Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The Not-So-Golden Years

Sometimes in the world of parenting we are faced with situations that seem far beyond our capacity to endure. Sleepless nights. Painful breast feeding. Endless potty training. Then we coast for a while during the golden years of 4-12. Yes, those are the golden years when your word is law, your decisions count, when they still need you but not like the baby and toddler eras. They are cute still, funny in an inadvertant way. Then they change. They hit secondary school and life changes in a not-so-funny way.

I have learned that 12-year-old girls are not to be trifled with. You can't fob them off with an "Because I said so" as much. They become secretive. They challenge you on a daily basis. They judge you far more than anyone else ever will.

What to do? Where is the Toddler Taming book for teen-age girls?

And so yesterday I was faced with a new challenge. My daughter brought home her end-of-year report. Quite good in one subject, OK in most. But French? What happened in French? Her exam result was good, but the NC level didn't seem to reflect this. "I missed some tests when I was off ill in February and the teacher never would let me make them up." Hmmm. Do I smell a rat here? Yes, I suppose it's possible the teacher is that incompetent and uncaring. But why was this the first I'd heard about it? I tried to keep calm and maintain control as I was driving during this exchange. My daughter's voice, on the other hand, got louder and stroppier. OK, I wasn't educated in this country so these numbers are meaningless to me. But eventually she was so impudent I felt I was going to have to take some action. But what? Slapping her face, which is what my mother did to me when I behaved that way, is out of order. Should I ground her? Is that coming down too hard on her?

I rang my husband and calmly read the results to him, looking for his reaction to guide me. I said she'd been quite stroppy to me. He said he would talk to her later. Hmm. Later wasn't really good enough. I could go to the school and inquire about this, but suspect that I would be made a fool of. It's her word vs. the teacher's. And she was quite late about informing me about the missed tests. If I'd known earlier, I could have spoken to the head of year.

And that is the heart of the matter. She is shutting me out when she really needs to keep me informed.

I made tea, then gathered some papers I needed to post in people's houses around the village. "You're coming on a walk with me," I told her. With very bad grace, she got ready to go. Her body language said it all. She expected a big lecture from me. She didn't get one.

"I used to talk to my mother the way you talked to me today. And now I really regret it," I told her. "You're acting like you don't have to or want to tell me anything about your school life. But you do. I could have done something about the French teacher if you'd told me earlier."

"You've been too busy with my brother this year because it's been a really important year for him and I didn't want to bother you," she replied.

"But you're my child, too. I care about you, too," I said.

And then she opened up a bit about what's been going on with her, how her old friends talked about her behind her back and tried to get her new friends not to like her. How she hung in there though and now the new friends like her and not the old friends. I told her about what's going on with my mother and my concerns for her. I said I hadn't wanted to burden her with this information. I told her how much happier I am now that I no longer try to be part of the mothers' group.

During that walk, it was like the Golden Years again. The 12-year-old monster had been vanquished. Until it rears its ugly head again.

You know that feeling you had when you finally conquered potty training or any other milestone with your child? I had that last night. I'd done it right. I'd faced the temptation of making our relationship even more distant and fought it off.


laurie said...

oh, excellent! oh, good for you!

i remember those stroppy years. defiance almost always was a defense against some kind of hidden pain, or feelings of worthlessness, or fear of rejection.

your reactions were all perfect, even the exasperated ones. the walk and talk won't work every single time, but i bet it works more often than not.

J said...

Well done.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Laurie, thank you. I need to remember more often what the defiance truly is about.

J: thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I know I have all this to come, Amy's only 7 but it's not going to be easy. She's so easily influenced. You seem to be doing a wonderful job. You daughter is extremely lucky to have a mum who cares as much you do.

Crystal xx

Pixie said...

You captured the stuff between anger and fear inside your girl wonderfully. So glad tou talked to each other about each other.

And that you know it will happen again and again and again.

As someone who believes I'm coming to the end of this phase with my 16 year old, I wouldn't swop it cause the good times rock!!!

lady macleod said...

Bravo! Bravo! Well done my friend!!! Oh well done indeed. That is so difficult. I remember and you feel as though you have missed the bus that had the instruction manual, but my opinion (not advice!) is that you did just the right thing, as you are aware. And having gone through it I can tell you since you BEGAN this way, it will continue - she will talk to you and oh my, isn't that the important thing.

As I explained to my daughter when she was 16 to 18, "you are not minding me because I make you, you are doing as I say because YOU choose to do so. I don't beat you, or hide you in a closet, it is YOUR decision. Of course it all began when I decided not to beat you as a toddler, but to talk to you instead. It is not a decision I regret, but I have found it exhausting!"

WEll done!! TAKE A BOW!

DJ Kirkby said...

Wow... you made me blub...hope I can remember this next time number 3 son is making me feel mental. He is only 4 1/2 half and I am dreading the teen years with him. Number 2 son is no trouble at all yet and he is 15 but numer 1 one son, almost 18...grr!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

CJ: From what I've read on your blog, Amy is a lucky girl to have you as a mother. You will be there to guide her and protect her.

Pixie: I figured out that just as my daughter will be coming out of this phase, my son will be entering it. At least it won't be at the same time (fingers crossed).

Lady M: You and Q have such a unique mother-daughter relationship that I envy. Thanks for visiting.

DJ: I've watched my friends who have three sons go through the same phases with each and come out at the other end. We will, too.

toomuchtotty said...

inspirational! I too must try to resist the temptation to overreact and fly off the handle whenever my 12 year old twin boys give me a look of disdain whenever I want to know what is going on in their day!
First time I read your Blog was today - and I am loving it. Am I right to assume you are a New Yorker? How are you finding living in the UK after being in such a wonderfully colourful and exciting city such as the Big Apple?

marymaryquitecontrary said...

You did exactly the right thing. I think keeping all ways of communication going is the only way. My Mother used the slap on the face method,usually when not deserved. Hard to forget.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Hi toomuchtotty and welcome. I'm not a native New Yorker, but lived there for seven years. I'm originally from Florida.

Marymary: Yeah, you never forget that, do you. I have never and will never do that to my children, no matter how much they wind me up.

Swearing Mother said...

You did absolutely the right thing, it's so hard as kids don't come with an instruction manual, it's just a matter of trial and error. But it sounds to me as if you're not making any errors.

My son had a similar experience but we didn't get to talk about it as we should and things got a lot worse.

You've obviously discovered that lines of communication need to be kept wide open when helping our children. It's amazing what you find out when you already thought you had the full picture.

Good luck!

PS - sorry about my blog name, I only swear on my own!

Best wishes.