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Alpha Mom Lesson Learned

Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter (Part 1)

By Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Alpha Mom Lesson LearnedI wish I had better answers for all of my daughter’s difficult questions. If I practice enough, will I finally score a goal in soccer? Can you explain polynomials? Why did you take money from my piggy bank without telling me instead of going to an ATM so you could eat at that cash-only diner? 

My 13-year-old daughter, Cal, starts high school this fall. When she was first born, I assumed the Know Nothing phase of parenting would transition into the Know Everything phase within a few years. I wasn’t sure how many years, but I guesstimated four. Five, tops.

I still don’t know everything. This baffles me. I must be one of those slow learners. What would really help is if the rules of the game didn’t change every time I got the hang of this parenting thing for more than five minutes.  The way I interact with the 7-year-old girl who campaigned for a Spongebob-themed bedroom is so very different from the deeper heart-to-heart talks I now have with the teenager who won’t even allow Spongebob toothpaste in her bathroom. So fickle, these kids.

While I don’t know it all, there are still so many thoughts I want to share with Cal as she makes the milestone transition into high school.


I spent all of my teen years willing time to move faster. “Older” seemed like an exclusive members-only club, and I was on the outs.

By some fluke, I started my senior year of high school as a 16-year-old. Logically, I knew it had something to do with my birthday falling on the cut-off date for school registration. My newly immigrated parents chose not to hold me back for a year because they were eager for me to learn English. While I could (sometimes) appreciate their reasoning, it didn’t make it any easier as everyone around me hit milestones I could still only see in the distant future. I listened with envy as my classmates bragged about drivers ed classes.  And while my friends raced to their cars each day to eat lunch off campus, I tried to blend in with the freshman as we stood in the school cafeteria line with our Styrofoam trays and punch ticket. Thank god for Fiesta Salad Friday. That was the only redeeming grace during my carless high school years.

I wanted everything faster. Sooner. Now.

Now eventually comes. And now, at the age of 32, I catch myself wishing for Then. If I had known Then that I would spend the majority of my life stuck in Los Angeles traffic, I wouldn’t have hidden my face behind my hair as I waited for my school lunch. I wouldn’t have begged my parents to go away for the weekend so I could have the house to myself. They are funny people.  I miss being able to walk into the next room to talk to them.


I didn’t understand what a frenemy was until recently. To me, a friend was a friend, and an enemy was an enemy. If someone labeled me as her friend, and she was nice to me most of the time, then I didn’t question motivations or tantrums or guilt trips.

Several years ago, something wonderful happened in my life. As I dialed my friend’s phone number to share the news, I looked for ways to downplay the value of the accomplishment. I knew that my friend would congratulate me, but then, she would either launch into a tirade about how life hadn’t been fair to her, or bring up a similar achievement in her past and imply that she had “gotten there first.”

I forced myself to acknowledge that something wasn’t right.

We had been friends for so long that I almost didn’t believe that not having her in my life was a possibility. I cycled through feeling like a failure (If I had done more to boost her self-esteem, maybe she wouldn’t be so upset when goodness came into my life.) and feeling like an idiot (Why did I allow her such a large place in my life if she wasn’t a real friend in the first place?).

I still miss her. When we comb through our memories of a particular person, we tend to remember moments through a filter- the good memories becoming amazing and the bad ones don’t seem so bad.

But as I started making new friends, I gained a deeper understanding that a true friend isn’t jealous all of the time. A true friend delights in my happiness because they want the best for me. Just as I wish for them.

This is the first installment in my new series “Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she s...

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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  • Becky

    April 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I love everything you write. Although I don’t have a daughter, I have three goddaughters that I will be sharing this with.

    Keep it coming!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      April 30, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks for the support, Becky! 

      We want the best for the young ladies in our lives, whether we gave birth to them or not. 

  • Susan

    April 30, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    This is great, Elizabeth! So much wisdom to learn and relearn as we bring up the next generation. Thanks for sharing this. – Susan

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      April 30, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Hi Susan!

      I try to remember this advice for myself as well so Cal sees me as a doer and not just a sayer. 

  • Robyn C.

    April 30, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I love this article as I too struggle with getting a grasp on this parenting thing and wanting to raise my boys the best way I can (which I question myself on every minute!) I couldn’t agree with your advice more and I’ll be passing it along to my kiddos!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      April 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      My first instinct is to think about girls because I don’t have boys, but I think boys need saving from frenemies too sometimes. And they should get to enjoy being a boy for a while instead of skipping right into old dude territory. 

  • Maria

    April 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Great post. Having a daughter who just turned 10 and is in a rush to grow up and be a teenager this was definitely a relatable read. It’s sound advice and hopefully your daughter takes it to heart. 🙂

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Thanks. Maria! Turning double digits seemed like such a big leap when it happened to Cal. (Also, she asked me to stop calling her “Bubba” because she was “too grown up for that now.”) Cheers to our daughters. 

  • Misty

    April 30, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Oh man. Where were you when I was 13?? How I would have loved to hear this advice. Then again, if a parental type figure was telling me what I should or shouldn’t do at that age . . . well, let’s be honest, I would have done the opposite just to spite them. That’ll show ’em!!

    I just really hope Cal has the brilliance that I lacked and appreciates this amazing advice for what it is . . . pure and utter gold. Bravo, LIz!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Misty! I TOTALLY agree. I must have operated out of parental spite as well as a teen because I don’t remember any of my mom’s advice being that solid….until I got older. 

      I guess we don’t know what’s valuable until we can hold it up to the things that turn out to be…worthless. =)

  • don

    April 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    i had a friend like that once, someone that i called best friend. but in the end it was something i was holding unto a friendship from the past by name only. then one day i woke up and said no more. life too short to waste on people who really don’t care about you.  sure i miss the parts, but not the sum of the parts. peace

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

      So deep, Don!

      Now that I don’t have to deal with the whole person anymore, I think I’ve pulled my once-friend apart and kept only the good memories on top. When I find myself missing her, I have to remind myself, “Oh NO, check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

  • Gina Davis

    April 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    This is awesome!!

  • Candace Lee

    April 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    This is great. I couldn’t have said it better myself. By the grace of God you will continue publishing great reads and info for my daughter to read when she’s old enough. So here’s to the next 12years. Thanks for reaching into my mind and heart and finding a way to say the things I could not. God bless you.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      *Fist bump* Thanks, Candace! Cal read this post last night. Afterwards, she gave me a hug and said thanks, but then she told me I need to follow my own advice too. 

      I am both proud and mortified that I’ve been outwitted by my kid. 

  • Mel Layesen

    April 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I follow you whether you go, and your writing is always so consistent and heartfelt. Bravo!

    I really have to agree with the friend thing. I don’t believe that you are responsible for your friend’s self-esteem. You should feel free to share your accomplishments with the people close to you. And they should be willing to rejoice with you.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      You’re my ride or die, Mel. Thank you. 

      My friends always do so much to boost me up, that I feel I should do the same. But it’s a different game when two people don’t really feel the same way about each other. 

  • Victor

    April 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Beautiful, to the point … and fun.
    I was about to complain about the daughter-bias (come on, we fathers also need some pointers for our sons) but this works just fine.. and just fun.

    Gotta tease my teenage (step)son about his power rangers themed bedroom (so he can tease me back for pulling him with me to every superhero movie… ) 😀

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Much love, Victor. 

      I once asked my mother what I could do to become the pink Power Ranger. She said she would buy me a costume for Halloween and I was all, “No, I mean in REAL LIFE.” 

      I think a little of her hope for me died that day. 

      So cool that you invite (force, whatever) your stepson to watch superhero movies. Building memories, one superhuman power at a time. 

  • neo

    April 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I have felt the sting of a frenemy myself. And this was during adulthood. It still stings and I try to remember the fun times we had and mourn the loss of this friend. I have a little girl, and this advice is something I plan to share with her. 

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Frenemies bring on such a complicated mix of emotions. I tend to remember the fun as well. When I start to mourn the loss, I try to remind myself that I have to do away with the things that don’t work for the things that really do. 

  • Natasha

    April 30, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Lucky Cal! That is some sound advice-live now. Enjoy now.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks, Natasha!

      A good reminder for my daughter….and for myself. =)

  • Charlie

    May 1, 2013 at 1:40 am

    I always love to read your posts.
    So real, insightful, sad … and funny too.

    Thank you!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks for the boost, Charlie. 

      I used to think that so many things were sad or unfair, but as I get older, they just seem…funny to me now. I guess time + tragedy really does = humor. Or, I just lost my mind. 

  • Vivian

    May 6, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Oh, I love this! Yes, enjoy the present bc, like me, one day you’ll be thinking back and wishing for those happy, carefree moments you cherish so much. Time seriously flies! Girl, I can’t even tell you about my thoughts on friends. I’m def picky with mine and my closest I’ve known for around 10 yrs. It’s hard to trust people w/your true self. Great advice!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      isn’t it so funny that we don’t realize the worth of a moment until we view it with the clarity of hindsight. I wish I had the ability to see clearly in the Now. 

      And amen….when I find a friend I can truly be myself around…I can’t even put a value on that. So priceless.

  • Amy Kim (@kimchi_mom)

    May 7, 2013 at 10:50 am

    It’s so great to see your writing all over the interwebs! I don’t know how you do it…my brain hurts writing a post ONCE a week! Keep on keepin’ on….you’re an inspiration.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      I once saw this timeline drawing about the creative process. How most of it is just fooling around and then in that last sliver before the deadline, it’s “all the work while crying.” Yup, that would pretty much be my process. I’m such a slow writer. My brain most certainly does hurt when I try to put some words down that all go together and make sense. =)

  • Erin

    May 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    The advice about friends is spot-on. Well said. 

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      May 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks, Erin! That advice was learned the hard way…and I’m hoping to spare Cal from the same. 

  • Natalie

    June 6, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Okay I just went to your blog and read a bunch of your stuff…holy crap I am so happy you are now on alphamom…you are awesome!