By Lauren Edwards
Last year, something changed in my parenting role. As I embarked on the six week summer holidays with my 17-year-old son and 14-year-old twins, I found myself feeling weirdly redundant and not factoring into their plans as I had done in previous years.
When my twins were born, I had a lively 3-year-old in tow and life in the trenches was hard. Sleep was a luxury I rarely had. Vomit-stained clothing was the norm, and I became quite adept at picking things up with my feet as I went about my day with a baby on each hip, chasing after my toddler.
As my trio made their way through primary school, summer holidays were full of long days in the garden, picnics, play dates, forest walks and days at the beach. My little ones were always up early and eager to exhaust their boundless energy with me as their events organiser. It was joyful but tiring and I looked forward to the days when they would be older, and things would slow down a bit.
But lately I have really missed feeling needed in the way a parent does when their child is young. I miss my twins running into the living room bright and early, I miss my eldest son with his unruly six-year-old curls crawling into my bed after a nightmare to seek comfort. I miss the way in which they would climb onto my lap with a book whenever I sat down on the sofa. I miss how they looked to me to solve the pain from every bloodied knee injury and how I could distract them from any panicked fit of tears.
Parenting teenagers is so different. It can be lonely. Really lonely. It can also be emotionally draining. What people don’t tell you is that it can feel like you lose your children when they become teenagers. They no longer put you at the top of their pecking order like they once did. You are often trying to beg some time with them against their friends, their gaming consoles and even their need for sleep as their school holiday setting of 12am-12pm kicks in and I cringe at myself as I bark “you’re wasting the day” from the bottom of the stairs.
You become faced with situations that are impossible to know how to parent. You feel that your control over a situation is off balance. You are no longer the person they believe complicity has all the answers as they did when they were younger. You are now the one they want to challenge and argue with. Slammed doors, eye rolls, steely glares and the really big sighs, I invented these actions in my teen years and now I’m on the receiving end of them and it is unnerving.
However, there are days when they astound me – when our conversations are deep and meaningful and they ask for my help. My daughter will seek out my advice on things that matter to her, which is often the insanely complicated circle of friendship groups that she keeps. My youngest son will talk mainly about his recent gaming conquest or an accomplishment on his mountain bike. But he also will tell me when he feels anxious about things or worried about his future, asking for my help to navigate his fears. And my eldest son, who has recently turned 18, will offer me advice on my life and we talk openly about all manner of subjects.
I think parenting teenagers is the hardest chapter. I am often unsure as to how to argue effectively. I can be too hot headed and emotional and find myself losing many an argument. Although, I am willing to apologise when I’m wrong and I encourage them to do the same, to see two sides to every argument and insist that we must never leave an argument on a cross word. I want to teach them to love compassionately and unashamedly.
The most overwhelming part is knowing that those 18 summers you are gifted as a parent are almost over. That the children in front of me are soon to be adults who will be going out there in the big wide world without me. Independent. And have I done enough? Have I shaped them into the best people they can be? Are they considerate, strong, forgiving, kind, confident, compassionate, the list goes on…
It kind of felt like a grieving process for me last summer, saying goodbye to my little squad of three. They may not be the excitable, loud, energetic tots that I miss but what they are is something that I am learning to admire. We text. We chat late into the night. We send funny gifs to each other on WhatsApp and tag each other on Instagram. We talk music and film, discuss politics and climate change. And they care. They care about their future. They are hungry for the next step, and I must remember that I still have an important job to guide them, even if sometimes this is met with a raised eyebrow and a huff!