Open Letter to My Daughter on Her Biggest Birthday (So Far)

The new teenager

Hey Skylar,

Even though we had off yesterday, I was up, rise and shine, hours before you even thought about peeling your little peepers open. I can’t sleep late to save my life. But you can, so as I snuck past your room — which is in desperate need of a tidy-up, by the way — I stopped to look in. Yep, I still check on you like that. You may be taller than me (big deal!) and be able to fit my clothes, but you’re still my baby.

There are days I know we drive each other nuts. I know I nag. I know I frazzle you. I know I pluck your nerves just like you pluck mine — except for, out of the respect you’ve been taught and probably a little fear of the wrath of your mama, you don’t say anything. But you are the greatest blessing I never knew I needed and I’ve enjoyed every year of being your mother. Now you’re a teenager proper! That doesn’t mean we have to go through those ugly kid vs. parent battles, though.


You know, when you were little, it was exciting to be a spectator to all of your wonderful little milestones. The first time you rolled over, sat up, and held your bottle on your own. First time you took some toddly steps, said a word — yours was a real enthusiastic “hi!” — and first full day of school. Those were sweet and I cherish those memories even though they’re all still so fresh in my mind.

I know I romanticize cute little stories about your babyhood but you’re amazing to me as a spry and spunky, brand-spankin’-new 13-year-old, too. Don’t ever think I’m any less proud of you now than I was when you were still so dependent on me. I love the person you’ve become.

That said, I keep getting warnings about you being “at that age” and that means, I guess, that I’m supposed to accept that your attitude is going to suck on a regular basis and that you’re going to want to be less bothered with me. I expect some of that because, believe it or not, I was actually 13 myself at one point in history and, if you can stretch your imagination even further, not that awful long ago. But I also don’t think it’s necessary that we go through the storybook symptoms of this teenage angst that everyone keeps bracing me for.

There’s supposed to be a special place reserved in chaos just for mothers and daughters. I don’t know what it is about that certain age when, all of a sudden, we go from wanting to be like her to just wanting her to leave us alone. Not every girl is drafted into a period of combat with their mamas. Alas, me and the senior Miss Harris weren’t cut from that kind of happy-go-lucky cloth. Even though we’re cool now, it wasn’t always sweet and pretty.

We went toe-to-toe about everything. How many loads of laundry I was doing, letting too much water run when I was doing the dishes, who left the cap off the ketchup. And before I moved out of the house, anything that had to do with how I was raising you. Any subject, no matter how seemingly trite and trivial, was good enough to be argued about.

Even the commonalities that Mommy and I shared were a reason not to get along. We're both incredibly strong-willed and fiery in our opinions. And because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters or a father to act as a buffer, our disagreements were wild. I am so ashamed of it now — it’s one of my biggest regrets in life — but I am part of that tiny collective of black children who had a physical fight with their mama and lived to tell the story. Now that I’m a mother myself, I can imagine how hurt she must’ve been, but it also helps me understand that I am in fact blessed to be alive.

It sounds so clichéd and pink-clouds-in-the-sky, but I don’t want that to be us. I really do want to be your friend. Make no mistake: motherhood is not a popularity contest and I know, sometimes more than others, I’m going to make decisions that you think are stupid and sucky. But my hope is, now that you’re a little older, you can confide and trust in me as more than your guardian but as also your oldest, most loving-est friend. Happy birthday!

All kinds of love,


What kind of relationship did you have with your mother? Do you have a better one with your daughter? 

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