According to a Yiddish proverb, ‘Small children disturb your sleep, big children your life.’ Parenting teenagers in today’s troubled times is a different ball game. It’s a roller-coaster ride for you too when your kids are going through these turbulent years. Volumes of self-help books and grandmother’s advice offer no succour when life confronts you in the form of teenage children. I often hit a roadblock while dealing with mine. They are a tough nut to crack! There are times when we seem to be at loggerheads on almost everything.
There’s never a meeting ground, be it food, friends, fashion, finance or future (and yes, Facebook too. Phew!). If with sons it is bikes and body-building, with daughters it’s bulimia and Bollywood. For every rebellious and defiant son, you have a stubborn and sulking daughter. It can be nerve-wracking to convince your husband that the daily stay-backs your daughter has at school are genuinely for extra classes. While there are times when it becomes equally difficult to calm your freaked-out wife that an occasional beer your son has is part of growing up.
Despite every trick in the box, there comes a time when all your strategies backfire. My children are experts at interpreting my indecision to their advantage. Whether it’s about a nightstay at a friend’s house or about buying the latest mobile, if I take more than a few seconds to give my approval, they quickly dash to their father who they know, will give in to their demands. So in order to avoid such subtle exploitation, both my husband and I try to stick to one decision. Yet, like most spouses, we end up squabbling and disagreeing with our expectations and approach to bringing up children.
We joined a ‘harassed-parents’ union every weekend. “Be firm,” said a friend, “children need to be told what to do and how to do things.” I tried breathing down their neck and they soon become a pain in the neck. “Become a role model” said another. The moment my children heard me bragging about my achievements at their age, it drew a big yawn and a guffaw. “Be a buddy, not a bully,” advised another friend.
My husband tried very hard to become the backslapping, slang-using father and I the hair-streaking, navel-piercing mother. But we ended up heartbroken when the children neither respected us as parents nor accepted us as friends. “Children need a friendly parent,” said a third friend. But let me tell you to strike that fine balance between being a buddy and a parent you really need to be an ace acrobat.
Finally, the moment I realised that perfect-parenting is a myth, I decided to keep myself gainfully employed by turning a consultant for all other parents (at least for a change someone listens to my gyan!). I tell them umpteen tried and tested mantras: With teenage children around there will always be fire and smoke, so don’t forget to go for long walks the moment you spot the sparks. Enjoy a game of badminton but don’t always try to win, go for a movie with them but pretend to sleep, go out for dinner and let them decide the menu. Become colour-blind when you see the reds on the report card. Your phone, wallet and laptop are not yours. It’s all moh-maya! You will see your children inching towards you.
Experience has taught me how to keep myself out of my children’s hair and at the same time maintain a semblance of sanity at home. So all one can be is a facilitator and that too if you are a rich, non-interfering one! I no longer even try to micro-control my children’s lives as I realise they are as slippery as is sand in a closed fist.
There is a saying on my desk which I have internalised. It says: “The difference between the teenager and the parent is that the teenager still has the faults the parent outgrew.”
(The writer is an Assistant Professor of English at Varanasi. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org)