My Little Handful

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My daughter’s not even two yet and I’m already sick of the warnings about what a handful she’s going to be when she’s a teenager. There seems to be this general acceptance that teenagers are the worst and for us parents it’s revenge for the awful things we put our own parents through at that age.

But does it have to be that way?

People also say similar things of toddlers – terrible twos and all that. But I’m trying very hard to raise my daughter with empathy, to try to understand the developmental reasons behind her tantrums, clinginess, night wakings, and so forth. It’s not always easy. I’ve gone through a lot of red wine in the past few weeks. But I think it’s vital for establishing a trusting relationship. If she doesn’t learn now that my love for her is unconditional, that big feelings can be scary but she doesn’t need to be punished for them, then how can I expect her to know those things as she grows up?

She needs to push the boundaries right now – but of course also know that there are limits. I need to keep her safe and keep her from hurting others. And all of this… can probably be said of a 15 year old too.

Now I’m not saying that all of this gentle parenting is going to ensure I end up with a teenager who never skips curfew or slam doors. But I do hope it means that she trusts me enough to come to me when she does get in trouble. It’s a long-term effort, raising a person. I’m largely paraphrasing an article I read recently at exactly the moment I needed it. Beyond my own efforts, I also think that teenagers get a really bad reputation. Yes, lots of them are little shits. (Frankly, so are lots of adults.) But there are also lots of them who are awesome.

I used to work in admissions for a private school where my job was to interview prospective students. These were 13-14 year old 8th graders. Yes, they were largely awkward and mumbling. But so many of them were also doing amazing things. I met kids who had worked on political campaigns, started recycling clubs for their school, written screenplays, volunteered abroad. These are the kids that give me hope for the world.

And a few days ago I interviewed a lovely young lady, just 18 years old, who applied to volunteer at my art centre. She was referencing TED Talks and telling me about her views on education and was more well-spoken than many adults I’ve interviewed for jobs in the past! It reminded me about the wonderful qualities teenagers do bring to the table – that enthusiasm, the sense that all the doors are still open for you to explore.

It drives me crazy when Luella refuses to wear a jacket. And I’m sure it’ll make me even crazier when she does the same thing at 16. But I know that it’s largely rooted in the desire to just run out into the world, unencumbered. Who has time to stop for a jacket when there are lorikeets to wave to, playgrounds to climb on, and paintings to make?

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Remind me of all this in fifteen years time when my little handful is skipping class to go to the beach.

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