I’m working on a couple of options for the opening of a conversation I need to have with my kids – specifically the nearly-nine-year-old. It’s a delicate matter, but one that’s consuming me, so I need to show both compassion and kindness and strength of conviction.
Option one: ‘I’m going to look for a full-time office job so you can go to playcentre every night after school and hopefully you’ll find someone there who will take care of your every need without irritating you so much that you find it impossible to talk to them without barking and when I do come home in time for a quick bedtime kiss you will have forgotten how much I annoy you and try to constantly ruin your life and we will be friends again.’
Option two: ‘I used to talk to my mum like this and trust me, you’ll regret it one day.’
Option three: ‘I’m telling. Daddy. And Granny. And Santa.’
So my daughter talks to me like an angry teenager already. I can hear my mum laughing all the way to the corkscrew. Becoming a mother is, among other observations, like opening a huge, unapologetic picture window on your childhood and all the things you’d either forgotten or successfully repressed. All the behaviour patterns, friendship concerns, relationship issues that you’d rather not re-live on are right there in front of you in the form of small people who look a little like you and a lot like someone you fell in love with and frankly expect a more mature attitude from.
Every time you face a decision-making moment with your children, and you reach the answer that will define your parenting method for the next stage of their lives, there’s an accompanying supportive smile from a grandparent. Supportive and piteous. And loaded with dry amusement. You realise, mere hours after hospital discharge, that the bundle of newness you’ve brought into the world is also the very thing that will turn a spotlight on every minute of every emotion you’ve ever brought your mum.
Which hopefully, and certainly in my experience, is a good thing – once you’re over the inclination to throw a teenage tantrum every time advice is offered.
The thing is that I always thought I’d be better at this bit than the playgroup and nappies bit. I always thought my strengths would be with children who could reason and opinion, and so far it’s exactly that which has flawed me – in the most irritable, defensive and sulky foot-stamping way. I can’t do it. I can’t be ignored and shouted at for offering the wrong chocolate biscuit or wanting to wash their favourite clothes. It’s exhausting, and depressing.
If I’d written this before the weekend, it might have alluded to some slightly judgemental observations I had about other people’s parenting skills. I had a definite conviction last week that I knew kids who’d been let go too soon, interest had been lost, mothering downsized, and I was determined not to cave, however hard the challenge. After a weekend of getting it wrong, I’m not so sure. Mother and daughter relationships are impossible to understand unless you’re in them, and even then it’s a bit hazy. What I do know is that the lessons from granny are gold dust. And that being able to watch my mother-in-law bring her precious teenage girls through the darker years with such hands-on understanding, compassion and carefully levelled monitoring is a complete privilege. If getting it wrong is noisy, getting it right is a quiet but extraordinary victory. Go Nanna.