The Question of Being Hands Off with Teens

Things are changing in our home.  In less than six months we will be the proud parents of three thirteen year olds.  Over the past year the older children have morphed into three young people.  Gone are the wildly enthusiastic, easy going, happy go lucky three musketeers, who have brought such intense happiness to our home:

Friends forever

In their place stand three tall, strong, opinionated individuals, each with their own wildly different views on life and their futures.  They are no longer at our sides, little boy looking adoringly at his father hero, the man he wishes to be like most out of every man he’s ever met; little girls asking mummy to put their hair in rags and snuggling one on each of my knees at every opportunity:

brick layer

Pregnant and you were so excited

I blinked and they grew up.  I knew it was coming but at no point did I have the time to catch up, to get used to it, to accept it.  They have turned into teens overnight.  And I am sad.  Teary sad.  My heart feels heavy for the days of youthful abandonment, where their biggest concern was beating each other out of the front door into their make believe worlds of play:

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They had the happiest of childhoods, carefree and full of love.  Gary and I created it to be like that.  We protected them.  We put family first.  Always.  And now we must learn to gradually let go.  The cleaving together at the beginning of their lives was such a joy; the uncleaving is harder, although perhaps no less joyful.

Here you are during our Investigators party

I am learning that teens, unlike the media portrayal of them, have much going for them.  Teenage angst and sudden mood changes can be humorous (well, if not for them then for us!).  As parents Gary and I can tease our teens and expect and very often receive teasing back (which we love).  I thoroughly enjoy the intellectual toing and froing, the exchange of ideas and intensive discussions.  I sometimes wonder at the strength of their feelings over seemingly minor matters.  And yet, when I take the time to recall, I can conjure up memories of excessively deep, profound and ultimately all-consuming cogitations over the most inconsequential matters.  Things matter when you are a teen and I need to recognise that and make allowances.

Gary and I frequently converse over when we should be backing down and when we should be letting go.  Ultimately it is the children’s happiness, contentment and peace of mind which guides us.  I often have to remind the children that I have never been the mother of a teen before and I am fumbling around in the dark.  I also remind them that whilst I have never parented teens I have been a teen before.  I have been where they stand and have felt the frustrations of being neither child or adult.  Nevertheless, it is still hard to know when to keep our silence and when to vocalise our expectations.

On Monday we announced to the children that we would be spending time in the garden.  The sun was shining and the out doors was beckoning.  In the past this would have been cause for a cheer to go up, and in deed the expected cheer did arrive but it came from the littles’ mouths not the three near teens.  No they did not cheer, more a silent groan with a ‘do we have to?’  It was sad to realise yet another stage of their childhood had possibly passed into oblivion, never to be seen again.  It would have been easy to have shrugged and told them to go ahead and do whatever they wanted to.  Gary didn’t.  He insisted they joined us.  Thundery faces resulted, but they pulled on their overalls and agreed to the whole gardening idea, albeit reluctantly.

I am not joking you, within minutes the banter started.  Jobs were given, taken, done and more found.  Someone put on the radio.  Someone else let the chickens out.  Oscar joined in the festivities.  Gary looked happy.  He pulled me in for a kiss and stated simply ‘I love it when we are all together, working happily’.  I stood back and surveyed the scene.

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The girls had decided to unearth their old flower bed, and worked companionably for a good couple of hours.  T thoroughly enjoyed helping Gary erect the fence which we hope will keep Oscar from wandering onto our neighbour’s property.

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B got hold of a broom about six times too big for her and manfully swept the pathway, after which she used a little beach spoon to scoop the earth into buckets to put back on the flower beds.  I picked up any rubbish, swept the front and took photos, basking in the happiness surrounding me.

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The whole thing got me thinking.  I’m not sure what the older ones would have chosen to do if they had not been strong armed into helping in the garden, but I’m certain it would not have given them the sense of satisfaction each ultimately felt at the end of the day.  In fact, when I called them to say they could stop they all opted to continue.  I wonder if left to their own devices they would they have spent the day feeling slightly bored and slightly lethargic.   I am blessed with a strong husband, who has had such a healthy upbringing himself thinks nothing of insisting the children help even when they are reluctant.  Maybe he knows a secret.  Maybe his father was the same with him and he learnt early on that laboring together as a family team, for the good of the whole rather than for the good of each individual, is what helps teens get through their teen years relatively unscathed.

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It was a good day.  In fact it was an excellent day.  The children watched a video that night basking in aching bodies which spoke to them of hard work.  The video felt good because it came after the work.  The relaxing was truly relaxing because they had something to relax from.

And the best part?  The next day, whilst the twins were at a swimming party T, A and B spent hours planting bulbs, shaping a Bay tree, drying Bay leaves and moving a huge bush to its assigned new home.  Yes, T has found his love of all things green once more.  All because a father loved his (near) teens enough to insist they work alongside him as they always had done before.

23 comments

  1. Looks like a wonderful day! I find this already with my 9 and 10 year olds – but once we get in to a project, everyone feels proud of what they have accomplished! Fun to see the juxtaposition of your three as youngsters then as teens!

  2. Hi Mummy,
    I just read the post and usually i just skim through but with this one i actually read it. It was a lovely post and brought back memories. And thank you Daddy for insisting we came out on Monday, I enjoyed it.I love you both!
    L12

  3. Hi M
    Thank you for such a lovely post. You’re right. You just need to start something to really enjoy it. i.e. working in the garden.
    T13

  4. Teens are a big change but I tend to agree with you. They don’t need to be hard. I like your children’s comments!

  5. I once heard that teens need their parents more than ever before but that they didn’t know they did. I think it is good when families work together.

    1. For me the teen/tween years were a shock to the system but once they became our new norm they were fine. Now I really enjoy the older children!

  6. Oh Claire, I can relate so much to being “teary sad” about kids growing up. I keep thinking I’m over it (P is 16 after all) but then I have a mini panic attack at the fact that P is nearly old enough to move out and that L (12) who used to be so enthusiastic about trying anything new with us would happily lock herself away in her room for an entire day. Having said that, it’s been my experience as well that despite the grumbling and groaning, once I get them out doing stuff, they almost invariably have a great time. It does get a little exhausting having to force the issue (my husband being the groaning type as well 🙂 but so worth it. Can’t wait to see this garden over the summer!

    1. I’m glad Gary is the one who happily forces the issue. I’d rather they helped out because they want to. But I think Gary is right to do so, because we always have so much fun together!

  7. Claire, I don’t know if I love your post more, or the fact that two of the teens in question commented to say thank you! I love reading about your family, and knowing that we’re not alone on insisting all of our children join in on outdoor activities. 🙂

    1. I loved their comments because they hardly ever leave them! I’m secretly pleased they chose this particular post to comment on!

  8. Great post, Claire. I understand that teens are frustrated, because of being no child and no adult. It isn´t an easy age. But when I look back, I loved to be a Teenager!

  9. I just love this. Having a 13 year old, I am sharing your thoughts. What we are finding here is that sometimes they do still want to be little, but they just need some prodding. When left to their own devices they might be a bit “lethargic” and make choices that aren’t so great, but with some gentle nudging from mom and dad things work out ok.

    Thanks for such a wise post. 🙂 Hugs to you as you parent your THREE thirteen year olds!

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