I always wanted babies and puppies. I have 3 girls, a 10 year old black and another on the way (puppy that is). Obviously I didn’t think this through clearly, of course they don't stay as babies or puppies!
So yes I’m “blessed” with not one, not two but three teenage daughters ranging from 14 to 21. As Shania Twain once said to me (and countless others) “no one said it would be easy”. It’s not easy, it’s incredibly hard but it’s also rewarding and traumatic, loud and silent, I walk on egg shells and pasta dishes, my bathroom isn’t my own and my husband is so way down in the pretend rota for the shower that he tries to second guess them.
I’m no expert, believe me I’m no expert but I’ve got experience. I’ve had the delight of my own teenagers for 8 years (with 5 to go), I used to be a teenager (though now I’m closer to 75 than I am to 15) and I spent 5 years in the Police as a Youth Offending Link Officer and Single Point of Contact for 10 schools so I’ve really had plenty of experience and every episode has been different.
When I was a teenager life was so much more different, I was away at boarding school which I loved and was brought up I suppose by my close knit year and the years above, our teachers in those days didn’t have the pastoral care remit that there is these days and any issues anyone had were dealt with there and then. If there was an issue it was sorted. Bosh. By the time we had written a letter to a friend back home and got a response whatever it was had blown over. I was the only girl in my final year at prep school so knew from an early age that boys were equals, anything they could do I would give it a go, I played cricket and hockey, was never picked for any teams but that was never an issue. I had a brother and a cousin at the Boy’s College so I was sort of cool and someone to know, plus I used to go on the college coach so the boys were just fellow passengers and of course I had a massive in with the boys. These things were important as a teenager.
Friendship then, as now, was a big thing. Living with 40 other girls there wasn’t room for grudges or hating. Not everyone in the year got on with everyone but everyone had friends. We wore each other’s clothes and shoes; we’d share our tapes, headphones and batteries; we’d read each other’s letters and would be full of bright ideas over broken hearts and having a massive crush on some boy who probably wouldn’t notice. And we were loyal to each other. Oh so loyal. And with that loyalty came a cloak of protection and we would watch out for each other. We still do. Even now, after leaving school 30+ years ago there's fierce sense of loyalty.
Watching the teenage world unfurl in front of me I’m glad I was a teenager then. Now teenagery life scares the living daylights out of me. It’s a minefield for the adults so who only knows what it’s like for the actual teenagers.
There’s no magic wand for dealing with teenagers. One minute I think I’ve got it sussed then along comes a tornado of hormonal text speaking attitude with phrases like “lit” “peng” “nitty” and others that are by now equally out of date. I thought Lit meant well read, someone said it means someone who takes drugs but that’s nitty. And drugs are what scare me most.
You can’t open the paper or look at social media without reading about drugs. It’s everywhere. I used to deal with drug users, dealers and victims of drug related crime. It’s not big and it’s not clever. Addiction be it drugs or alcohol ruins lives, it really does. I know Elizabeth Burton-Phillips whose twin teenage sons were both addicted to heroin. One took his own life, the other one found him, Elizabeth had to pick up the pieces and cope with the stigma. Because there is a stigma. Which is wrong because the families of addicts need support not stigma. However Elizabeth wasn’t going to be beaten by stigma and she wrote “Mum, can you lend me twenty quid” following Nicholas’ death. It’s worth a read.
But look hey it’s not all doom and gloom with teenagers. They look at me weirdly when I start singing word perfect to cover versions that they think are original, after the double takes and eye rolling, the obligatory Snapchat about “my embarrassing mum” we can sing together. I constantly ask who people are and I have no idea what the plot is on any of the “19 weddings and counting in Essex or Chelsea island of honey boo boo” programmes they watch. I’m pretty sure their ring tone for me is “thorn in my side” and if I had to choose a ring tone for them it would be from “I’ll be your hope, I'll be your love, be everything that you need. I love you more with every breath, truly madly deeply do”.
Because at the end of the day when there’s no more words to say I will always be their mum.