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Parents of teenagers, take comfort: Even President Obama feels your pain.
In a candid interview with GQ this week, the commander in chief spends some time discussing fatherhood — particularly how humbled he’s felt by Sasha, 14, and Malia, 17, who no longer see him as the “coolest person” in their lives.
“You get these teenage moments — they love you, but what I think really affects you most is they just don’t have time for you,” Obama told interviewer Bill Simmons in the Nov. 17 story. “It’s not an active disdain for you. It’s just their calendars start filling up and they’ve got all these friends who are much more interesting.”
To deal with that reality, he said, “You just have to let go, you have to acknowledge that if you say to them, ‘Hey, you want to go watch this movie?’ or ‘Hey, you want to go take a swim at the pool?’ ‘No, sorry, Daddy. I love you, though. See you tomorrow, ’cause I’m spending the night at somebody’s house.’ The golden age is between, say, 6, 7, and 12, and they’re your buddies and they just want to hang out.”
“And after that, they will love you, but they don’t have that much time for you,” he continued. “And my understanding is, based on friends of mine who have older kids, is that with a little bit of luck, as long as you’re not so completely annoying during these teenage years, they’ll come back to you around 23, 24, and actually want to hang out with you. But that stretch is painful. The compensation you get for the fact that they don’t have time for you is: Nothing beats watching your children become smarter and cooler than you are. And you suddenly will hear them say something or make a joke or have an insight and you go, ‘Wow. I didn’t think of that.’”
The POTUS’s observations on shepherding children into teenage and young adulthood are “right-on” and “so smart,” Connecticut-based teen and adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Parenting. “I have a 28-year-old daughter, and this is exactly what it was like — I really gave her space during her teens, and now I’m tight not only with her, but with her friends,” she says. And this evolution, she explains, is both natural and positive once kids enter adolescence.
“You become really uncool because this is part of the separation and individuation process, psychologically speaking,” Greenberg, author of Teenage as a Second Language, explains. “You sort of have to see parents as uncool while trying to form your own identity, a lot of which is done with your peers.”
And though waiting out the period between the teenage years and adulthood can be “painful” for parents, as Obama points out, Greenberg advises taking comfort in it. “This is the natural order of things. So if kids are pulling away from them, they should be pleased. It’s when they’re clingy that there’s cause for concern,” she says. “Patience is everything. If you give them space, the return will be smooth.”
In the GQ interview, Obama shares a handful of other thoughts on parenting his girls, who are clearly superstars to their dad. He notes that both daughters are “ninjas” with their smartphones, and that they “can do things that I don’t even understand — they’re doing it in two seconds,” and are able to “multitask with 19 different friends at the same time.”
The president also reveals that his daughters “have no interest” in looking him up online, that they are among only three other people (his mother-in-law, his chief of staff, and his national security adviser) whose phone calls he would answer while on a date with Michelle, and that, while Malia hasn’t yet been picked up at the White House for a date, he definitely has his overprotective moments. “I’ve seen some folks glancing at her in ways that made me not happy,” he admitted.
But, all in all, he seems to be enjoying all the challenges and joys that come with parenting. “My daughters are amazing girls. They’re smart, they’re funny. They take after their mom, and Michelle’s done a great job with them,” he said — even if he does have the least power in his household. “There are clear rankings. Michelle [is No. 1]. Malia and Sasha, they’re constantly wrestling for second place. I rank ahead of the dogs.”
(Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)