Teenager on phone

The road to independence

5 May 2016

girl on phoneIt’s hard to know when is the right time to allow your children to explore the world without you; be exposed to dangers and people outside of your control and it’s just as hard when they are your looked after children. M has been planning a trip into London with her best friend Claire and a couple of other girls to see the summer launch of a world famous fashion designer. Claire and M have been discussing it for weeks, comparing notes and researching where’s the best place to go to see the mega famous pop star turned designer. 

The mega star is dropping into London on a world tour, opening her new shop before dashing out to New York and it is the centre of M’s world. I have allowed M to go into London with Claire before but not when so many thousands of people were expected in the same place. I worried about muggings, pick pockets, meeting up with the wrong people, getting lost and separated from each other as well as the farfetched worries such as being kidnapped or just disappearing and never being seen again. 

Hubby and I tried to find a solution so that M could go as I knew she’d be devastated at being refused so we came to a compromise. She would go in with Claire on the train and tube which they were comfortable with and I would meet them in town later. I promised I wouldn’t talk to her but she understood it was a condition of her going. Apparently Claire’s mum wasn’t causing a fuss so why was I so worried? It was hard to explain to M that she was more vulnerable than Claire and her occasional lapses in judgement made me nervous. M will be 15 in the summer and I know she needs to start moving towards independence.

Looked after children generally have poor impulse control and M has a history of making poor decisions, although the longer she is with us, the better she is becoming at thinking things through. J, at 9, still wants to be near me and know where I am. He’s not ready to go out on his own apart from the occasional trip to the sweet shop opposite, and even then I watch from the window to make sure he’s crossed the road safely and he’s not talking to anyone I don’t know. As much as I know he’ll soon be charging off to the park on his own or with friends, I’m happy that he wants me close and I can keep him safe. I use careful phrases with M so she knows I’m not being difficult or controlling such as ‘Because you’re important to me’ which she accepts but I’m aware that in order for her to be a successful adult, she needs to be able to make independence steps outside the umbrella of protection. 

It’s important for a teenager to be allowed to explore and make mistakes knowing they have a safe haven to return to. Rose, my social worker, and I have discussed a plan for independence for M which includes her learning to be confident on public transport, having a bank account and learning to do a few chores around the house. She has or does all of these things, although her relationship with the washing machine and vacuum cleaner needs work, but it’s the intangibles that worry me.  When she’s out in London, it’s uncool to have your Auntie, which she calls me, call and check where you are, so she conveniently forgets to reply to messages or calls, so I worry.

Rose and I have set out a plan to ease M into the adult world and, unlike birth children who can lose jobs and accommodation as they get older and usually have the back up of returning to the family home, looked after children don’t have that sort of safety net. This month I am supposed to work with M to show her how to cook, shop and budget for food and as I watch her trawling her Instagram account I can’t image her comparing prices at Sainsbury’s.

M went into London on Saturday along with Claire and two other school friends and as far as they were concerned, it was a huge success. M and Claire said in unison it was the ‘best day ever’ and ‘you wouldn’t understand’.  Predictably, M didn’t answer her texts or calls and claimed her phone was off to save battery so she could upload photos live to Instagram from the launch. I found her in the afternoon by chance, amongst thousands of people in London by heading for the part of the four storey shop I had heard them discuss countless times on the phone. Initially, M was mortified by my presence but I had dressed carefully for the day, in order not to embarrass her, and didn’t try to chat. In the end I was caught up in their excitement and took the girls out to eat afterwards. They even sat with me on the train on the way home and shared photos of the designer. 

The train stopped suddenly and it was announced that due to a fault on the line, a bus replacement service was in place and we had to find our way around an unfamiliar area. All the girls looked to me for guidance and whilst we were soon on the bus, it was clear M was thrown by the change of plans and needed reassurance. They were all tired by the time we got home and Hubby dropped Claire and the girls off whilst I made M and I a mug of skinny hot chocolate, which is her favourite comfort drink. Claire’s mum rang to say thanks for looking after them and how worried she’s been about the day. M overheard our conversation and suddenly it was ok that I’d cared and worried and fretted. 

We both have some letting go to do, but it seems that neither of us are quite ready to be the one to cut the apron strings. Maybe, we’ll just loosen them gradually… bit by bit.  I feel protective and worry about her as if she was my birth child, and whilst I know the pathway to independence has to be trodden by both of us, I’m not sure either one of us will find it an easy process.


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