I have suddenly realised why teenagers are so goddamn difficult. It’s because they are half way between being under our control and us relinquishing all control. It’s not always their fault that they are such bloody hard work sometimes, and it’s not our fault as parents either. For example: they can’t drive until they are almost adults. This means that they may be proactive in getting a job and thus allowing us to relinquish some monetary control, but then they can’t very easily get there so we still have to have some control. This causes stress, because the part that is in their control contains information that is useful to the person who is in control of getting them there, but being teenagers they only really think about themselves. The result is that as a parent you are expected to suddenly be available to assist in their independence, without having full control of the facts.
This is just one example of hundreds. Sometimes I just want to scream at them: you take full control of your lives then! You organise everything – I don’t have the head space for these snippets of your life that you are expecting and/or needing me to dip in and out of. Then I remember that I am their parent and they are still a child.
I’ve always drawn comparisons between toddlers and teenagers and I think that one of the only real differences between them is this issue of control. As a parent you have total control over a toddler. They’ll push against the boundaries you are setting, but ultimately you control their whole world. As a parent of a teenager you are gradually releasing your control in order to prepare them for the world outside, however the control you are giving over to them is still not entirely theirs, but it is also no longer yours. This blurring of the boundaries of control causes a great deal of the stress involved with bringing up our teens.
In the Saturday Times mag last week, Caitlin Moran talked about being, ‘childless’ now that her youngest daughter has turned 13, “My child-rearing is done. I miss being a mother.” My youngest daughter turns 13 next March and yet in my mind I feel that I am a heck of a long way off giving up my title of, ‘mother’. Caitlin Moran does qualify her point by saying that ‘obviously the grander task of parenting is not over’. What her column is really getting at is that the period of full parental control is over for her. That time when she, ‘thought we’d spend a lot more time in museums and libraries. I thought we’d spend half our lives in there, on rainy days, but we went twice? Three times? ..I thought we’d spend a lot more time on the beach. I thought we’d make thousands of sandcastles. We made six. I thought we’d sit round the table more, and play Ludo, and walk the South Downs Way on a sunny day…we just never did.’
You see, the time to do all these things is while you are in total control of your children. You think you will. You say you will. Then all of a sudden your youngest child is a teenager and as Caitlin Moran says, all you have is, ‘those childhood memories’.