There was a hungry baby on my hip and an over-tired, screaming toddler barnacled to my ankle. I gaped at the woman helplessly, wondering how much more needy kids could get. Surely teens were more independent than my two? Please don’t snuff out the light that I’d been led to believe was at the end of this particularly demanding tunnel…
Fast forward a decade and I’m her. Mum of a teen and a tween (and a toddler, but that’s another story) who, yes, need me now more than ever.
If I’m not snooping around my daughter’s Facebook account or throwing a bar of Cadbury’s Marvellous Creations at the learning curve that is Year 8 PMT, I’m mopping up ‘drama’. If I’m not helping analyse poetry or the reproductive habits of Emperor penguins, I’m driving them interstate for a performance (either theirs or Justin Bieber’s).
People say the problems don’t go away – they get bigger. At thirteen, the big guns have been wheeled out: cyber bullying, youth suicide, self-harm, eating disorders – they may not be happening under my roof, but the fall-out is splattered all over computer screens and phones in my house. And it’s happening to girls who flit in and out of our front door.
Someone gave me a card when my first baby was born saying the hardest part of parenting is letting go, little by little, as children learn their independence. She was right. It is hard. The part of me that aches to keep them safe is at war with the part of me that has encouraged them to stand on their own two feet since they were ten months old.
I clapped and cheered then and I’d clap and cheer now only it’s ‘embarrassing’ of course. As a parent of a teen my job is to keep a low profile – particularly as I’m so unique apparently (nobody else’s parents ever think or do or say the stuff that I do. Apparently).
I often wonder how my ex-colleague made it through these years. Her daughters would be adults now – out in the world, working themselves. That will be my kids next. I’ll blink and they’ll be on the other side of puberty, first boyfriends and last exams and I’ll be less embarrassing and more useful.
When I take my toddler to Gymbaroo he loves to walk along a high ladder. I stand beside him, arms outstretched but not quite holding his hands – ready to catch him if he falls. It’s a pose I know well. I do it every day as my girls walk along the ledge of high school, publicly annoyed that I’m close but secretly glad that I’m there.
And when I miss a step myself I phone my mum. She who was once embarrassing is now helpful and still mops up my drama, arms out-stretched ready to catch me if I fall. She reminds me that getting the kids to eighteen is not my end goal, it’s just the next stepping stone, and it will be okay.
Do you have a teenager? What has been your experience as a parent of a teenager?