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" I have learned that adolescence is much more than a time of transition, but a time when girls particularly, want to know that their parents love them and will push all sorts of buttons to get you to prove it."
As a single mother of three daughters, I have to finally admit that it’s a very hard job. For a long time I wondered what people meant when many people, sometimes strangers, have said to me what a great job that I’m doing in raising my kids, “and you’re doing it on your own, that must be hard?” they sympathetically question. But I don’t know any other reality. I don’t know how to share parent, how to juggle a fantastic, intimate relationship with being a mother, breadwinner, housekeeper, doctor, counsellor and professional. I have no sense of what it means to parent as a team. I just do what I do because my kids need me.
I have done it all on my own; raised them, bathed them, clothed them, worked hard to put food on the table and to cater to their interests and needs like any good parent, yet, anyone can be a parent, but it is very, very hard to be an outstanding one, particularly on your own. (Not that it’s a competition, but sometimes you know other parents can be very competitive).
There have been times when we have survived on pasta (without sauce), two minute noodles and baked beans just to get through to the next payday. I have stayed in jobs long past their use-by-date just because we needed the money and we receive no maintenance from their father. I have had to say “no” to the kids more often than I would have liked, not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because I have not enough money to spend on anything that is not essential.
When they were little, I have to admit, they were easier to parent. They were easy to bundle into the car and do what we needed to do, but as they got older, it’s become exponentially harder. I had to say no to Miss 13 last night when she asked for some uniform item that meant she wouldn’t stand out as different and as a result get bullied for it. What do you do when you haven’t enough money to provide school uniforms? Or when Miss 15 asked for some money for lunch as she had nothing and didn’t want to seem to be scamming off her friends for lunch? I’m sure not all single parents have had this experience, but it has been mine, money, or lack thereof, has made being a brilliant parent harder than it probably should be.
But it’s harder in other ways when they start shifting into adolescence too. As they build confidence with their own voices and expressing their needs and desires, conflict inevitably occurs. I have learned that adolescence is much more than a time of transition, but a time when girls particularly, want to know that their parents love them and will push all sorts of buttons to get you to prove it. Miss 15 has done everything in her power to get me to kick her out of home and tried to get me to tell her that I don’t love her. I will do neither of those things. It’s a curious situation then to reflect on my own adolescence and how I actually wanted to know that my parents loved me. I wanted proof of their love.
In the past few years, I’ve become very fond of Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages and realised that in the whole of my childhood, adolescence and even adulthood when I thought my parents didn’t love me and I rebelled and withdrew from them because I had these thoughts. But they did! But they had a different way of showing it. In Chapman’s book, he outlines the love languages: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts (www.5lovelanguages.com – definitely look it up). Learning this changed everything in the way I viewed my parents, relationships and of course my children and how I’m managing this adolescent transition.
The other tricky part of adolescence is letting go; of keeping firm boundaries, but simultaneously allowing them the freedom to start to make decisions on their own about their lives and then being a loving witness when they make mistakes, to not judge or criticise, or say “I told you so.” Seriously! What human being wants to hear that! I suppose that is a fine line between neglect and allowing them to fall, but I never wanted to over-parent my kids. I’ve always wanted them to learn how to look after themselves within a supported environment. I’m seeing my role more now as being open to communicating with them about their lives and being here for when they fall down and to be their champion to get back up. I remember when they first started school and experienced that first life changing moment of the first let go. This is harder. Some of the mistakes that they make could be fatal/life-changing, such as drugs, driving or unprotected sex, so it really is a balance of ensuring they understand my core values and of trusting them to do what’s right. I need to trust in all that I’ve given them and trust that they will turn to me or the support networks I’ve helped them to set up when things don’t go right. The last thing I want to do is smother them, because all that tells them is that I don’t trust them. It has been a tricky time, but by articulating to them that I am feeling uncomfortable with them catching the train for the first time, they understand that language and in-turn are more patient with me. I am very lucky in that way, I communicate to them when I’m not coping and I need their help and somehow they know how hard I’ve worked and sacrificed for them. I know I’m loved, even when they tell me they hate me…it means I’ve pressed a button!
Adolescence would have to be the hardest part of parenting for anyone I imagine, but I’m doing it on my own. I have no back-up, no place to cry or rest or even reset button so I can feel good. Some single parents rush into new relationships, use their friends or family for support, but I have chosen to use professional help in the form of Psychologists and Counsellors. I have found that as much as I love and care for friends and family (many of whom will read this), they just don’t “get” it about raising three daughters on my own. A professional is a neutral third party, I find this empowering. The kids don’t have their own instruction book, specific for what works for them – I suppose all parents experience this – but for me it has been very much a trial and error process and I have made a lot of mistakes. I am not perfect. Knowing I am not perfect and that all three daughters are intelligent, funny, healthy, creative and socially conscious means that I’ve laid the foundations for them for their lives and now, I get to enjoy their unfoldment into womanhood and that, that for me, is the most precious of gifts, so I’m going to sit back and enjoy it – while putting in reasonable boundaries and learning to trust of course!
© Alyssa Curtayne 2015
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