Withstanding The Teenage Tide…
And Why Falling Out With Your Adolescent Is Healthy
I’ve been bracing myself for the whole teenage thing for years, ever since I spotted the independent streak in my two-year-old. Mine was the child who staged a mass break-out from play group, for example. I took my eyes off her for one moment and the next thing I knew she’d pushed a chair against the hall door so that she could reach the handle, amidst a crowd of other toddlers, all gathered in gleeful awe at her daring.
Her childhood was delightful. She morphed into a kind and thoughtful little girl who smothered me in kisses and made me breakfast in bed. When would this phase turn into the next one? The one with the door slamming, the swearing and the answering back.
My ten-year-old turned into an eleven-year-old, a twelve-year-old. Tick tock. When midnight struck on her thirteenth birthday would she regress, Neanderthal-like? My husband and I sought out that famous Harry Enfield ‘Kevin’ clip and met each other’s eyes with unspoken dread.
The problem is that what makes you a great mother to little ones makes you a rubbish one to a teenager. Three-year-olds need their breakfast at 7am, their tea at 5pm, and in between they want a cross between Mary Poppins and a drill sergeant to map out their day with love, fun and stimulation. They crave routine.
Fast forward ten years and you’re told to mind your own business if you try to instigate order and routine. Oh yes, you’re still needed to make breakfast and dinner, of course, but your offspring can map out their own days with love, fun and hedonism. That’s what friends, mobile phones and Instagram are for. (Note, Facebook is very square; that’s for parents.)
The other problem is that just as your teenager is blossoming, your own inevitable middle-aged decline is brought more sharply into focus. When my daughter and I put our lipstick on at the same time, cheek to cheek in the hall mirror, I am simply transfixed by how perfect she is. Of course, she doesn’t realise she’s gorgeous; she’s too busy comparing herself to anorexic, photo-shopped models, but that’s another column.
And is she a moody teenager? Was the nervous anticipation justified? Oh my goodness, yes. Hormonal teenagers are like the 11th plague of Egypt. Give me thunder, hail and locusts instead any time. Nonetheless – on a good day – she’s also funny, inspiring, insightful and great company. But only when she’s getting her own way.
Getting-Their-Own-Way is central to the teenage mindset. If they can’t go to the party/have that new dress/stay up to watch that unsuitable film, their Whole. Life. Is. Over. Sometimes I feel like a sea-wall as the relentless waves crash against it. The sheer force of a teenager in full flow as they negotiate, wheedle and demand their own way is as exhausting and battering as a winter storm.
I find the judgment and disapproval the hardest to deal with. Resilience and high self-esteem are a must, because if you have any kind of insecurities, your teenager will exploit them, intentionally or unintentionally. I haven’t quite worked out whether my daughter genuinely believes she’s being altruistic when she says: “I wouldn’t go out like that, you’re far too old to wear XXXX” (for XXXX, read ‘anything I might happen to have just bought and actually think I look okay in’). Sometimes, I can smile at the irony: “You’re so boring,” she says, “falling asleep at 10pm on a Saturday night.” But that’s because I had to completely change my body-clock to cope with the 5am wake-up calls of a hyperactive child. Surely it was only yesterday we would cuddle-up for early morning episodes of Peppa Pig? (Sleep deprived parents of toddlers, take heart that one day you will get your own back, when you hoover your teenager’s bedroom at 9am on a Sunday and all they want to do is sleep in until midday.)
Apparently, however, there is a biological imperative to explain the reason why teenagers need to find fault. I once read that the huge, intense bond of unconditional love must be broken down a little, otherwise teenagers would never leave home and find their own mate. How funny to think that 20,000 years ago there was a hormonal teenager living in a cave and yelling at her mum, hands on hips, that life was so unfair.
The kind, thoughtful and adorable little girl hasn’t completely disappeared – she’s still there – albeit in between the hormonal outbursts. Just this morning she made me breakfast like she used to. But then in the next breath she asked for twenty quid and a lift to the cinema. Oh well, only another seven years to go.