What you need to know about parenting teenagers
I was really stressed when I was a mum of young children. The jokes about not being able to go to the loo on your own are actually truth. You’re followed around all day long, a slave to the needs of your child. I remember having a rota of activities I would do with my baby in a cyclical fashion – door bouncer, baby gym, cloth book, shape sorter, musical swing seat, door bouncer, baby gym, sleep if lucky, cloth book, etc. I thought it would get easier as she got older, and could manage to entertain herself alone for a short while, but instead the stints on the bouncer got shorter – she was bored. She wanted more.
And then it gets worse!
Then came toddlerhood, and the dawning realisation that everything in your home is a weapon. Now, not only did I have to entertain her, I also needed to prevent her from slicing an eye out on the coffee table, or lacerating her feet on a shattered glass Buddha. In a matter of days our roles reversed, as she stopped dogging my every step to see if I was doing something exciting, and I took to following her everywhere in case she was doing something
exciting dangerous. I thought I’d get a break when she started primary school.
School is no respite
And so I did. I’d spend mornings in Starbucks, and afternoons sparko on the sofa, having spent most nights dealing with wet beds or refusal to sleep. Anxiety kicked in for both of us as her world shifted. And I fell victim to the perfect parent obsession, wondering if she was getting enough homework, too much screen time, or all the party invites. I joined the PTA, to ‘feel like part of the community,’ and swore, as I spent late nights pasting clipart into fliers. And the weekends I spent damp-dusting the sofa and wet-combing wailing heads for nits. Oh, how I laughed…
I decided that secondary school was where I would reap my reward, and get my life back. She would definitely need me less once she became a teenager. I was kidding myself. Parenting teenagers is HARD! About three weeks after my eldest child started in year 7, I ran into another parent at the station. “How’s he settling in,” I enquired. “Oh great,” slightly too brightly. Then the façade broke. “It’s me who’s suffering. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train!”
Why it gets harder with teenagers
I knew exactly what she meant. In the month after my daughter started secondary, I’d been up at student services almost as many times as she had. I would get frenzied calls at one minute to registration asking for various forgotten items to be ferried in for her. She would get a C1 if she didn’t have her Geography book, a C2 if she forgot her coloured pencils, a C7 if she brought a weapon into school and used it. (I made that bit up, but it does exist). In the end, I said no, and she came home with a consequence. And it has helped. Now I only go up there once a week. However I regularly come home to find her sitting on the doorstep, with no key. At least the wifi reaches, she shrugs.
My friend Gretta posted recently that she had between bedtime and 8.30am to find the ingredients for a banoffee pie, her child having only just remembered the next day’s food tech lesson. I can totally relate. During one half term I spent most of my Sunday evenings scouring garage forecourt shops for black olives, puff pastry, or passion fruit. When did schools get so posh?!
Still, she mused, at least it wasn’t as bad as the time when her child announced on the way home from school that they had to make a paper-maché medieval village for the next morning. Again, I’ve been there. We once had to make five layers of the earth in different coloured cake mixes for geography. I would have called the school to express my displeasure, only I had to nip out for the colour blue.
It’s a very common theme. As kids get older, we expect them to need us less. In fact, the opposite is true, and teenagers need you for way more complex things. Helen, who owns Kiddycharts rewards site, says she’s found that she needs to be around almost all the time and has reduced working hours more than she did when her daughter was little. She told me:
“You just never quite know when she is going to need to talk to you, and I feel it’s so important to be there and to be properly present when she decides she does need to talk. I want to encourage as soon as possible that she can ask for help anytime, anyplace so that if she gets into trouble at 2am she isn’t worried about calling me”.
You’d be surprised how young dating starts these days too. I’m sure I was almost 17 when I had my first snog at a party, and it was probably a year later before I had an actual boyfriend. These days seeking out a significant attachment begins in year 7, like a goal to be ticked off. It’s as big a milestone for a parent as it is for their child!
And don’t imagine you can collapse into a big glass of well-deserved wine after nurturing your emotionally needy teenager. Put that corkscrew in the loft. You’re going to need to be sober – you’re the designated driver. My friend Jen is constantly on callout: “I am a real taxi and needed to ferry the boys to friends, football games, the town and often the shops (Damn food tech)! Plus I am always shopping to fill up the cupboards when they have eaten all the food.”
Helen agrees, and warns against putting too much effort into raising your little ones: “We take extreme mum’s cabs to a whole new level. Our weekly mileage for the teen alone is between 500-1200 miles at present. No one warned me that when you take them to all those activities when they are tiny, they could turn out to be really quite good at something! With love from an exhausted Mum of a Team GB athlete.”
Eventually, even alcohol is no solace. Janet points out that wine’o clock has now become so late it’s really not worth it.
“Anything I used to do in the evening – excercise, camera club, evening classes, meeting friends for a drink – all gone out of the window. Any club or activity they do finishes around 9pm at the moment, never mind their social life that is starting to blossom. And if they are home, they’re not asleep until late and I have to share the sofa! So yes, days are easier but evenings are full on parent duties.”
Oh yes, you know seven pm, when you used to breathe, kick back on the sofa and watch Game of Thrones? Not any more. My kids are sometimes now awake later than I am, and there’s no way I want them hearing a GoT sex scene, or wandering in while Daenerys is eating a horse’s heart. So I’m left with Panorama and a cup of tea. Let’s face it, you’re never going out again, so you might as well get that puppy you didn’t think you had time for.
(And we did…)
I’m kissing goodbye to all my spare cash too. Lisa tells me I’m going to need to get another job, just to pay for my kids’ social lives. She grumbles “I’m currently paying for driving lessons, a phone contract, and bus money to college placements for my 17-year-old daughter. Don’t even get me started on the constant broken phone screens and 1am weekend calls when she’s missed the last bus.”
Meanwhile, Emma has seen it all. She’s taught teenagers, and she’s raised them, and sings their praises. But she still despairs. She told me “They are forever shopping and sending you photos saying should I buy this one or that one? Happens all the time with my 17 yr old! Plus I get ‘Mum, I’ve missed the train and can’t work out the timetable can you work it – especially which platform I need to be on…'”
They do at least sleep…
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