My voice is a whisper because whenever I say something sensitive about one of our four children, the one I’m talking about always accidentally hears it. “I don’t think she likes me any more,” I say as quietly as I can to Mr Candy late one night. “I mean, she barely speaks to me now, she leaves the room when I come in and she won’t let me touch her. She’s changed. It’s like living with your ex after a really bad break-up.”
“Yes, she does,” he replies wisely. “This is her first summer holiday as a proper teenager. She wants to be alone.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. Amid a tsunami of hormones, my 14-year-old is experimenting with who she wants to be and grappling with independence. During busy termtime this evolution doesn’t loom as large as it does during the holidays, when they are in your eye line more.
I’m like a nervous meerkat, peering across the kitchen table, wondering what is going to happen now the daily timetable is ungoverned by the rigidity of school and I have no say over it. “Dunno,” is the answer to all my questions about plans, food, friends, homework. None of her clothes or shoes fit her because of a sudden growth spurt, and she doesn’t want to eat, do or see any of the things she wanted to just a few days ago. Now that ITV2’s Love Island has finished, there is no routine to hold her ever-changing persona secure. I’m treading on eggshells, but obviously I want us to have a happy summer, so I ask two 20-year-old colleagues what they wanted their parents to do during the holidays.
- 23% The decline in the risk of delinquent behaviour from US adolescents who spend 15 hours a week, rather than five, with their mothers (Population Reference Bureau, 2015)
After the don’ts (don’t wake them up; don’t tell them what to eat) the dos were useful: do encourage exercise — after all, they’d be doing PE at least twice a week at school; plan a break with them rather than telling them where you’re going; let them cook and experiment with fashion now uniforms aren’t needed; dedicate one-to-one time with them, free from other siblings; and, finally, let them have space or “alone time”.
Steve Biddulph, the author of the bestseller Raising Boys and, more recently, 10 Things Girls Need Most, points out that during termtime we are so busy we act like managers rather than parents, so our children see us that way come the holidays. We need to change their view quickly so the holiday seems like an opportunity for you both to get to know each other. Also, young teens need the influence of other adult role models. Plans should include other families so they begin to see you relaxing with other adults. He advises “do-nothing days or evenings” where just being in the room together is enough.
Biddulph advises stepping outside the usual parenting role in the holiday, slowing down and “sharing your dreams” — which I think makes summer sound less stressful all round.