Difficult teenager? Don’t write them off just yet

I’m in lots of Facebook groups with other parents of teenagers, and on any given day I can almost guarantee I’ll see someone post about their difficult teens. Whilst parenting teens can feel hard at times, I wouldn’t say that I’ve got a difficult teenager. But those mums whose pleas I see have one thing in common: they’re scared for the future of their relationship with their child. Today I’ve got hope for you, in the form of a guest post from Sarah Hughes, who says her difficult teenage behaviour was a nightmare for her mum. Reassuringly, she has a brilliant relationship with her mum now. Read on to see how her story compares to yours:

The nightmare teen

I swear I didn’t mean to drop the heavy stone lamp base on my Mam’s foot the day I moved out. However had you been a fly on the wall during some of my explosive teenage show-downs with her, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was a deliberate act.

She didn’t drive me down to Liverpool that day when I headed off to university (she couldn’t have done even if she’d planned to, due to the fractured metatarsal). That was left up to my much older, highly inappropriate and generally dodgy boyfriend. It’s only now my own kids are getting older that I’ve really thought about that moment, that decision. And I know without a doubt I’d be so hurt if one of my kids chose to be dropped off at their new halls of residence, into their whole new life, by a boyfriend or girlfriend, instead of me.

But that’s the thing with parenting, and daughter-ing, isn’t it? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Teenagers aren’t famed for their ability to consider their parents needs, in the moment, alongside their own. Now aged 40, I look back and am staggered by some of the things I did. 

Not least, my first girls holiday to Malia in 1999. I cannot for the life of me remember what we had fallen out about prior to me heading off to the airport. Chances are it was either about an astronomical phone bill I had run up on the landline or the fact that I’d lost my front door key for the tenth time that month… both of those were recurrent issues which seemed so ridiculous to me. Why was Mam getting so irate over a two hundred pound phone bill? A teenager had to chat to her friends late into the night, every single night, didn’t they?

Anyway, off I stropped to the airport for my 14 night all-inclusive bender, which I think cost about three hundred quid all in, from the high street travel agent. Remember them!? Me and my mates had a grand old time. We guzzled fish bowls of blue cocktails, became firm friends (with benefits) with a bunch of lads staying in our hotel and burnt ourselves to a crisp as is expected of brits abroad. 

Do you know how many times I phoned my Mam while I was away..?

Zero. Nada. Not a single check-in.

I was in the huff wasn’t I? And this was my perfect chance to win the argument. She couldn’t get in touch with me. It was before mobile phones were a thing (and even if I’d had one I’d have lost it or run out of credit). The other girls traipsed down to the phone box diligently every few nights to let their Mothers know they hadn’t been raped or murdered. All the while, I let my Mam suffer.

Little did I know that she was phoning one of the other Mams and checking in on me by proxy. So she knew I was safe, guys! But you know, with good old hindsight I know that that is absolutely not the point.

Dreading the difficult teenage years

My kids are 11, 8 and 4 and I’m already dreading their first holiday away from me. Even a residential school trip sends my tummy into knots that I have to ensure don’t show up on my face as I wave them off, smiling. The idea that one of them could willingly put me through two solid weeks of worry is so hurtful to me. 

I may be very foolish but I think it’s actually unlikely that they will. My relationship with my kids is very different to the one I had with my Mam as a child. Maybe that’s partly the mother-son dynamic (mine are all boys)  but I also think it’s because our homelife, our family life is so different.

Try these strategies for communicating with your teenage daughter.

My Mam was a single mother at 18 with very little family support around her for large chunks of mine and my brothers childhood. She was almost always desperately skint (ohhh… maybe that’s what was peeing her off so much about the phone bills!) and she had a couple of really, really shit relationships which I hated her for.

I compare my own set up and realise how hard I was on her at times. I had my kids in my late twenties/early thirties, inside a rock solid marriage with no financial worries. Yes, my Mam was far from perfect. But she was basically a kid herself. And as an adult I can understand and forgive some of the decisions and mistakes she made. In turn, she seems to have forgiven me for the back chat and the messiness and the phone bills and the keys. And the lamp.

Don’t panic! Relationships can change

Back in my teens and early twenties, I could never have imagined we’d end up as close as we are now. As a kid, I kind of cringed at how young my Mam was, how young she looked, how all the boys I hung about with fancied her instead of me. Now, I love the fact that we’re less than two decades apart! It means she’s still youthful and fun and has loads of energy for her rambunctious (which is a polite way to put it) grandsons.

Sarah and her mum

Grandmothering has been a second chance for Mam. She’s never said it, but I know that everything she’s done for me when my kids were little, all the babysitting, emotional support and endless gifts; it’s all been her way of giving me her all. Something she probably wasn’t capable of either mentally or financially, when I was a kid. And I love seeing her, and my Dad and Stepdad, as grandparents. All my boys have her wrapped around their little fingers, and the smile on her face whenever she sees them tells me she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Advice for teenagers

When I started writing this piece I thought I might finish with some tips for parents of teenagers… but as I’ve written it I’ve decided I’d rather give the tips to the teenagers themselves. So listen up ‘Yoof of today’:

  • Be kind to your parents. Chances are they love you so much they feel sick at the thought of you harming a hair on your precious head. That’s why they’re ‘being so savage.’
  • See your parents as human beings. They had a life before you, they will have a life after you. They are the sum of their previous life experiences, and if they’re being a pain in the arse, chances are there’s a reason for that. Could you perhaps try to figure those reasons out? They’re not just trying to ruin your life.
  • Your parents are not walking cash machines. Nor are they modern-day slaves. Financial pressures on adults are off the charts at the moment (google ‘cost of living 2022’) so try to bear that in mind when you mention those new trainers for the third time today. And because your parent is probably working all hours to buy those new trainers at some point soon, cut them a bit of slack and put your plate in the dishwasher/pick up that wet towel/walk the dog without moaning. 
  • Spend time with them doing something you both find vaguely enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be for long, you can get back on that Xbox within the hour I promise. But you offering to go for a walk with them, accompany them on the visit to your Grandad, watch the second half of the match with them… well it will feel to your poor unappreciated parent like the sun has come out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m printing out Sarah’s tips and sticking them on the fridge! Who knows, maybe some of them will sink in? How about you? Do you have a difficult teenager?

Who is Sarah Hughes?

Sarah Hughes is a writer, blogger and podcaster from the Northeast of England. She is Mam (not Mum) to three fabulous little boys who the teachers describe as being ‘full of character’. From her former life as a teacher, Sarah knows exactly what that means.

Sarah has written her parenting blog ‘Pearls of Kiddom’ for four years now and you can find her over on Instagram embarrassing her children on a daily basis. As a proud feminist; Sarah has been thrilled this year to present the Womxn Up? Podcast in conjunction with Workie Ticket Theatre Company, exploring how the pandemic affected women in the Northeast.

Sarah set up a fundraising enterprise at the start of the pandemic through her Facebook group ‘The Good Thing Is Though’. This has now developed into a website where Sarah continues to write about all things happy and hopeful, alongside raising money for various charities.

3 thoughts on “Difficult teenager? Don’t write them off just yet”

  1. Well said Sarah , very proud of you for your candid recollections. And as a nana who adores her grandchildren, I am still remembering those years with their mother …..your friend ! 🤣🤣😘

  2. What a great article. I think what resonates with me the most is that parenting doesn’t end when they turn 18….who knew? Navigating parenting of over 18 year olds is a different phase again I’m finding and guess what there is no parenting manual for this age group, after all they are old enough to do whatever they like, aren’t they?


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