Written by Claire Handrick


Living with a teenage stranger

Claire Handrick has misjudged the challenges of being the mother of a teenager and has decided to chronicle the joys, frustrations, hair-pulling moments and deep-rooted fears she’s experiencing. This week, her own teenage self would be scoffing at the parent she has become.

All illustrations by Harriet Carmichael.

Illustration by Harriet Carmichael.

I strongly remember thinking when I was a teenager how different I would be when I was the parent of a teenager. I was going to be cool, I was going to be understanding, I was going to let my child go to all the parties and sleepovers she wanted to, I was going to let her have a drink and I certainly wasn’t going to nag.

Yeah right?! Fast forward 30 years and, as it turns out, I am not quite the easy-going parent my 15-year-old self thought I would be.

There are boundaries and chores and I’m far from strict, although my teenage girl obviously thinks it is unfair when I ask her…

• to tidy her room mainly because her ‘floordrobe’ is driving me crazy
• to bring towels out of her room, especially when the towel cupboard is empty and the only option left for drying myself is a flannel
• to tidy up after herself and to help around the house a little bit
• about her homework
• to be back home by the agreed time
• to get up.

It’s dull stuff and I don’t like nagging – who does? – but nag I do, because it’s stuff that needs doing and that’s that.

No one wants to do the dull stuff, but I don’t want to raise a spoiled child who thinks someone else will tidy up after them. Although I also admit that sometimes it is just easier to do it myself!

I struggle with setting boundaries: she can and does go out with friends but will always push how late she comes home or where she goes. And I can be left questioning, ‘Does it matter?’ The truth is that sometimes it does matter and sometimes it doesn’t. It can depend on the day; it can depend on where she wants to go and who with and whether we have other plans. Communication is always there but how receptive she is varies, and some days it seems to change minute by minute.

It would make for a far easier life – and I would be the mother my teenage self wanted me to be – if I just let her do what she likes. But I am her mum, not her mate: I am here to love, care, teach, listen, lead, guide, show, reassure and make her secure as she learns, experiments and navigates the world for herself.

“As it turns out, I am not quite the easy-going parent my 15-year-old self thought I would be.”

There are times when I need to let go despite my fears, but there are others when I need to say no because it isn’t safe or she may not be aware of the potential dangers, like wanting to go to a gig with friends and without adults in a different city.

Yep, I can be the party pooper, the one who brings her back to earth with a bang when she is excited and happy and wants to have fun. There are usually compromises, but it can still feel like I have pissed on her parade and put a lid on her enjoyment.

And there is so much more to come, as her natural desire for independence grows with her need to live her own life. Not having her around all the time is a huge learning curve for me, but I am getting used to it.

I am adapting, but I am still left worrying until I know she is OK. And I guess what my 15-year-old self didn’t bank on was me becoming a grown-up.

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Written by Claire Handrick

Mother, ponderer and cake eater.