“I’m going out for a walk.”
“What? On a Tuesday night?”
“Well where are you going?”
“Are you meeting someone?”
No reply. Ben’s face is so blank he clearly has a future as a poker player.
“How long are you going to be?”
At which point my son shrugged, smiled and walked out: keeping his secrets…
And quite right too.
A virtual pal of mine wrote a blog post the other week. It was about secrets: specifically, about teaching his two boys that “we don’t have secrets in our house.” Spot on: sound parenting. But his children are six and three. Add ten years and that rule needs to be flying through the window.
Teenagers keep secrets.
And parents should be grateful that they do.
Trying to know everything about the lives of your teenage children is a recipe for misery and division. There comes a point when you simply have to trust. Specifically, you have to trust that the lessons you taught and the values you instilled when they were six and three will now pay dividends.
Because you’re never going to know everything.
Teenage boys are relatively straightforward. You only need to do three things:
- Accept that they’ll be taller and brighter than you
- Buy enough breakfast cereal to feed an army platoon
- And see above: trust them. Trust them to be responsible and trust that among the slaughtered aliens and darker delights of the internet they’ll do enough work to pass a few exams
Ah, sorry. Four things. As Hamlet would have said, arm yourself against a sea of sarcasm.
Teenage daughters are an entirely different story. Secrets? More than you can imagine. And believe me, you don’t want to know.
Let me be blunt, if the average father knew what was going on in his teenage daughter’s life he’d need sedating. The NHS would immediately collapse under the strain of middle-aged men seeking counselling.
A few years have passed since the Beloved Daughter was 16. A few details have gradually seeped out about those years. The tattoo, the tongue stud. But there’s plenty I’m never going to know. ‘Can’t tell Dad that now. He’s far too old. The shock would be too much…’
But you’re a parent. You’re going to worry. So let me offer some advice. There were two mantras we drummed into our children as they were growing up. I’m sure all three could recite them word-for-word. They’d sigh, they’d gaze at ceiling in despair, but they know them off by heart:
“Tell us the truth. If there’s a problem and you tell us the truth we can fix it. If you lie to us we’re all screwed.”
And when – like Ben – they started going “Out-Where-Nowhere-Special:”
“If you’re in trouble, call us. It doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter what time it is, if you need us, we’ll be there.”
So there you: two extracts from my parenting textbook. But teenagers have secrets, you’ll never know everything and you’ll never stop worrying. That’s just human nature – and so is the fishing expedition the next morning as you’re driving to College.
“So it must have been pretty cold on your walk last night…”
“Were you outside all the time?”
“Well we don’t want you to get cold. You could always … you know … if you’re meeting someone … come home.”
The poker face descends again.
“I think he’s seeing someone,” I said to Jane that night.
She gazed up at me. “What a shame you’re not American, darling. The FBI missed a unique talent.”
Like I said, a sea of sarcasm. And not only from the children…
I’m delighted to say that with a designer friend of mine I now have an app on the iPhone App Store. Children fighting, cat puking and your OH prostrate with man flu? Yep, the Stressed Out Mums Sticker Pack is now available for 79p. Need chocolate? Need cake? Ready for wine o’clock? Every sticker you’ll ever need is right there…