How to survive secondary school as a parent

I read an article by a mum of a year 7 child  last week and it really struck a chord. She described how much her daughter had changed since moving from primary school to secondary school, from the changes in her appearance, to the growth in her confidence and independence. I recognised my own daughter in pretty much everything she said, but as I nodded along I realised quite starkly that the change since her first day at secondary school hasn’t just involved my 12 year old. It has happened to me too. I’m not kidding, I’m a shadow of my former parenting self. I think there’s a confidence quota per family, and right now, she has borrowed heavily from the box on my bedside table, leaving me once again quivering nightly over my inadequacy at parenting a teenager.

And she’s not even a teenager yet.

Here’s how I’ve changed , and what to expect when your child starts secondary school.

I can’t look people in the eye

Every afternoon, on the school run to collect my youngest from the comfortable arms of primary school, I pass my daughter’s friends coming the other way. These are kids who have been in my house, eaten my chicken nuggets, and whose grazed knees I’ve stuck plasters on. And I can’t bring myself to speak to them. It’s too awkward. I find myself leaving home later and later to try and avoid them. I scour the horizon as I walk, and if I spot one, I stare at the pavement, or whip out my phone for something absolutely vital to read as I walk. (That backfired on me yesterday as I walked straight into a teenager). It’s just not cool to talk to your daughter’s friends once they’re in secondary school. Take my advice: in the first few weeks of secondary school, stay as far away from the school run as possible.

I dress better

The only exception to the no talking to friends rule is if I’m looking great myself. Though it has to be a certain kind of great. My purple boots won’t cut it. My black skinny jeans and leather jacket will. The other day, as I walked my son home from the playground, he suddenly stopped, looking me up and down. “What?” I was confused. “Just checking you’re okay to say hello to Lara, we’re about to pass her.” he advised. “And you are, you’re wearing your cool clothes.” Oh. Phew. Let me tell you, learning how to survive secondary school as a parent is as much about your own image as it is about your child’s.

I wear more make-up

Likewise, as my daughter gets better at applying make-up, I’ve started to feel a need for it myself. I wonder each morning not whether my hair needs a wash, but if I might see anyone important enough to merit blusher and mascara. Generally that means someone under the age of twenty. My friends accept me as I am, baggy jumper and all. But I live in terror that a thirteen year old might judge me for my eyebrows. Believe me, preparation for secondary school needs personal groundwork as well as parenting preparation.

I’m needy

I’ve gone from doing anything for a moment’s peace and quiet, to behaving like a labrador, desperate for a pat. Don’t get me wrong – my daughter can be gorgeous, kind, loving, adorable; but she can drop me as fast as a hot coal if there’s a conversation going on that seems more fun. She doesn’t need me in the same, all-consuming way that she once did, and that’s a good thing. It means I’m parenting right. But where I used to artificially extend the time it took to go to the loo, for a moment of solitude, I’m now like a teenage crush, ruining my chances of affection by craving it too obviously.

I’m way more laid back

At primary school, I would quiz my child endlessly on what she’d done that day. I’d join in with her homework, make sure she handed it in on time, and ask for feedback. I honestly can’t do that anymore. How any year 7 student keeps on top of the list of everything that’s going on in their lives is beyond me. I’ve had to let most of it go. And in turn, she has picked up the slack where it’s important, and takes it on the chin if she gets things wrong. Perhaps it’s the natural move towards independence, where parents give up under the pressure, just as children are ready to take more on. Certainly secondary school consequences carry much more weight with your kids than parental sanctions do, so my tip is to let them find their own way on this one.

I pick my battles

On that note, I used to be such a control freak. I needed to be the perfect parent; I needed my kids to turn out perfectly where I had failed. I was on it relentlessly, all the time. I am so not on it any more. I let school take some of the strain. If I can get my daughter to school on time, with everything she needs, and her teeth brushed, I’m very happy for school to lock horns with her over last night’s makeup and late homework. I allow pink hair, crop tops and phones in bedrooms – all things I swore I’d never do before I had a teen. But then I was adamant I’d never give my baby a bottle or a dummy before I had her, and we all know how that one turns out!

Secondary school is the biggest parental learning curve I’ve ever been on, and makes primary look like a walk in the park. For the first time in my life I’m totally winging it every day. And I swear we’re all happier for it.

If you’re reading this in preparation, rather than for reassurance after the fact, The Guardian has this great article on how to survive secondary school as a parent.

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What to expect when your child starts secondary school

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