Don’t Mess With The Teen Before Noon

On weekdays my eldest and I begin talking at about 3.30pm. Of course we see each other each morning at 6.30 when I walk by her room to see if she’s made it out of bed, and we then share the front seat of a car on a school run, but we seldom make our way into a full conversation in those early hours. Occasionally on the way to school I’ll ask what I know will be easy to answer questions.

“You have softball after school today right?” she’ll then nod in my general direction.

“Did you see your water bottle on the buffet?”

“Yes” she’ll say while eating toast from a plate on her lap, and then “thanks” almost as an afterthought as she inserts a solitary earbud streaming panic at the disco into her right ear.

I know it sounds problematic, and for some this would perhaps signify deeper issues that I should be more concerned about – but I’m not. For I am the parent of a teenager.

My eldest is not a morning person, she never was, neither am I which means I completely understand the injustice that is the first hour or two of being awake. As a teen I can remember berating my own family for looking at me over breakfast. Yes, looking at me. I declared breakfast a no direct eye contact zone. By lunch time I was the life of the party and at dinner I saw my role as the onsite entertainer in the family, but in the morning it was best to just leave me alone.

Our eldest will turn fifteen at the end of this month. She has entered a new world recently, a world where I don’t always know exactly what is going on. I no longer negotiate with other parents on activities or play dates, there is a new element of trust that comes with a trip to the mall or a sleepover. G and I held our breath recently when she announced she’d caught a lift home with a friend’s elder sibling, it was a completely innocent spare of the moment decision, but when it’s your first child and this is all new, trust me, it’s terrifying.

In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph Angella Mollard talked of the parenting of teens, and the transgression from helicoptering to now being the parachute.

But when it comes to adolescents the political and personal responsibility appears to dry up. It’s as if having got them through primary school we run out of puff; that all those years of juggling home and career are now over because, really, can’t they simply look after themselves? They certainly look like they can.

But we’ve got it wrong. The hard work, the value-setting, the character-building, the listening, the emotional closeness, the role-modelling, the trust — it all happens from 12 onwards.

I couldn’t agree more. While I still hold hands with my youngest to walk across the road, and listen to my third read from his latest series, and tuck my second into bed with a kiss goodnight; my eldest now lives in a world where the rumour of underage drinking at a sleepover is a discussion point over a latte at Starbucks. We have moved into a different world, we text, we watch M rated movies, and giggle over awkward moments with boys in health class. And while I trust her (I have absolutely no reason not to) I’m aware that she is mortal, and that this new world she currently inhabits is as foreign to her as it is to me. I am her mother, not her bestie, which means I walk a fine line between what I want to know and what I need to know. What advice I have to give and what advice I’d like to give. Over the weekend I sent a text to see how the sleepover with a friend was going.

“Hey gorgeous, everything okay? We’re missing you here. Having fun?”

The reply was a picture of a few bottles of nail polish and a scented candle burning in the background. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took all my strength not to text back with a gentle “don’t forget to blow out that candle before bed”. I restrained myself.

It’s a new world for both of us. And while I may be listening more, talking less and allowing a bit of space, it somehow feels more complicated than the terrible two’s. What was once a physical race has now moved to a tactical and strategic manoeuvre. I can’t kiss the bruises or fix everything with a cuddle or a treat, but I can show that I’m here, at any hour, direct eye contact or not.

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