents will always drive you insane. Because even if it doesn’t make sense, it still feels as though they get to decide whether or not we can have dessert. And no one should be able to tell an adult he can’t have dessert. If you offered me the best job in the world but told me my boss would get to decide how much ice cream I could have at night, I would run in the other direction.
When we hit puberty and first figured out our parents were gathering intel on us, we smartly started to stonewall them by answering all questions with “I don’t know.” Then, as we moved out and their power waned, we started to throw them some crumbs about our lives. This was a huge mistake. No matter how old we get, we should never make the mistake of offering them any information whatsoever.
Things, if they ask, are “going well” or “exactly the same.” If something truly interesting happens that they’re going to find out about, tell them months later, long after anything can be done about it. I recommend not introducing them to their grandkids until they turn three. Don’t worry about it after that. Grandparents never drive their grandkids crazy. Why? They give them all the dessert they want.