Reckoning with the Superpower of Teenage Celebrity

Claudia Conway's public shaming of her parents

Posted Aug 25, 2020

I have been fascinated by the Conways, George and Kellyanne, since they arrived in Washington. Initially I thought of them as a power couple, like Matalin and Carville, but somewhere between her expressed allegiance to alternate facts and his co-founding of the Lincoln Project, I stopped reflecting on how a sharp rift between spouses’ deeply felt values and principles affects them and their marriage, particularly such a public one, and began wondering how it affects their children.

My own parents had such a disagreement, which was not the stuff of tabloids but was well-known in the medium-size Connecticut city where we lived; they were each the town chair of their political party. As an unsophisticated newcomer, my mother had been persuaded by her new husband to register as a Republican, but soon thereafter she became active in the Democratic Party, while he redoubled his efforts for the local GOP. They argued politics all the time, it was the lingua franca of my childhood,  and they didn’t talk for a week after the Nixon-Kennedy race But they never considered, as the Conway imbroglio has, how or whether their differences might affect their kids.

They didn’t, but I wasn’t a precocious 15-year-old who learned the power of social media at her mother’s knee. Nor did I use it to embarrass them into retiring from politics publicly, or maybe even privately, though I doubt that.

The point is not that she meant that she truly wanted to be adopted by A.O.C. or to be emancipated from her parents any more than most teenagers mean it when they tell us they hate us, they wish they’d never have to see us again, we are hopelessly flawed. The chilling point is Claudia Conway's awareness of her adolescent superpower.

As she texted gleefully to her thousands of TikTok and Twitter followers: “The power that I hold.— they think this is gonna stop me from getting emancipated?” In recent months, she has been increasingly critical on social media, especially of her mother.  “My mother’s job ruined my life to begin with. It’s heartbreaking that she continues to go down that path after years of watching her children suffer.”

I hold no brief for Kellyanne’s politics, but as one who was the mother of a 15-year-old once, I feel for her. She just got the ultimate public FU from her kid, whose phone she once took away, when the pandemic made grounding her irrelevant.

Claudia's temporary absence from TikTok and Twitter didn’t last, and clearly the only way for her parents to enforce it is to keep a vigilant eye on their daughter from now on, which may be the only good thing about sheltering in place with a glowering, angry teenager. For once, the excuse about leaving your job to spend more time with your family rings totally true, as does Kellyanne’s public avowal of the one thing both parents agree on; their kids’ welfare matters more to them than anything.

It’s no small thing for a woman to give up as much power as Kellyanne had, and to have one’s adolescent daughter publicly and privately pry it away from you must be extremely galling. I imagine family dinners chez Conway aren’t going to be very pleasant for the foreseeable future. George will go back to his law practice and Kellaynne will get another job, although I suppose there might be a book contract if not a number of court and committee hearings if her former boss ever get a hearing. She just wants to be “no drama Mama,” she says, which is a good default position when your daughter is starring in her own.