Tales of a Mother/Confessor

From Newsweek, June, 1990 (Summer/Fall special edition), United States edition

Thousands of teens tell her their secrets and seek her advice. So why didn’t her own two children?

By Judy Blume

My own adolescent rebellion came late. Somewhere around the age of 35. I don’t recommend waiting till then. Better to drag your parents through it than your kids. I was the good child in our family. My job was to be happy, to make up for my brother, who wasn’t. Even as a teen, I gave my parents little trouble. I told them only what I thought they wanted to hear. I kept the rest to myself. I played my role well, but it took its toll. My rashes were famous all over town. My aunt called me Camille.

Yet my friends envied me. Our house was a haven, a gathering place. Rules were simple and reasonable. My mother was always available (a physical presence if not an emotional one) and my father was warm, funny, loving. He told me if I ever had problems, I should come to him. Other young people did. They’d go to his office just to talk. My father wasn’t a psychiatrist or counselor — he was a dentist — yet people of all ages confided in him. But not me. I was his daughter! I wasn’t supposed to have problems. (At least that’s what I thought.) And I didn’t want to disappoint him.

My father died suddenly, when I was 21, and my life changed overnight. We never had the chance to know each other as adults. Until I began to write this piece it never occurred to me that I have taken my father’s place, becoming a confidante to thousands of young people who write to me every year, in response to my books.

They write about their most immediate concerns — family, friends, love, loss, sex, school. The same concerns I had as a teenager. They wish their parents would acknowledge their feelings and take them seriously. They wish for unconditional love. They worry about their parents’ problems with drug and alcohol abuse. They are angry, hurt, sad and fearful when their parents divorce. They are hostile to unrealistic expectations for stepfamilies. They will not live happily ever after — at least not right away. They wish their parents would make more time for them.

Sometimes they say how lucky they feel. This usually means a close, loving relationship with parents, siblings and friends. Not a perfect life, but these kids can roll with the punches.

What has changed are the numbers of letters about family violence, incest and other abuses. There are letters expressing such hopelessness and despair they leave me in tears. Letters about wanting to die to end the pain.

While most letters are not so pessimistic, these deeply troubled kids need something to believe in — a future with possibilities. Someone has to prove to them that change is possible. Not an easy task. All I can do is offer support and encouragement. I know for the most part they are desperate for someone to listen. As one 16-year-old wrote: “I just want someone to hold me and tell me it’s going to be all right.”

So I certainly should have been prepared for my own children’s adolescence. My daughter and son (and later, my stepdaughter) grew up hearing how lucky they were. “Your mother is Judy Blume. You can tell her anything . . . right?” Wrong. I hoped they would feel they could. But when the going got tough my daughter went to someone else. “My mother just wants to hear that everything is great!” Randy said. Was that true? Had I sent my kids the same message my parents sent to me? I don’t know. But if that’s the way she perceived it, the rest doesn’t matter.

At 16, my sweet daughter became angry, sullen, judgmental, emotionally closed to me. In other words, a typical adolescent. And even though I knew her rejection was necessary to prove she could survive without me, it hurt!

I was feeling very fragile myself at that time, in the midst of my own late adolescence — confused about life, about where I belonged, trying to make up for what I had missed out on when I was young.

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