“School bag in hand he leaves home in the early morning, waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile. I watch him go with a surge of that well-known sadness and I have to sit down for a while.” – Abba
Like parents up and down the country this morning, with the words of Abba ringing in my head I watched my eldest son grow up in an instant as he put on his secondary school blazer and left for his first day of year 7. Big sobs!
To me (who can remember high school like it was last week) the whole thing is quite scary and I have been thinking about all of the worrying aspects – the piles of homework, the exams, the potentially dodgy mates, the heartbreak of first girlfriends/boyfriends, the trying of cigarettes and alcohol (we all did it!) and all of the other pressures that this next stage brings. But although I’ve thought about all of the worse bits, Ollie is only focussed on the exciting opportunities a fresh new chapter brings – the new teachers, new subjects to master, new friends, new sports, new bike to ride to school on and tons of new and exciting situations to explore. Not only this, I know he is seriously savvy, very clever and often speaks with the wisdom of a person double his age. So really, am I feeling sad because I am worried about him? Or is it that I’m feeling more and more redundant as his mum? I think we all know it is the latter.
So, how do we parent our growing children who appear to need us less and less? And how do we continue to bond with them and nurture a strong relationship? At times, it feels like the only thing we can do is their washing and cooking! But actually, below the surface, what they need is much more than this and I have been looking at ways to stay close to my boy and it takes more than cleaning up after him. I’ve set myself a couple of goals which will hopefully help us both navigate through the teenage years.
- Time alone – time for just him and I. Even just a few minutes a day – it could be grabbing a cake in a cafe together, or sitting on his bed at night and talking about something he wants to talk about. We all know if I ask him to talk about his day he will just grunt, but if I ask about football, youtube or x-box he can talk for hours!
- Loosen the reigns – allowing independence to grow and learn. Meeting friends in the park over the road, going to the shops alone etc. These small things allow him to see I trust him and allow me to get used to him growing up.
- Stop running round after him so much – who am I really helping if I remind him about every piece of homework, and chase him up the road with his games kit? My parents always expected me to take care of myself in this way once I reached secondary school and I think it’s the only way to learn how to prepare and organise yourself for life. Yes, he’ll forget things, won’t always have the correct kit or perfect answers for his homework, but he’ll soon work out what he needs to do in order to get it right.
- Offer support where it’s needed – they’re never too old for huge hug at the end of a bad day, or practical support when a task is a bit overwhelming. I aim to be here to help when he needs me, not take over and do it all, but help him work out the right way and not berate him when he makes mistakes.
- Gain trust – If mis-judgments and mistakes happen and he gets into trouble in some way I need him to know he can trust me, that I will help him sort it out and not just shout and punish. There will of course be consequences, but more importantly the trust and openness comes from being fair and not flying off the handle each time a detention slip comes home!
- Realistic expectations – secondary school-aged children are a strange species. Whilst they appear to be miniature adults who can pretty much take care of themselves, their brains are far from developed and they can’t be expected to respond with a mature, adult solution to every situation. Did you know with the surge of hormones and fast rate of development, the teenage brain is under the same pressure as a toddler’s? Explains the tantrums hey!
To all of you sending your babies off to school today, whether that’s infant school or university, I am giving you a virtual hug and sending you a big parental pat on the back for getting this far. I’ll update you on my senior school parenting escapades, but for now, I’ll just sit here with my cuppa and have a little cry.