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Parenting Raising older kids can be lonely — and we haven't even reached the teenage years

Margaret Lynch recalls the support of the early years as a parent and says nowadays, life is trickier.

AFTER MY FIRST baby was born I was placed in a ward with five other new mammys, all of us at various stages of this terrifying next chapter. I had been dreading this part, crammed in a room with strangers, but it was actually amazing how quickly the sense of community developed.

We shared those precious first few days and thoroughly discussed how the previous 24 hours had been for us (God love us all), swapped numbers and promised to keep in touch.

It was my first experience with the instant bond shared by parents, especially when you have kids the same age. Your whole heart is now external to your body and every decision has such a massive impact. Of course, you need as much advice as possible!

This was a pattern over the next few years, you naturally get chatting to parents in any situation, as your experiences are so similar you can’t help but bond. You can share problems and solutions about little ones not sleeping, or refusing entire food groups, or the toddler who just will not potty train.

The early years

As they grow, the events and classes your children attend are filled with other kids the exact same age, and parents who are going through the same messy milestones. It was always refreshing how quickly conversations were sparked up and experiences shared. Sympathy. Buckets and buckets of sympathy because you have either been through it, or you know it’s on the horizon.

The first day of school brings an instant bond with the other parents in the class, you share the nervous glances and instinctively understand how everyone is feeling. Group chats are started, problems are shared and solved. And you go on to see these people on a daily basis for the next eight years!

One day while waiting in the yard for the bell to ring, I was chatting to a group of parents in the class, and we realised that most of us had been quite heavily pregnant during a period of particularly bad snow a few years before and were all able to regale tales of slipping on the ice. At the time, I was so worried about hurting el bumpo and had felt so alone in the experience, and now here I was sharing it with people who all had that same feeling.

It is so rare in life to find people who share the biggest experiences of yours in such intricate detail, and as a parent, it happens so regularly.

The lonely years

And then it stops. They are big enough to walk to and from school alone, you are no longer needed and you don’t see the parents in the yard any more. There’s no more sitting outside ballet, pretending not to know whose daughter is being told off for giant elephant stomps again (mine). No more sitting in the waiting room of a gymnastics hall, realising someone’s 11-year-old has put on a fake bandage so that she can attend the ridiculously expensive class but not actually participate (always mine).

There are no more parents to chat idly to, and no need to make their social plans for them any more. And then those same kids, the very people you spend your whole life worrying about, they decide overnight that you are the single most embarrassing thing they have ever experienced, who is also very wrong about everything they have ever said.

Now they have to be bribed to spend time with us, and it can absolutely never be in public, or near where any of their friends hang out. They know more than me about everything, and my suggestions or solutions are very, very silly. Bless me.

I can’t talk to them or about them! I find that I can’t share a lot of what they are going through now, because the things they are going through are so deeply personal that they can’t be shared with anyone else. Not family, not friends, not that kind lady in Tesco and definitely not the parents of their classmates.

Maintaining their trust is so important for keeping the communication lines open, because on the rare occasions they realise they do actually need my help, they have to be able to trust that it will stay between us. Apparently, it’s also good to stay calm in these situations, but I’m still working on that one.

‘Going horribly wrong’

Sometimes I do let things slip, maybe to a co-worker as we discuss the weekend. They’ll say their kid is sleep regressing, or maybe they did a sly tackle in football and hurt one of their little friends. Then the conversation comes my way, and I can see the absolute horror in their faces as I divulge something I shouldn’t.

To people with younger kids, or no kids, it looks like things are going horribly wrong. But the truth is that the lines of communication are great, and the boundaries are clear, and that’s as much as we can hope for at this age. They are like moths to flames for poor decisions, with the absolute worst option always being the most exciting to their invincible brains.

Their whole M.O. at the moment is to look older than they are, make unhelpful decisions and spend as much time as possible on their phones. They have made some terrible moves that have left me questioning everything. They can be impulsive and blind to reality and entirely ignorant to adult consequences. They push boundaries, and sometimes even laws, and a lot of the time it feels like we are the only ones going through it.

And the worst part, the very worst part, is that we have barely dipped a single toe into the waters of teenagerhood. The bigger they get, the greater their problems seem to get. But then I think back to my own teenage years, and the terrible decisions I made that make my skin crawl now. I think about how we (and by ‘we’ I genuinely mean my entire generation) made it through the teenage years by the skin of our teeth, while our parents lived in blissful ignorance. This generation is much smarter, they have so much more self-awareness and tools available to them. We didn’t have half of it and we all turned out fine (ish).

They are going to be OK. It will all be OK.

In the meantime, if any other parents of teens or tweens want to talk about how things are actually going in a judgement-free zone, I am there with bells on. I’ll even bring the biscuits.

Margaret Lynch is a working mum of two in Kildare. 

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