Teenagers

Living with older kids has a lot of benefits. Sure, for a peaceful life it is necessary to tiptoe around the easily offended feelings of volatile teenagers. A flippant remark taken the wrong way can result in a scathing comeback followed by that all too familiar, foot stomping exit from the room as the Worst Parent Ever is put firmly in their place and left to mull their inadequacies alone. Most of the time though, on a day to day basis, I have found that my life is easier.

For a start, they can travel unaccompanied. After many years of running the household with military precision to ensure that each of my three kids was fed, delivered to wherever they needed to be on time with whatever they needed for that activity, and then picked up and brought home again as required, it is a relief to be able to simply keep track of who needs to be where and when without having to leave the house. Sometimes I will still be asked to do a drop off, or to pick up one child or another, but most outings are organised by the kids themselves, including transport.

Play dates are a thing of the past. We still get plenty of friends calling round, and sometimes they stay for a meal or to sleepover, but again, it is organised without any need for my intervention. All I need to do is to make sure that we have enough pizza in the freezer and leave the TV room free for their chosen entertainment.

On a day to day basis we can now eat when it suits the adults on most nights as the myriad of late afternoon and early evening activities have been abandoned. If the kids have something organised then they can sort out their own food. Dinner time can be a respectable 7pm or later and caters for whoever happens to be home. Afterwards I can generally sit down to relax knowing that those who are out will make their own way back. I do not even need to be here when they return from school as they carry their own keys, although I do like to sit down with them at this time for a cup of tea and a catch up when I can.

I miss spending time with my kids. They retreat to their bedrooms at every opportunity, but I remember doing the same thing at their age so do not take it personally. It is rare to find an activity that all three will wish to join in with, but this does give me the opportunity to enjoy their company individually. It is easy to leave those who do not wish to take part at home alone; they have all outgrown the need for babysitters.

I still do a lot for my kids, but it is because I choose to do so, not because they are incapable. I am very aware that they need to learn how to take care of themselves as they will be preparing to live away from home all too soon. I choose my battles carefully; a messy bedroom may irritate me, but it is more important that they know how to prepare a meal for themselves.

On Day 3 of my countdown to Christmas I am therefore thinking positively about my children and how much I am enjoying watching them metamorphise from the little people I have nurtured to the grown ups they will become. It can be hard at times to adjust to no longer being at the centre of their lives, but the freedom that this has granted me can be enjoyed.

I do miss the impetuous hugs, the smiles and the little hand in mine when reassurance is required, but I am glad to have moved beyond the nappies, the tantrums and the never ending demands of the very young.

Knowing when to be there for teenagers may be a challenge, but at least for now I am still a part of their lives, even if less significant than I once was.

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And so Cinderella went to the ball

My sixteen year old daughter has spent this afternoon preparing for her school prom. Her beautiful dress was bought months ago at a discount store; the accessories have been cobbled together from bits and pieces that either she or I already owned; the transport would have been a decorated trailer with straw bales and ribbons, organised by friends, but this became impractical when the weather turned seriously wet and windy; they will now arrive in parent’s cars. She has done her own make up and requested that I help with her hair. As neither of us has any expertise in this area, I can only hope that we have created a look that will be in some way acceptable for such an event.

I dislike this sort of ostentation with a passion. If it were marketed as a simple party then I would question the timing (GCSE exams start in earnest next week) but could shrug my shoulders and let it go. If it were a Leaver’s Do; a chance for classmates to enjoy a final get together before heading their separate ways; then I could understand the significance. However, most of the two hundred plus students attending will return to school next week to sit their GCSE’s, and be back next year to prepare for ‘A’ levels. In my mind it is an expensive, American import that does not fit with the structure of British schooling where there is no high school graduation. It is an extravagant excuse for the cool kids to flaunt and compete in the dress and beauty stakes.

I am blessed to have a very beautiful daughter. Not only is she gorgeous on the outside but she is independent, original and sassy in her thinking. Not for her the dyed blonde hair, fake tan and must have, fashion clothing. If her hair needs a wash or her legs need a wax then it is probably because she was too engrossed in her writing to think about such fripperies. If the way she looks raises negative comments then she considers such concerns to be other people’s problems. Whose business but hers is it what she looks like? Loki is her hero: ‘I do what I want!’

When she announced in the New Year that she wanted to go to prom I was a little taken aback. She generally eschews crowds, unless at a rock concert, and complains bitterly about the banal music played too loudly at disco’s, where she prefers to stand at the back drinking tea with a few close friends. Prom, with it’s pretty dresses and prettified girls (who could look so lovely without the spurious interventions), seemed the antithesis of what she would consider to be a fun night out.

Having recently cleared out her bedroom and unceremoniously dumped everything pink in favour of black, I was curious to see what sort of dress she would wish to wear. The one she found looks amazing on her, but is so different to her normal look. Still feeling a bit bah humbug about the whole event I refused to fund any purchases beyond the normal cost of a dress (kudos to her for finding a suitable garment in this price range) and the entrance ticket. Being the girl that she is, she managed to beg or borrow all that she didn’t already own and to blag a lift with some friends who had already organised their transport. Whilst I admire her resourcefulness, I am still surprised that she has chosen to attend.

Nevertheless, I helped her to get ready and provided the taxi service to get her to the required meeting point near the expensive venue where the prom is to be held. I sincerely hope that she and her friends have a fabulous evening. I think it is ridiculous that her school promotes this sort of endeavour, but am aware that there are many who find the prospect exciting and who have poured hundreds of pounds into their preparation. Perhaps my daughter wishes to witness the extravagance as much as take part; I guess even I am looking forward to seeing the photographs that she has promised to take.

For the sake of all those who are making the effort to create a memorable event, I hope that the forecast heavy rain and high winds take a break to allow for the arrivals; the competition for transport originality is often amusing if preposterous. After the anticipation, it would be such a shame if the dream of looking like a prince or princess for a night were washed and blown away by the weather before the festivities could even begin; I do not wish to see anyone’s reverie ruined.

For my daughter though, I do not believe that she has too high expectations for the evening and regards it as an excuse to party with friends. From what she has told me, many of those at her table are well grounded about the whole rigmarole; they will hopefully be able to enjoy a laugh together however it goes. I have no issue with my daughter thinking differently to me and wishing to attend. She looked stunning done up in her finery; I hope she has a ball.

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Other people’s children

Despite being a mother of three children I have never considered myself to be particularly maternal. I have enjoyed every stage of my children’s lives and feel hugely privileged that I have been able to devote my time to raising them, but I have found that the older they get the more I enjoy their company. Giving birth to the three of them within a three and a half year time span has helped. The sleepless nights lasted for years and coping with the demands of two toddlers and a newborn challenged me, but they are close enough in age to have had the same needs and enjoyments as they have grown. We have been able to have a lot of shared fun as a family.

My husband and I came to live in our village while we were still young, working professionals. We moved into our newly built house and looked forward to getting to know our neighbours, many of whom were also young professionals. This met with mixed success. When the majority of one’s time is spent at work and there are no children to make demands at the weekend (thereby allowing great flexibility to get up and go when the mood takes) it can be a challenge to be around enough to get to know anyone new. There were some great organisers amongst our new neighbours and we joined in with the occasional meals out and street barbeques to which we were invited. It was my husband though who succeeded in socialising regularly with the local men as he was willing to go to the village pub once a week and stay out very late. Even then I didn’t have the stamina or the will to join in with the similar, regular outings organised by the ladies.

As the year’s passed the young couples of our acquaintance started to have babies. This was of interest but I have never been one to wish to cuddle a newborn however cute. If I am honest, I don’t really find babies cute. Neighbourly nights out for all were now confined to a Christmas meal and a summer barbeque. Over time I stopped going to even these. Cliques had been formed and I found trying to make small talk with virtual strangers, who all seemed to know each other well, exhausting.

When I left my job to have my own babies I found that life became very lonely. I did not have a car and had got to know very few people in the village. I tried to join the various groups that existed – Mums and Tots, Playgroup and children’s church organisations – but never felt that I fitted in. The mums all seemed to know each other so well and to be confident around each other’s children. I discovered that other people’s young children terrified me; I had no idea how to play with them or to make them behave. I came to dread my slots on the parent help rotas and was much happier hiding in the kitchen doing the washing up than trying to interact with the small people.

By the time my children had moved up to the village primary school I knew a good proportion of the young mothers by sight and name but had still made few friends. It was not until my youngest child started school that I began to socialise with a friendly group of mums with children in the same year groups as my three. After seven years of lonely parenthood I had finally managed to join a clique. It was a good feeling to be a part of a lively social scene and I enjoyed many events and get togethers with these ladies and their families until our children moved on to secondary school. By this time most of the mums had returned to work and the balance of our lives had once again changed.

When one has children at school it can be hard to find suitable, paid employment. It is possible to hire a nanny or book a child into a day nursery, but by far the most popular type of job amongst the ladies of my acquaintance was working with children. I know a surprisingly large number of teachers, teaching assistants, nursery workers and child minders. I could not do these jobs. I still have no idea how to make other peoples children behave. These ladies, on the other hand, are more than confident about admonishing any child they deem to have behaved in an unacceptable way. I don’t know how the kids feel, but they scare me!

The young people that I was required to look after probably sensed that I was out of my depth. One cannot have children without allowing them to have friends round for play dates so the responsibility could not be avoided. It can be so easy to ensure that one’s own child behaves; treats can be removed, trips cancelled, favours withdrawn to get them to respond to requests. Just as adults are paid to do a job, children can be bribed to behave in a certain way. Other people’s children can run riot and the worst that can be done is refuse to have them back to play. I have done this on a fair few occasions.

Of course I recognise that, as the adult, it is I who am responsible for the child. They will take their cues from me and test the boundaries with abandon. I was a hopeless case. The worst experience I had was a children’s party when one boy decided to dance on the table during feeding time and several others followed suit. So much noise was being made that my admonishments may not even have been heard; the children were undoubtedly well out of my control. I am glad to say that my son, whose party it was, did not join in, but he has not been allowed a party since. With friends like that I could not trust him to distribute invitations wisely.

Having done my share of welcoming young children to our house and garden for my three to play with over the years it has come as a great relief that  they are now old enough not to need my constant supervision. We still have plenty of visitors but they sort themselves out; I do not need to feel responsible for their behaviour and can trust them to be sensible in my home. If a child is invited round who does not act appropriately then I will still ban their return. I have not had to do this for some time.

We each raise our children in the best way we know how and, as parents, can see the many good traits in our offspring. It has always perplexed me that so many parents do not seem to be able to see that their little darlings also have negative behaviours. After a few, failed attempts at discussing issues with a child’s parent I gave up mentioning them as it seemed to result in nothing but bad feeling between the adults. I now try to avoid other people’s children when I can.

My three have chosen their enduring friends wisely and I am happy to interact with those who appear at our house from time to time. I am quite relieved that my children do not choose to socialise with the youngsters whom I failed so miserably to control on their early play dates. They may well have grown into sensible and responsible young adults but, if not, I would probably still struggle to know how to react. If I can treat them as equals, as adults, then I am fine. The only children that I seem to be able to properly understand are my own.

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Teenagers are people too

Living with teenagers can be challenging. In the space of a mealtime they can be full of carefree laughter, joking and sharing anecdotes, then suddenly switch to criticism that verges on cruelty for reasons that are unfathomable. No matter how much care is taken to tiptoe around their feelings or confront their behaviour calmly and rationally, it seems impossible to treat them as they wish. And of course, in their eyes, they are always in the right. At least at that moment of confrontation.

I have a huge amount of sympathy for the young people going through this period of their lives. Consider how the average twelve to thirteen year old behaves and then look at the maturity of a young adult of nineteen to twenty. So many changes must be dealt with in so short a time. It is no wonder that their reactions can be all over the place.

Science may be able to explain teenage behaviour with hormone fluctuations and sudden growth spurts upsetting the natural, mood balancing functions; psychology may be able to point at the expectations put on children moving into adulthood in our modern world; but the reality of living with these young people needs more empathy and acceptance than clinical studies provide. Each of us is different and each young person will deal with their situation in their own way. I do not believe that there is a catch all solution; we need to accept these teenagers for what they are and not try to morph them into something that we wish them to be. We need to allow them to grow up in their own way.

It has been said that youth is wasted on the young but I would not wish to relive my teenage years; not that I had such a bad time. I lived with loving parents and a sister I was close to; I had good friends and did well enough at school. There were no particular difficulties to overcome but I still experienced both the best of times and the worst of times. I felt the frustration of being reliant on others, unable to be as independent as I wished; I slipped in and out of friendship groups, never quite feeling that I could be the person that I wanted to be in any of them; I felt the longing for and loss of love.

Looking back on those years they seem filled with highlights and moments of despair. I suffered the torment and longing of unrequited love; I enjoyed the flying, joyousness of being truly, madly, deeply in love (several times!); I suffered the total, blackness of despair when rejected; I behaved badly and caused heartache for others. In between all of these extreme emotions I was enjoying the excitement of new experiences; I was taken on a trip in a private plane, I was chauffeur driven to the best seats in a concert, I spent a day on a beach with a group of friends. That day stands out amongst so many for reasons I cannot explain. Perhaps that is a part of why being a teenager is so tough; sometimes what is good and what is not cannot be clearly defined, it just is.

I sometimes think that older generations look at young people and the lives that they lead and consider that they have an easy life compared to what has gone before. It is my view that each generation simply faces different challenges. There are issues that do not change; friendships, relationships, exam pressures, a desire for more independence; but there are also issues unique to each generation. It is these that can be the hardest for a parent to understand. We have not experienced the here and now that today’s teenagers must face, and may not even be aware of the issues that exist.

I am always grateful when my children talk to me about their lives. It can be so tempting, as a parent, to try to mould a child; to offer advice that is not requested; to lay down rules that are not needed. My children are all different; they are individuals who think, feel and react in different ways. They need love, support and acceptance more than criticism. They need to understand that there are rules that must be followed, but that these should make sense; they are there for a good reason that can be explained, understood and accepted.

When I end up in a confrontation with one of my teenagers I try to look at how I could behave better. Sometimes their reaction is inexplicable but that does not necessarily make it unreasonable. Perhaps they have had a bad day at school; perhaps they feel let down by a friend; perhaps they have not eaten enough or slept enough; perhaps they cannot explain why and will feel bad about how they have behaved. It can be tempting to just accept the stereotypes and put it all down to how it is; they will grow out of it; just a phase they need to get through.

I prefer to deal with it as I would any other confrontation; to let a little time pass and then talk it through. If I have been angered then an apology makes me feel better. If my child thinks that I have behaved unreasonably then we can discuss why I did or said what I did and whether their reaction was reasonable and justified. Generally we both come out of this process understanding the other a little bit better. I am wrong as often as they are.

None of this makes living with teenagers easy but I find that it helps. If I can learn to understand my children as they become the adults that they will be then I hope that I can offer them more support; be someone they feel that they can trust and want to spend time with. Teenagers are, after all, just people. So are parents. I want them to understand me. I want to earn their respect and deserve their love. I will always be there for them but it will be their choice whether or not they make use of what I offer. Living with teenagers offers us a window into the world of what will be. It is a journey that I want to make.

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Status Update

Being a parent of school aged children I find that my year revolves around the school calendar. The half term break has just begun so, for the next week, I will be sharing the house, full time, with my two teenagers. When they were younger the school holidays would be filled with activity; days out, sports and arranged play dates with friends. These days they sort out their own lives; I am consulted when plans involve friends needing to be fed or accommodated. I can see this holiday being largely filled with lie ins, TV and chilling out. It is probably as well that my husband will be at work. He dislikes such inactivity.

Although my children’s friends do appear at the house from time to time, much of their interaction, discussion and planning happens on line. When they do get together they will make arrangements to meet and then catch buses or trains to wherever they are going. Some of the older friends have cars which has added a new dimension to their independence. During term time we will still provide a parental taxi service; driving them too and from their regular, organised meetings and activities. With school and homework commitments they need the speed of direct transport to allow them to fit everything into their day. In the holidays, however, the time pressures are lifted and they are much more likely to be able to sort it all out themselves. Organisation issues seem only to arise when a friend is not a regular user of the various social media that they use to communicate. My children are very uncomfortable ringing someone up on the telephone. Surprisingly, given how much I used this device when I was a teenager (much to my mother’s annoyance), I too now use it as little as possible. I am much happier with the various text and messaging services available. They seem so much less intrusive.

Social networks are often given a bad press but I too get a lot of pleasure from using them. They have enabled me to reconnect with quite a number of old friends and to keep up to date with the lives of so many that I just wouldn’t have time to see regularly. Of course I am only aware of the parts of their lives that they are willing to share in cyber space, but with any relationship it is only possible to share a snapshot of a life. Even those we live with will have their secrets. One of the criticisms that is often made of social media is that it allows users to share their highlights; to make their life sound wonderful, which can make on line friends feel that their own lives are dull by comparison. I love to read about the fabulous things that my friends are doing; I hope that they are leading wonderful lives. I would not consider myself to be much of a friend if I did not want good things to be happening to them.

Whilst I feel better connected with those friends who are willing to use social networks regularly, I understand that not everyone is comfortable with sharing on line. Many keep accounts open to allow them to read other’s updates but rarely post anything themselves. I do not have a problem with this. If someone that I know is interested enough in my life to read about me then I am happy to share. I like to think that we are in touch even if not communicating directly; it feels to me like being at a party with someone we know, but not getting a chance to speak much.

Just as at a good social gathering the conversation can be a highlight, so some of my on line friends have generated interesting debates when they have posted a view on their wall. I love to read these as it gives me an insight into how those I do not know so well think and feel. I live a fairly sheltered life and generally only get to meet people who are similar to me so it is good to have exposure, however limited, to the points of view held by people who are outside the realms of my experience. I am fortunate that I have intelligent, compassionate and opinionated friends; the debates can be an education!

I started to use social media when my children first showed an interest as I wished to ensure that they were using it safely. As they have expanded their use, so have I; on many of the sites we use I follow my children and they follow me. On line interaction cannot replace face to face conversation but I do feel that I get a better understanding of the issues my teenagers must deal with than if I tried to rely on just home life. With each generation the world moves on. If we are to understand how our young people must live then we need to try to keep up.

I have no doubt that my children try to present to me the edited highlights of their lives. Just as some friends will feel uncomfortable sharing on line, so young people will feel uncomfortable sharing with those who seem so old to them. I have been quite heartened when my child has commented on something that I have shared with the world; when they have realised that I think and feel the way I do. As a parent I will try to be strong, supportive and positive; perhaps at times this has made me appear unreal. All relationships are complex. If  parents and their children can get to know each other better as people it can only bring them closer. If the cyber world can help with that then I am a fan.

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Pets and other animals

My youngest child has always wanted a dog. He is a caring and affectionate boy and probably wants a living creature to love. However, when I have looked at the costs and work involved, I have not had the courage to take a dog on; I know that it would be me who would have to look after it. I could see myself enjoying the daily walks but not the hairs, the training and the damage. A badly behaved dog is a nuisance for everyone and I am not convinced that I would be able to train one to behave as it should. When I am out and about I can be quite frightened when a dog I do not know jumps up at me. I would not wish to inflict this on anyone else.

Growing up I never had a desire for a pet. My sister was the animal lover and, over the years, our parents provided her with a rabbit, a cat and then a dog (she had to manage without the horse that she was so keen to own). I paid little attention to any of these creatures. I liked them well enough but had little interest in them. My sister seemed happy with her pets, but it was our parents who looked after them. Owning a living creature is a big responsibility. Knowing how fickle children can be in their willingness to help out I would only have a pet that I personally would be comfortable looking after.

As other parents acquiesced to their children’s desires for cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs, I did start to consider the stance that I was taking. This resulted in us acquiring three chickens – one for each of my children. Although a somewhat unusual pet, our chickens have proved to be a popular addition to our household. Should I say household? One of the advantages of keeping chickens as pets is that they live in the garden, not the house. Another is that they provide us with eggs.

My children show a lot of interest in our little flock, but have become less willing to help with the required maintenance as they get older. As expected, most of the work falls to me. I enjoy my daily interactions with our birds; they are full of character and can act in such daft and funny ways. From our initial three, our flock has now grown to eleven hens of various ages and breeds. We have learnt to keep them off the lawn nearest the house which we wish to remain tidy, but let them free range elsewhere. They are generally easy to keep and I enjoy watching them bathe and scratch around in the garden.

When we have had issues with any of our birds – they do sometimes show signs of illness – I have found the internet to be a great source of information. Chicken keeping has grown in popularity in recent years and this has proved very helpful. Questions can be asked in specialist discussion forums and books recommended to improve knowledge. I am keen to know as much as I can about the best way to care for my birds as I am very aware that they must not be allowed to suffer. In taking on their care, I am responsible for their comfort and well being.

When I read of people who have neglected or deliberately harmed animals I feel so angry; I desire retribution for the poor creatures. I believe that how we treat our animals can say a great deal about what we are like as people. Those who do not have the resources and willingness to care for animals should not keep them. It is my view that those who deliberately cause suffering to animals should be severely punished.

My son still wants a dog and I still wonder if I am being unfair not letting him have one. There is, of course, the issue of how my husband may react to this idea. I think that he is more of a cat person.

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