THINGS have changed recently in our house. The basic dynamic of The Parent is Always Right is not as cut and dried as it used to be.
There are always small changes in a house where a new sibling has arrived every couple of years or so, but while they are all aged under ten(ish), the rule of Don’t Do What I Do, Do What I Say has kept things on an even, albeit not very democratic, keel.
Now we have a teenager in the house, and another racing to leave pre-teendom behind, it’s getting trickier.
The elder two get more independence, which the younger two feel is unfair, even though they still want their noses wiped and their laces tied.
The elder two are also expected to increase their contribution to the basic running of the household chores, at the same time that their age means they find it impossible to have any control over their own clothing or belongings. They simply all end up on the floor. Even when the washing basket, school bags or dustbins are within an arm’s length of where their ‘stuff’ ends up.
Add to that the need for more frequent washing, the increase in homework, the addition of girlfriends-you’ve-never-met and the creeping introduction of not-telling-your-parents-the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth, and your carefully honed practical parenting skills go out of the window.
In short, seeing your children turn into teens can be as baffling as having a newborn. But the biggest difference between the two stages of development is that you can actually remember being a teenager yourself.
Without wishing to stereotype all teenage boys into the roles of Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke’s Kevin and Perry, it does catch you unawares when your previously inoffensive child turns 13 and inexplicably starts to rudely answer back, or spin an elaborate web of lies to cover up something they knew full well wasn’t allowed.
After the initial incredulity, and the inevitable angry counter retorts, you have to remind yourself that most of the time, they barely realise they are doing it. Getting into a screaming match with a 13 year old just because they muttered and back-chatted about still having a set bed-time isn’t very adult – as Bloke, the much calmer parent, frequently reminds me after the event.
It’s easier with little ones, really, it is. If they are rude to you, usually a cross look and “manners!” will do the trick, or at worst, sending them to their room or withholding privileges. It usually all ends, at the worst, with teary hugs and apologies.
It must be difficult being the eldest and having to go through the teen years first, not only because you haven’t had the advantage of seeing someone else get caught, but because your parents haven’t a clue how to react either.
I promised I wouldn’t embarrass him too much in these columns, but I recently found out the real reason our eldest had been volunteering to cycle to school. It was so he could wait until we’d left so he could wear his non-regulation Converse baseball boots to school instead of the boring black slips-ons he’s already kicked to bits.
My fury wasn’t actually about the boots, it was about the subterfuge. Plus the Big Fat Lie he told a teacher about how his school shoes had holes in, implying we hadn’t bothered to replace them. The shame.
It seems innocuous, but what I struggle with my growing boys is the ease of the lie. I truly find it painful when they fib to me. I’ve always told them that they’ll be in more trouble for the lie than for the original wrong-doing.
Yet I know I’m lying to myself for thinking that my kids won’t be just as devious as I was. After all, at Jed’s age, as soon as I got on the school bus I would flick the brace on my teeth into my pocket and swap my clumpy school shoes for the black suede, paisley-patterned, pointy stilettos that I’d hidden in my bag and which were definitely not allowed.