When she turned eleven, Ishthara told me that she was now a teenager because, in Irish, the word for ‘eleven’ translates as ‘one-teen’. Well, she’ll be 13 in March, and is fast becoming what I recognise as a teenager. Her sister, at ten and a half is not far behind. I am very happy with how we’ve managed so far; I’m proud of who my girls are and love the fact that they get on so well, and we’re generally a happy lot. Having babies and children was easy – but now we’re on the brink of something new and I really want to ensure I don’t make huge mistakes and damage my girls at this fragile stage in their development.
I realised I needed help if I was going to negotiate this one. Talking to the parents of my girls’ peers is very useful, but there are certain times when something comes up and it’s not possible or appropriate to ‘phone a friend’. I don’t have a partner and I don’t have family I can discuss raising children with, so I feel very heavily the weight of the responsibility of doing this and doing it properly. I can’t draw on my own experience of being parented because the level of dysfunction in my family of origin was such that the (then) Eastern Health Board recommended I be placed in care. My ‘mother’ refused because she was more worried about what the neighbours would say than the constant danger I was in. (Of course, the EHB could have acted anyway, and taken me away against her wishes. They have never provided a satisfactory reason why they didn’t.)
My girls mean the world to me and it would kill me if I damaged them to the extent that I was damaged by my ‘parents’. Doing what they did would ruin my children, but – equally – doing the opposite of something does not necessarily produce the opposite results. I truly believe that everything I need to know has been written, somewhere, by someone – I just need to find it.
In Hodges Figgis the other day, I went searching. The helpful assistant asked if she could help.
‘I’m looking for a book about bringing up teenagers.’
‘Do you have a particular title in mind?’ she asked.
‘Ummmm – the manual?’ I responded, a tad hopefully.
In the end, I parted with my pennies for ‘Flagging the Screenager’ by Harry Barry and Enda Murphy. I chose this one for a couple of reasons: It’s new (published in September of this year), it’s Irish (at the moment, I’m bringing my children up in Ireland, so I wanted something that would be relevant to the society they are currently in); and it’s endorsed by someone I know and respect and with whom I share a lot of values and thoughts on children and the rearing of them – Carol Hunt. When I contacted Carol and told her I’d bought the book on her say-so, she was enthusiastic; reiterating that it’s a ‘brilliant book’. I felt relieved and confident with my choice.
I will be honest – I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far, so good. I am finding that specific issues that have already come up for us are addressed in the book in a ‘real world’ way rather than a theoretical way and there are plenty of examples and illustrations from the authors’ own lives and case studies from their own practices.
Hopefully (with the help of this book and my other resources – including fabulous friends) my children will reach 25 as happy, healthy, positive, confident young women with good memories of growing up and becoming young women. That’s not too much to expect, is it?