Adminning The Village has taught me many valuable lessons. It’s a shame that ¾ of the young adults in my care, are too old to benefit from the wiser, more clued-up and .. most important of all … calmer me.
My oldest says that parenting the first time round is like making pancakes: The first one is always a flop! And should be thrown away. (I think she is hoping that I “throw her away” into a nice two-bedroomed CBD flat with a roof terrace and a pool, tbh, but no. Poor chick. She’s wonderful enough, imo, for someone who had such inept parents, and also … we’re quite fond of her. She’s stuck with us for now.)
But. There have been some very hairy moments. Not only courtesy of her and her dramatic and roller coaster-y scramble through her teen years, the other three boys have delivered their own share of sleepless nights, to us, as well.
There have been moments when my husband and I have lain awake and asked ourselves ( in my case, sometimes quite tearfully… ) “ How did THAT happen? Where is our gorgeous, easy going, problem-free X, Y, Z or Q? Who is this stranger?”
Of course, the answer to that extremely naive question is simple: 13 to 18 happened! The way the teen years happen to all of us, hitherto perfect parents. And them.
Membership of this Village shows all of us, of course, that we were and are not alone in these sleepless, lonely, grim doubting nights.
But we learn through pain, right?
Discovering that your child is taking drugs, is self-harming, has cheated in a maths exam, has got drunk and put their lives at risk, has endangered other people’s lives, faces expulsion, has been banned from his or her group of friends due to being a “bad influence,” or worse, are all not uncommon issues arising, here, in our Village.
A disclaimer: As I always say, while there’s no reason why all of these couldn’t happen to my children, please, for their granny’s sakes, please, I am not being specific, here!
So this is what I’ve learned, I hope it’ll help if and when you lie awake at 3am, wondering weepily, where you went wrong:
1) YOUR LOVELY CHILD IS NOT GONE.
Your child is not a criminal, a lost cause, a drug dealer for life, a failure, mentally ill. He or she is very much most probably – JUST A TEENAGER. This sounds self-evident, but in the dark nights of parenting, it might not be the first thought that comes to mind. Remember the words of the great Caesar Milan, (the dog trainer, whose thoughts about training dogs have greatly helped me raise my kids, but that is a story for another time,) who says, some behavior is “Species. Not the individual.” Teenagers don’t neatly fit into their lives. Or yours. That’s the species. They are mostly uncomfortable, badly-fitting, badly behaved, challenging, disappointing, scary, worrying and quite repulsive. That is all normal. And in todays exposed and vulnerable world – some degree of f***-up that everyone knows about, (and gossips about,) is pretty normal, too.
2) YOU ARE NOT THE WORST PARENT ALIVE
I share and feel your pain, if your neighbour’s friend is a Dux scholar and has provincial colours. But. His or her parents are most likely merely lucky, currently, not necessarily better at this parenting lark, than you. Our teens remind us that the human condition is to be bruised and battered, but still beautiful. Some of the world’s most important disruptors, contributors, movers and shakers, had revolting teen years, after all. The world we live in, offers both girls and boys a very narrow and restrictive path through adolescence, to impress: A boy needs to be ripped, sporty, and academic, always confident, (how?!) popular and good-looking. A girl has to be thin and pretty, and thin and sporty and academic and popular, have 100 000 followers on Insta, and look good in bikinis. She has to both guard her reputation and date the head boy. They both have to be prefects. Hm. That’s not the profile of many of my friends during their school days … don’t know about you?
Oh wait. Except one! And he is still, to the best of my knowledge, on the FBI’s Most Wanted List … wanted for massive fraud and suspected murder. Noice. As my teen would say.
Youthful success is, in the grand scheme of things, not that important. It’s not any indication of future happiness.
And most importantly of all, your child’s success or not, is not your responsibility. Their achievements have actually got very little do with you if your child is a paragon or the opposite. Many of us do our best, and still have suffered the crushing disappointment of a child who refuses to make us look like parent of the year. Many of us are quite beautifully useless and are gifted with marvelous upgrades. (It can go both ways!) Don’t beat yourself up if your kids are acting out. It’s normal and it happens to all of us.
3) TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND PARENT.
A friend who is a competitive mountain biker told me this beautiful piece of advice: When the terrain and the conditions are terrible – rely on your technique. If you do everything right, use the experience you have, the rules you know you need to apply and you’ll get to the bottom. So, when the proverbial hits the fan, do the following. Stay calm – parental anxiety is a cancer. Don’t waste time beating yourself up. Apply consequences and learnings. Hold the kid. Make sure he or she knows you are not flattened, that you are still OK. Ask for help, use help. Try to stay optimistic. Get on with your life – show the kid that his or her foundations remain. Don’t lose your rag – be cross, but not out of control – mostly what teenagers need is boundaries – you can’t apply boundaries if you’re breaching them. Take a deep breath. This too shall pass.