A quirk of human nature is how, despite the torture of pushing an entire person out of their once tiny vajayjay, most women produce magic amnesia hormones so that the prolonged agony of labour, even the moment-when-you-think-you-are-definitely-going-to-die, are forgotten in an instant, (with only the occasional PTSD flashback to somebody stitching up your privates), and the miracle is that some of us willingly launch into a repeat performance of the whole rigmarole a second and third time. (Those who do it more than that are just crazy.)
Spattered with sputum and fecal matter in the dead of night, we mutter tearfully; ‘…nobody told me about this!’ or, following three hours of sustained night-time baby screaming rivalling the SAS interrogation training, you might hear someone whimper; ‘…if I’d known it was going to be like this I would have had a vasectomy’.
This time of life has provided us with endless witty and hilarious books, blogs, typographic slogans, and sitcoms that bring into sharp and painful focus the early years of temporary parental insanity brought about by sleep deprivation, Vtech toys and responsibility overload. One of my favourites is Why Mummy Drinks
Babies and little children are a force unto themselves, the only things parents can realistically hope to achieve during this period is damage limitation, potty training and maybe the odd times table. But as these small humans of ours grow we become increasingly responsible for their attitudes, behaviour, and approach to life, and with the dawning of puberty it suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting, and serious, and it seems everyone goes a bit quiet.
So, while waiting in the school car park, parents exchange familiar anecdotes, share a collective eye-roll about how many times the PE kit has gone missing this month, and laugh feebly about the aggravating issue of ‘screen time’, the conversation is now more guarded, and some of us are secretly starting to have serious concerns about whether we might have unwittingly created an actual monster.
Can it be entirely my fault that the adorable little person I made fourteen and a half years ago has grown into a towering seething mass of bitter resentment and floppy-limbed apathy? A stranger, a shifty lodger, who choses to lurk permanently behind the closed door of a putrid hovel, strewn with dirty clothes, crockery, crisp packets, and endless sets of broken headphones, he only furtively ventures close to me when hungry. A person with such fragile tolerance that the merest whiff of correction, criticism or advice can detonate an emotional H bomb that leaves silhouettes of cowering parents outlined on the kitchen walls. And believe it or not, thanks to that quirk of human nature I mentioned, we will soon experience all this in glorious stereo, when our youngest child also passes into the twilight zone.
Where’s all the lighthearted banter now, eh? The only thing that sticks in my head is an enamel sign I once found in a gift shop that read:
John Bishop’s assertion that teenagers are ‘twats’ also brings some comfort.
For a parent, The Terrible Teens can feel just as lonely and frightening as those bleary-eyed, exploding-nappy and collapsing-buggy years, which exist now as a nostalgic memory of a simpler, happier time. We bob about in a swirling tide of hormones and coursework, girlfriends and GCSE choices. Real and worrying developments in our children are difficult to articulate, particularly to other parents, perhaps because we are all thinking that we should have got this parenting mullarkey sussed by now. Confiding in another mother that your child is becoming depressed, or disruptive in class, talking openly about your fears for their inevitable future as a pot-wash or a vagrant not only feels like a guilty admission of culpability, but also a wicked betrayal.
The competition hots up as we all jockey for our child’s position in society. There ensues a pointless struggle to protect our babies from malign outside influences, which achieves nothing but their fervent desire to experience them. Sex, drugs and alcohol surface as seductively attractive features of impending adulthood and the pressure from peers to ‘pre-load’ before a no-booze party, or to sport a local ‘dealer’ as a trophy Dodgy Mate, elevates our lovely little person to the higher ranks of cool. Few sanctions are available to us, we parents feel impotent, casting about for an effective new alternative to the Naughty Step, and a bribing bag of jelly babies just doesn’t cut the mustard where £240 tickets to Leeds Festival might. To ground a teenager is to officially permit them the luxury of staying in bed the whole day. (Seriously, have you tried to get a teenager out of bed?)
The apron strings creak and fray. From time to time it is tempting to get the big scissors out and just chop them off, but like mugs, we continue to pour all our love and support into these ungrateful vessels, it’s unconditional damn it. No one wants to be perceived as the mother of a child who is failing at life, and so, to save face, we all pretend that, apart from the occasional lost sock, everything is just going absolutely swimmingly for Tarquin and Tabitha, future prefect and head girl, destined for greatness.
Also, in our case, the issue of ‘Old Bull versus Young Bull’ (as my hairdresser puts it, her husband is a farmer) should get a mention here. The clashes between man and boy, father and son can be spectacular. During these skirmishes my daughter and I retreat to a safe distance and hope that no one loses an eye. Thankfully as part of my remit as a mother, I am qualified to smooth things over between them but the scars can remain visible for a long time and I have much work to do in that area. Reading the wonderful Grayson Perry’s The Descent Of Man has been very helpful in better understanding masculine relationships, but encouraging either of them to adopt new ways of looking at how they handle their masculinity is going to be a struggle.
Because of staggering advances in digital technology, being a fourteen year old today is so far removed from our own experience of the same era that we parents struggle to find common ground. To coin a hackneyed Dad phrase, we were young once, and of course back then our parents had similar concerns; that David Bowie looks like a wrong-un, yes it is important to write thank you letters, and no you’re not going out in that! Answering back, untidiness, defiance and disrespect have been the cornerstones of the parent-teen relationship for generations. But now our children inhabit a world we hardly recognise from one day to the next.
Tonight we are attending a lecture in school from Dr. Aric Sigman, who will talk us through his research on the issues young people increasingly face as a result of over-using iPhones and digital media. Right now, I expect there is an angry mob of stroppy 13 to 17 year-olds desperately brainstorming ways to boycott the event. In case I don’t make it past the picket line I have saved his paper on the subject here.
I like to think that in our conversations with fellow parents over cup-and-saucer-with-bourbon-cream tonight, while politely sidestepping the more unpleasant aspects of owning a teenager, we might subliminally exchange some reassurances that we are not alone.
Thankfully, despite it being the conduit through which our children view endless lobotomising Yogscasts, subversive underground grime music videos (and worse), The Internet has also provided me with some interesting reading on the subject of Teens that has equipped me with a variety of useful ways to get a handle on things such as, 8 Things You Should Never Say To Your Teenager
Coupled with the support of school’s ‘Pastoral Care’, (something that certainly never existed in my day) and with access to counselors and psychologists, we are navigating our way through this scary teen labyrinth. Here’s hoping that we can successfully dodge the wrath of the big hairy Minotaur and instead of slaying him, support him until he transforms into a civilised and happy young man…
*She slowly unravels a large ball of thread in the form of a bucket of vodka.
#parenting #teenagers #justaphase #mentalhealth #school #pastoralcare #internet #psychology #kids #raisingchildren #challengesofbeingagrownup.