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- 24 Jan 15

I am the mother of a 13 year old girl. Can I just say, this teenage parenting business, it really separates the wheat from the chaff.

Weary after a particularly challenging weekend, I sent an ‘SOS’ emoji-laden text to a good friend and she, in response, met me for lunch to deliver a pep talk. Thank goodness. I thought parenting toddlers was as hard as it was going to get (rewind to 2003, 8.54am, zero sleep, crushed rice cakes on the floor and the thirteenth play of the ‘Nemo’ DVD, a whole rainy day stretching ahead). But now I wonder: was that stage the hardest? I am not saying the toddler stage is easy at all; it’s not, but the teenage challenge, presently, is winning hands down.

That’s the thing with parenthood; each and every time you think you’ve got it covered, a new phase arrives.

It can be mentally exhausting, trying to work it all out. Teenagers behave with such abandon – I read an article that suggested it’s how their brains are wired. The mood swings. The love/hate. The outfit choices. The inability to wake up in the morning; such a bizarre contrast to those early morning starts of her childhood. The sheer, unadulterated unreasonableness. Self with a capital ‘S’.

To be honest I can laugh about it much of the time, but occasionally (this weekend) I wanted to cry. The kind of parent I thought I was, the kind I want to be, gets obliterates. And we get a crazy lady in return. One who says strange (sometimes shameful) stuff. ‘She drove me to it!’. And after all my teenager daughter is, on the whole, a good girl; I can hardly complain.

I do wonder whether it is exacerbated by the timing of my life? I always maintained it was a good thing to be a young Mum; she’s 13, I am 40. Many of my peers are still in the toddler/rice cake stage. I look back on that like a distant memory. But my own John-Hughes-inspired teenage years don’t seem all that long ago and I feel like I hurtled into adulthood like a missile. I met my husband at 18, married at 25, baby by 27, career, second baby, dream house in our thirties. Here I am splat bang at 40 and the missile course has come to an abrupt stop!

Meanwhile I try to console myself with the knowledge that maybe teenage boys aren’t quite so hard?! My son is just nine. I still have time!

I keep reverting to what seems basic and sensible. Consistency, especially between my husband and I, in setting boundaries. We have tactical conversations; we try to outwit and stay ahead of the game. Seriously, it is a military manoeuvre. I’m always thinking ahead to what really matters and what doesn’t. Picking my battles – wait, isn’t that advice for the parent of the toddler? (Flash back: ‘No, you can’t go outside without a coat, wearing only a synthetic Disney princess outfit’). Knowing deep down that if I just keep my cool it will all be fine.

The quick-fire ‘can do this/go here/have that person over/get collected at 11pm’ questions that litter every conversation. The realisation that if I say no, sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s Armageddon. The somewhat frightening transformation that make-up can create. Boys. Boys who come round and smell of teen aftershave. Well – not even aftershave, more like liberal use of body spray. There’s no shaving – yet.

Attempting to be balanced and measured about all matters. Bolstering self confidence. I stick positive quotes to her mirror. Providing safety. Providing money (endlessly – I should have shares in Costa Coffee and their ham and cheese panini sales). Being the grown up.

And always – the spectre of danger, catastrophe, a wrong turn, a poorly judged acquaintance, a lie, the time she goes to a party and finds there is no adult in charge, just marauding teenagers, fuelled by alcohol, a million little things that could go wrong. And then conversely the million things that could go right; the aced test, the charm, the mature opinion that you know you’ve shaped, the smiles and the beauty and the sheer hopefulness of a whole life ahead of her. It’s enough to make me burst with pride. Look what we did.

Take a deep breath…it’s a bumpy ride!

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Lou Bradford

Lou Bradford is a writer living in Sussex, England. She left the corporate world to complete a Masters in Creative Writing, and the first draft of a novel. Lou has long written a blog of musings and thoughts, many of which are themes that appear in her fiction. She lives with her husband, two children aged 16 and 12, and their dog.

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