I started this blog when my daughter Maddie was 6, and Evan was 3, as a place to tell our family story. 11 years later I’m now getting used to life with an “almost adult“. I say almost, because at 17, my daughter is still legally my responsibility, and as a teenager there’s still a lot of life she hasn’t experienced. But – as Britney Spears knew all too well – being not a child, not yet a woman means that the goalposts well and truly shift for your parents!
I think the hardest part of parenting is learning to cope when we make decisions that allow our children to gradually move away from us. How much rope do we let them have so they don’t put themselves at risk, but don’t hate us for being too strict? When should we leave them home alone for the first time, let them have a job, alcohol, or a boyfriend? (Good luck with that one, they’ll do as they please and we have no influence at all!) The thing is, we’ve spent their whole lives preparing them, and yet when the time comes it feels impossible to let them do this thing we’ve taught them to do – leave.
How you’ll know your child is almost adult
But leave they will, and not in a sudden, physical way. They leave us emotionally as their friends’ opinions, and their teachers’ approval become more important than ours. And that’s how it should be. Because friends and teachers can (and do) leave them, but they know that you never will. That’s the privilege we’ve earned.
They do things you used to do for them
They leave us by stealth. The last time I checked, I’m pretty sure my daughter still wanted me to plait her hair. But now my 17 year old doesn’t even need me to make her lunches – she makes them herself, or skips them, and I have no say in that unless I want to be a thorn in her side. She organises most of her own transport, taking herself into town when she feels like it, and buying her own tickets to music gigs, festivals and cinemas.
Then they no longer need your permission
I no longer fill in forms for school; she does that, occasionally wafting a piece of paper under my nose and handing me a pen. I sign who knows what in the dazed post-maternal stupor that has descended on me in the months since she decided her life was her own, and watch from the sidelines as she negotiates for herself with teachers when she thinks she needs more of their understanding.
They start organising their finances
Amazon parcels turn up at the house and I have to double check that they’re not mine before ripping them open. She has her own streaming subscriptions, makes her own clothing purchases, and contributes to her school trips. The only thing I still have to buy for her is alcohol; I sometimes think that once she gets ID, she will have zero use for me! The NHS addresses letters marked private and confidential to her and I have to resist the temptation.
They stop telling you all their problems
To be fair, this one started quite young for us, and I beat myself up occasionally that I’ve been such a bad mum that she doesn’t feel she can confide in me. Irrespective, you’ll know your child is almost an adult when they stop telling you the 99 details of every friendship fallout. You’ll know you’ve done a good enough job if they still come to you when something feels too big to navigate alone.
You can still see the child underneath the new person
And yet, my almost adult daughter is not quite fully-fledged enough for me to completely let go of the reins. Does she know how to pick up the bathroom mat, change a loo roll properly, bring dirty bowls down from her bedroom, or wear her retainer every night? Not really. She picks clothes up off the floor where she has cast them only if she’s interested in wearing them again. She still needs reminding that a proper meal involves protein and vegetables as well as carbs, and a 30 day supply of vitamins seems to have lasted at least 3 months so far.
But she can keep a plant alive. She begged me for this final accessory to make her room an almost studio flat, and I’ll confess I didn’t have high hopes. It’s still going 8 months later.
Why this almost adult phase is essential to mums
On the plus side, Maddie seems to have spent the last year preparing me for the empty nest in a way that I might just be thankful for when the time comes for her leave for university. She is literally hardly ever home. She works Friday and Saturday evenings, so family film night is now a Covid lockdown memory. She claims there are too many distractions to do homework at home, so she does long days in school study sessions, or goes to a coffee shop to write essays. She’s learning to drive, runs the debate club and the 6th form book club. And then there’s her social life.
Allow me a vicarious brag here: despite the never seeing her, I remain mega proud of all of the above, but recently she iced the cake by nailing the job of Deputy Head Girl. So long snatched moments with my child on a Friday afternoon – I suspect those will now be taken up by organising inter-house sports matches and running the school open days. I’d complain but I’m too busy glowing.
When she is in the house, she’s mostly in her bedroom; we’re so used to it that she once went away for the weekend and it took my youngest till Sunday evening to ask why she hadn’t been down for dinner in 48 hours. Even the (glorious) time she spends creating brilliant bakes for all of us has to be a solitary effort. This is how she relaxes, so if one of us walks in to put the kettle on while she’s mid-sift on a loaf we will be met with a glare that could make wildebeest think twice.
Where my blog is concerned, there’s been a complete shift of focus. Once upon a time I penned funny stories about daily life with two young children, the highs (remember the one where my little girl organised my birthday, the swimming pool, and our first ski trip?) and the lows I spared you the details of, but knew you’d understand anyway. (Lice, and threadworms: I was happy to see the back of you.) Now I write grown up articles for parents about teenage mental health, exam stress and where to go on holiday with teenagers who really don’t want to be with you!
I will miss her when she goes to university, but maybe she’s already weaned me off her company enough to cope better than I imagine. Maybe this is how it’s meant to be, instead of the sudden death loss of there one day – gone the next. Now I just need to decide whether to fight her over the recipe for her legendary brownies – should I let her seduce her new flatmates with them, or hold it hostage till she comes home?
You might also like this post about living with an adult child. What have you found hardest about having an almost adult in the house?