Since my daughters have hit their teens, I have had that recurring thought of the similarities between teenagers and toddlers: self-centered, attention-seeking and petulant. Unable to always communicate properly, other than via a series of miserable whines that extol utterances of ‘woe me’. The ability to make you feel like a worthless piece of shite, whilst you freely still slather them in love. Then there’s the highly irritating trait of being utterly charming to granny and friends’ parents, so that these duped individuals exclaim to you (in a voice that makes you feel like a nasty fraud), “difficult? I don’t know what you mean!” Usually said as they feed them another biscuit which, when they have cheerily and smugly said goodbye to you and your offspring, will leave you dealing with the carnage of the sugar rush.
Are you the parent of a toddler who is worried about time moving too fast? Fret not. It only moves like lightening in the bigger picture. The minutiae of life, the bickering and the tantrums, can keep the cogs turning slowly. Of course, just like toddlers, there are many moments of wonder and unadulterated joy with teenagers, but we all know that the reality is that shit happens. Whatever lies your Instagram feed is showing you, with the best will in the world and as much as you would not be without them, sometimes being with toddlers and teenagers is hard bloody work.
Last night however, prompted by one of my dogs wanting a wee, when he should have been going to sleep, my thoughts turned to the differences between having little ones and having teenagers. As I lay in bed, waiting for partner to take the dog out to the toilet, it came to me that one of the most stressful parts of having babies and toddlers is their unpredictability. Weeks of colic with daughter 1, unable to predict what would set her off screaming for hours, sent my already high stress levels rocketing. I can clearly remember the pure relief I felt, when at 16 weeks I had got her into some kind of routine, her colic had subsided and she became more predictable. If as parents of tinies you knew the night schedule in advance: baby wakes at 11pm for a feed, toddler cries 1am-2am for no apparent reason, baby wakes at 2am for a feed, toddler wakes at 5am for Peppa Pig on loop and breakfast, it would actually be far easier to deal with, because you could formulate a plan. Not quite knowing makes it stressful, and in the early days it can feel quite scary.
As a rookie teacher it was the same. The more experienced I became, the more behaviours I had encountered and therefore the more predictable they were. I think it’s the same with teenagers; in many ways their behaviours are highly predictable. You get very little thanks for doing things for them as they feel it’s their right anyway. They don’t bring dirty mugs downstairs. They spend hours on their phones, they take hundreds of selfies…oh the list could go on and on, but at least you know where you stand! They can be so incredibly predictable.
Does predictability make life any easier? Sometimes. Although occasionally, of course, it is the surprises that make life interesting*.
*not when they involve screaming, shit, sick or wee. Smiles, flowers, pleasant behaviour, are all good surprises
“In fiction: we find the predictable boring. In real life: we find the unpredictable terrifying.”
– Mokokoma Mokhonoana