I saw something recently on Facebook, a meme, which went something along the lines of – If you think the newborn stage is hard, wait until they become toddlers. I’m sure it was more eloquently put than that but, let’s face it, another month of lockdown/homeschool and my brain has turned to mush and my short term memory has disappeared. What I do remember about seeing the meme is that I smiled. That knowing smile that I think I probably also made when a pregnant friend once told me ‘having this baby won’t change me’. I smiled at the meme because, until you have had teenagers I’m not sure you’ve really, fully experienced all the wonderful joys parenting has to offer (and obviously, by ‘joys’ I mean ‘hells’).
Sometimes, at times when I can laugh about the difficulty of the teenagers in the house, I imagine parenting is a little bit like a computer game – you know, let’s start you off easy on level 1. The level where all you have to do is keep the child alive. Fed, warm, loved – that’s it. I mean, at the newborn stage they don’t even move! Then it gets ramped up a notch. Toddlers. I think the worst thing about a toddler is their unpredictability. I always compare toddlers to the M25 – one day it’s smooth sailing and the next there’s a four car pile up and you’re stuck in traffic for eight hours. It can feel very ‘one step forward two steps back’ with a toddler. One minute they can use the potty/feed themselves/play with bricks without throwing one through the tv screen and the next, well, they can’t. Again, links to the being unpredictable. BUT what I will say about toddlers is; they are usually easily bribed, easily distracted and (for the parent that has the bedtime routine down to a T) easily put to bed at 7pm. Where you can have an evening, enjoy a glass of wine and watch a TV show that is inappropriate for their viewing.
Onto level 3 – primary school aged. Here we have that huge learning curve for all parents which is ‘school’. Suddenly your life revolves around the hours of 9am and 3pm. The universal sayings of ‘I’ll be free after the school run’ or ‘can we do it before the school run?’ are suddenly major elements in your day-to-day word count and you realise that actually if you are a working parent it’s HARDER than when they were at nursery which opens at 7.30am and doesn’t shut until 6pm. Your world all of a sudden includes ‘wrap around care’, ‘reading journals’ and ‘uniform’. However, for me, primary school age is the what I like to refer to as ‘The Golden Years’. The years where a child teeters, precariously between independence and dependability. They can do the basic self care tasks which took up so much time when they were toddlers – washing, dressing, feeding, cleaning up after etc yet, they still want to actually know you. They are usually happy to engage in arts and crafts, baking, gardening and movie nights. They love to explore and they are still happy to snuggle on the sofa or accept a kiss. Now, I am not entirely sure if I can pinpoint the exact moment when you cross over into ‘level 3’ but it seems to be around the time summer term starts in Year 6. It can obviously be sooner or later but as if I was warning someone about level 3 then that’s where I would say to be wary.
Level 3 is, undoubted, the hardest level I have yet to experience. Although, as a disclaimer, my eldest birth child is only 15 so I am well aware that ‘adulthood’, AKA Level 4, could possibly be worse (please, for all of you out there with older children, do not tell me it gets worse, I’m not ready for that kind of news). Teenagers are funny beings. They seem to roll all of the last two stages together whilst mainly focusing on the worst parts of those stages and also adding their own elements of difficulties. So, for example, the teenagers in my house, generally, don’t want to be around me. I used to take this personally until I spoke to multiple friends with teenagers who also said the same thing. They transition from snuggling on a sofa to never even being in the room pretty rapidly. They eat ALL. THE. TIME. They produce far more washing than a newborn ever did, and they suddenly go from being happy with clothes from Primark to needing everything to have a logo/label. Teenagers are basically broke, mini adults who live in your house, refuse to follow any house rules and expect you to taxi them everywhere (because, as a parent, you obviously have absolutely nothing else to do).
Teenagers, I feel, have also extended and perfected the ‘unpredictable toddler’ except in this level they can negotiate like a big city lawyer, they can not be bribed with a packet of chocolate fingers and they have the ability to press buttons you didn’t even know you had. In conclusion, teenagers, on the whole, are horrendous. However, what teenagers are good at, is getting you to appreciate the small stuff. I got a text from my daughter showing me something funny from the internet. It was random and unprovoked and at the moment she saw the picture, she thought of me. My son will still spend time being incredibly affectionate to the dogs in the house. I mean, he wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole but he still has it in him to shower love onto something. I think what is hardest for me is that they are, undeniably, growing up. They are becoming independent. They are, although it is a little while off yet, getting themselves ready for that next level. And although, trust me, it is like negotiating with military operational abilities it is also (when I sit and reflect really hard) amazing to see their personalities develop. To see them stand up for themselves. To decide what is important to them and what they will fight for in life. Raising strong humans is the hardest thing anyone will ever do. Raising humans who will change the world for the better and who will then go on to raise their own humans is humbling. However, I am very much looking forward to my children calling me up in twenty or so years, complaining about the attitude/lip/sarcasm/defiance/rudeness from their own children. I won’t tell them ‘I told you so’ but I will sure as he’ll be thinking it.