I can feel myself being pulled under - and I mean deep - into a new wave of parenting.
The wave isn't crashing - it's more of an ominous swell. The glassy sheen of this rippling curve doesn't so much call to me with its siren screech, it's more of an eerie whisper, a drenching murmur. And it's only when I'm wading closer so I can hear what it wants from me, sloshing in familiar waters I find vaguely comfortable, that it pulls me under.
Ok, ok, enough with the wave metaphor. But maybe metaphors are easier because I've recently found that talking about parenting is an emotive thing. My kids aren't babes anymore. They're not blissfully unaware, stomping in puddles or chucking lego around whilst I write whiney blogs about how hard everything is. No. They are very much aware of me and how I relate to them. Maybe even a little too much. I feel like I'm under some kind of stalky, huffy surveillance.
Big Lad has blocked me on TikTok so his friends can't easily see my videos.
Little Lad shakes me off as soon as we walk out of the front door.
Big Lad performs at music gigs without telling me parents are welcome.
Little Lad nods vigorously in an 'I'm done' kind of way when I'm merely gathering conversational momentum.
Big Lad's maximum verbal efforts are made only when money or lifts are involved.
Both Lads do a 'cringe face' on my approach for a hug.
It's all a bit disarming.
I knew it was coming, of course. I do remember (just) what it was like being a teenager. The confusing emotions, the need to shut down, the startling levels of self-consciousness. But I think there's a myth about parenting that tells us that once we get past the toddler years, everything moves smoothly on with nothing but an upwards trajectory. We'll have this parenting lark nailed. We'll know how to do it. If the foundations are in place, the rest will be easy.
Whilst I'm totally on board with the foundations argument (every day I thank my lucky stars I got to spend so much time with my Lads when they were tots), the upward trajectory thing is a joke. I regularly feel like I'm back-pedalling and I'm doing that at the same time as doing all the other life things that are every bit as energy-sapping as parenting (full-time work / peri menopause / managing a household / trying to keep from financial ruin to name but a few). I'm not going to lie, this shit is HARD.
I haven't come this far into the second decade of parenting, without knowing how to survive though. When my Lads were teeny, that survival came in the form of making friends at parent & toddler groups. Spontaneous, philosophical chats at soft play. Existential musings over stale coffee at shitty play parks. I quickly learned that there is nothing in the world like connecting with another mother who - on a soul level - understands the crap you are going through.
And one of the absolute perks of my Lads now being older, is that I can actually go out to meet said mothers without them. As you might expect, the existential musings are now more sophisticated because we aren't hampered by the capers of our devilish children. It's a shame our peri menopausal brains induce such fog because I'm telling you, we'd be taking over the world otherwise (honest).
I was out with some friends the other night (a school night, if you will) and the conversation turned to our kiddies. Of course it did. We embarked on the predictable topic of 'how do we get our kids to open up', especially considering they are now at an age where they are going through ALL of the things.
It's terrifying as a parent, right? Gone are the days when they tell you in minute detail about how much the scrape on their knee hurts. Now it's all slammed doors, mono-syllabic grunts and noses burrowed into iPhones. How are we supposed to know what's going on in their lives? Scrap that. How are we supposed to know what's going on in their hearts?
Now I'm no child psychologist and other than following my own path of mindfulness and creativity, I have no qualifications whatsoever that enable me to give advice. But I do know - thanks to two glasses of Pinot on a school night with the girls - that I have three main thoughts on this. And as I have a blog and ten minutes on my hands, I'm going to impart those ideas now:
We do not need to know everything
It kind of hurts, but it's true. If we are doing our job properly as parents, and we're encouraging our offspring to develop independent thoughts, values and beliefs, then they sure as hell deserve to keep some things to themselves.
Secret-keeping is a natural part of adolescence and we need to allow them that right. It's usually quite harmless and even if it turns out not to be, I feel we need to navigate that alongside them, rather than berate them for keeping a secret. It is not necessarily a direct comment on our own ineptitude as a parent, as much as we might think so. We need to take ourselves out of the equation sometimes.
Spoiler alert: not everything revolves around us.
To get them to open up . . . open up
When our babes are little, we are advised left right and centre by parenting experts that we should model good behaviour. We don't tell them, we show them how to be in the world. Show them kindness. Show them manners. Show them sharing. So why should that stop when they're older?
We can tell them we want them to open up and talk to us til we're blue in the face, but how do they know how to do that if we don't show them? We don't need to bare our souls or offload all of our psychological shit (we're allowed to keep secrets too), but we can ask them for advice, share our success stories or our fears, impart thoughts and ideas. And they can be better confidantes than we might expect.
Little Lad asked me the other day if I was alright as I wasn't acting like myself. There was a split second where I was tempted to gloss over, protect him, lie. But I checked myself and let the authentic response out instead. "Thanks for asking, sweetheart. I'm not feeling myself today, actually. I'm feeling a bit down and I don't know why. It's a bit hard but I'll be ok. Thank you for noticing. You're so observant." And guess what? I felt better. He felt better. And the conversation moved on to the type of day he'd had at school.
It seems so obvious, I know, but we really have to get better at listening. Think about it. When you're down and need to talk to someone, do you want them to listen, be present, try to understand? Or do you want them to wade in with action and ill-thought-out solutions? I know which one I'd prefer.
Of course, we, as parents, have a responsibility to make sure they're ok. And sometimes action is the obvious answer. But we'll never be able to figure that out unless we really, truly listen in the first place. Hold that space. Make it sacred. Ignore the stinky socks in the corner that you asked them to put in the washing basket three days ago. Block out the crusty dinner plates left in their room or the phone notification you had highlighting their missed homework deadline. Listen. Fully, truly, deeply. Listen. Then you can act together, alongside your child, if it's needed. It might not be.
Right, that's me all out of parenting advice for now. The metaphorical wave has peaked, rolled and crashed with suitable dramatic effect and I'm now standing on the sinking sand, drenched and heavy. Toes wiggling, cheeks smarting and fingers tingling, waiting for the next one.
Because it will come. Oh, it will come.
Until then, go well . . .
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