I thought I always had a fairly good understanding of each of my children. I was a hands on mum, actively involved - coaching sports teams, volunteering on the canteen, always putting my hand up to help out with excursions.
I was convinced that taking an active role in their lives would help me to have a strong connection and the ability to recognise and understand them well. It was a connection I believed would help me guide them through all stages of their lives...and moods.
I guess the control freak in me had me convinced this was a fool proof approach to parenting through potential challenges.
It worked fairly well through primary school, and I appeared to be on track through the early years of high school.
But then Year 9 arrived and aliens invaded my children's bodies and moved into our home. It happened with every child and each time the invasion was by a different alien with a different approach to unravelling all my careful planning and parenting as I knew it.
Furthermore it was a mass invasion. It seemed that other parents with children in the same year were also experiencing a whole new world of raising children.
The alien invasion with my first child was relatively subtle - he just grunted a lot (rather than speaking), ate a lot and slept more than usual. It was also about the same time his voice broke and he had a massive growth spurt which pretty much explained his changed behaviour.
I didn't get this at the time, but some time near the end of that first alien invasion the penny dropped. When our son's alien retreated we were left with a delightful young man who communicated well, with a deeper voice, and a great deal of common sense.
Armed with this information I convinced myself that I would be ready and well-prepared for that time when our eldest daughter reached Year 9 - the alien year - not that I expected her voice to change.
I was wrong.
It was a different alien, with a completely different approach to having my husband and I in a spin.
This alien had a strong focus on an extremely busy social life and no acknowledgement of limits to what its host body, our daughter, could achieve in a single day.
This alien also seemed to gravitate to other teens (also possessed by aliens) who were equally eager to attend every party, after-school activity or sleepover on offer. This alien devised that if the parent said no there was always the option of sneaking out. It was a matter of if you locked the front door they could always go out the back door.
My husband and I, exhausted by the chaotic schedule of our daughter during this period, confronted her about what was going on and why she felt the need to be every where. She proceeded to say "I just want it all". My husband and I couldn't help bursting into laughter and subsequently advised her that she needed to pace herself...for our sake.
Eventually the excessively social alien retreated and our eldest daughter returned. She was still very social but far more reasonable about her social expectations on any given day. Years later this daughter shared the truth about the socks she would drop on the stairs that used to drive me to distraction. I was constantly asking "how can you walk past them and not pick them up?" I would refuse to pick them up on principle.
It turns out that they were strategically placed to identify the squeaky stairs for the purpose of sneaking out. Teenager 1, mum nil.
Ok that was two teens down and one to go through Year 9. I was convinced myself I was ready this time.
And once more the alien invasion came with a whole new set of challenges. This alien was sullen, stubborn, intolerant of the behaviour of others and somewhat adverse to reasoning. But most of all this alien was a bit of a drama queen.
She was easily annoyed by the behaviour of others and stubbornly stuck to her opinions. Tolerance was not this alien's strong point.
Anyway there came a point where, over several days, the alien connected to the youngest of our brood would complain about a teacher every afternoon. Each day would be a different complaint about a different teacher - "I got in trouble because I was late to class after lunch, but I had to go to the bathroom", "they kept us in after the bell", "they reprimanded me for talking when all I was doing was borrowing something"... and the complaints continued.
I listened and generally rolled my eyes. That was until about day five of the complaints when I'd heard enough and decided to point out to her that she was one of about 30 students in a class and the teacher didn't have time to deal with the individual personalities and behaviour of every child. I further noted that she only had a maximum of two or three hours each week with each teacher so she needed to know and respect their expectations so they could get on with the job of teaching. I also pointed out to her that there were rules in school and there were rules in the big wide world and she needed to get used to them.
It wasn't long before that alien moved out as well and soon after our youngest daughter returned pleasant, more mature and appreciative of the fact that the world didn't revolve around her.
Now don't ever think I was initiating some genius parenting style, that prompted the aliens to leave and my pleasant children to return. Quite frankly in every case I was completed stumped by the change of behaviour as they headed into Year 9. That behaviour, or should I say the alien in each case, seemed to hang around for between 12 to 18 months before a pleasant young adult would return.
I have no great solution for this time in a child's life except to keep the lines of communication open...even when they don't want to talk.
Mumma Jak has three children and is familiar with the challenges of parenthood. She is well aware that every child is different, every day can be different and a parent's approach needs to be different according to the situation at hand. She is happy to say she fumbled through, motivated from the perfect starting point - unconditional love. The good news is that all three of her children have become normal functioning adults.
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