The girls got older, more independent. At times, the girls seemed close in age, interested in similar things, played nicely together. At other times they were miles apart, on totally different wavelengths. As parents, generally we stayed one step ahead of them, prepared for the next age and stage. Occasionally they raced ahead and we had to figuratively catch up.
The girls had swimming lessons on Saturday mornings. I aimed for lessons as late as possible and for S~E and C~M who where in separate groups, to have classes at the same time. Just as I got this organised, one girl would be promoted to the next level and it would all get out of sync again. My nightmare was when S~E reached the top class that started at 7.50 am. For a working Mum who had to get the family up and out five days a week, this was an unwanted commitment for a Saturday morning. The girls often told me off for chatting with the other Mum’s and missing their achievements in the pool. C~M wanted to go ice skating but lessons were on Sunday mornings and I needed one day a week to relax, not have to be anywhere at a fixed time. So no ice skating. Sorry kid.
Secondary school was a whole new experience but S~E soon settled. She made new friends and got involved in school activities.
Our girls went to the local infant school, depending on the catchment area where we lived at the time. We were very lucky with the school and the principles it instilled. General good manners, respect for others, walking inside, no running, sitting quietly for assembly. Each class took assembly, even from reception class, so the kids were used to standing up in front of the whole school. It gave them all such confidence.
Their secondary school was also very good with the life skills, and social awareness, the school did not just concentrate on academic achievements. There were the usual sports, music, art and drama but also recognition for being “ good citizens”, there were prefects but also “big brother / big sister” mentoring programmes.
It is great now that our girls are adults, to see these values are an unconscious part of their character, to see them live these principles in their daily lives.
S~E’s first concert at secondary school – She played saxophone and a girl friend played clarinet. They wanted to perform a duet in the Christmas concert. Fine, we had heard them practice and knew what to expect. We weren’t prepared for the sixth form boys who were the backing band. I turned to Aussie Mate and asked if he was ready for our 12 year old daughter to be friends with these 17 year old lads. He hadn’t thought of that!
The girls were untidy, their rooms were a mess. Constant nagging to clean up resulted in a clean room, until you opened a wardrobe door, then an avalanche fell out. Both girls enjoyed rearranging their rooms. They both tried having the bed out across the room, half way along the wall. Until I realised that it all looked tidy from the door, but stuff was hidden on the other side of the bed. We’d always had “no food upstairs” rule, so it was always a clean mess, no dirty plates, or food packets or mould experiments. As older teens, we accepted that they had “floordrobes” and generally looked crumpled. They certainly didn’t iron any clothes.
At one point, Aussie Mate stated that as owner of the property we had rights to enter all rooms, without notice, to inspect or search for contraband, illegal substances! But we chose our battles and eventually accepted the untidy bedrooms as long as it didn’t encroach on the rest of the house. We did nag when clutter spread out on to the landing. “Clear this mess, you do not have a porch to your room!”
We all need rules and boundaries. “A river without banks is a large puddle.”
S~E asked for a lock for her bedroom. We said no. As she was fed up with her little sister “borrowing” things from her room and never returning them, one day she pushed her bed up to the door so that only she could get in. She was the skinny one in the family. This lasted for a few days until I stated it was as fire hazard and she moved the bed.
We needed new strategies and disciplines for teenagers. We docked pocket money, we insisted on additional chores, the worst being to clean the toilet. We grounded them on occasion. The girls called us “the meanest parents in the whole wide world.”
At one point we removed a bedroom door for a few days. That was very effective and got her attention. Teenagers certainly value their privacy. It wasn’t an original idea, we had seen it in a film.
She wrote to an agony aunt in a teen magazine, with the usual “It’s not fair” complaints. And she asked me for a stamp in order to post it. I gave her the stamp. “Sometimes being a good parent is knowing when not to parent, to let life takes its course.”
The Will of a thirteen year old…
“Dad – nothing
Mum – half of my savings – don’t share with Dad
Sister – half of my savings – don’t share with Dad
Friends – my toys and stuff.”
S~E was studying music, played sax, keyboard and didgeridoo. She wanted to learn the drums. Oh joy! She began constantly drumming, tapping, beating out a rhythm, with anything, pens, cutlery, toothbrush, my knitting needles. We gave in and bought her an electronic drum kit for her sixteenth birthday. It had headphones but we still swapped the girls bedrooms so drums were over the garage, not above the lounge. She was a happy girl though.
We had many conversations / discussions / rows (?) with a girl sat on the stairs, me standing on the downstairs hallway. Talking through the bannisters as if one of us is in jail. We had the silent treatment, stomping, doors slammed. But they knew the rules in our house. Just as when they were little, they pushed the limits with us, at home, and were generally well behaved when out. That is the way it should be.
They changed, developed, did well with school work (most of the time). They lolled about the house and had phases when everything (and I mean everything) was an effort. They had pyjama days during the school holidays when they didn’t get up until the afternoon.
After S~E had sex education class at school and had seen the teacher put a condom on a banana, I gave her a packet of condoms so she could open them in her own time, know what they felt like. I didn’t realise that she carried them around in her school bag and her friends all knew about them and that “S~E’s Mum gave them to her”. Oh.
Then…. Gradually…. You realise that life is quieter, there are fewer moans and groans, normal family conversations resume. You realise that tensions have eased, that the girls offer to do chores without being asked, that perhaps you are coming to the end of the teenage phase.
I knew I was winning, when I returned to studying, and a seventeen year old S~E told me that I wouldn’t concentrate on my homework properly in the lounge, reading an astronomy book with the tv on. Also when C~M was minding a friends children in her late teens and told the little kids that they couldn’t play with bouncy balls on the bus as they’d bounce away. To hear some of my own words and warnings come from their mouths proved that all my nagging had obviously been worthwhile.
We successfully completed “the parents of teenagers” challenge. Thanks girls for making it relatively easy!