Love in the Time of Contempt

Consolations for Parents of Teenagers.

By Joanne Fedler (Jacana)

Confession: I read this book a while ago but I didn’t feel up to writing a review because the subject matter – the angst of raising teenagers – felt too raw, too real for me at the time. You see I was a new mom of a teenager. I’d been teenagered. For some this happens anywhere from age 12 – for us it came with the entrance to high school.

My loving, agreeable daughter who ‘told me everything’ seemed to become guarded, disapproving and self-involved overnight. She needed us and wanted us to be involved in her life only as much as she was in the mood to share. She questioned her boundaries and railed against our rules. In the grips of teenage emotions she alternated between wanting a sounding board and getting hugs and affection to flouncing off with an irritated ‘urgh!’ when my husband teased her. We were so irritating! We did things that bugged her and she couldn’t understand us! I think we all reeled in shock those early months – including her younger siblings. Her brother learnt to roll his eyes and say ‘teenagers!’ like a wise old man who has seen it all.

Added to the onset of teenagerhood was the realisation that we are raising a teenager in a big city and the options for socialising are limited and boring. Mall trawling or big parties at ‘friend’s’ houses seemed to be the craze for the first few months. Everything made me feel like I was out of control. I entertained ideas of moving to the country and becoming a farmer (ok, maybe a writer in the country was more realistic.)

I wonder what an advice column written by teenagers on how to deal with your parents would look like. I imagine the letters teenagers would write in would sound something like this:

“My mother has suddenly become so needy. She wants to know who I’m seeing on the weekend, where we’re going and what I’m wearing. And then she tries to tell me what she thinks would look better on me. And her choices are, like, so lame. She keeps trying to get me to wear sporty T-shirts and shorts that ‘cover my bum’. The other day she totally embarrassed me in Cotton On by chatting loudly to another mom about how they should demand a discount for the lack of material in the crop tops and shorts. She thinks she’s hilarious but really she’s just not cool.”

The teenage agony sister would reply:

‘Be patient. Your parents have been raising you since you were born and they have had sole control over most of your life. It is very hard for them to abdicate the role now. Yes they are old fashioned and out of touch but you must be gentle with them because things are changing so quickly they struggle to keep up.’ Ha!

The thing is I don’t feel like an older person, I think I’m quite a cool mom. And quite funny too. (Apparently a common delusion parents of teenagers suffer from.)

Confucious’ saying “may you live in interesting times,’ was surely written for parents of teenagers. It was an interesting initiation into teenager hood and it is only now, as we head towards her 16th year that I can breathe a little sigh of relief. She hasn’t gone off the rails and her common sense has returned. (mostly!) We made it. I can hear older, more seasoned parents laugh at this – yes we’re not out the woods yet but we feel like we’ve learnt some important lessons. We’ve navigated a few hurdles, overcome some pretty tense moments and I have cried (in my car with loud music playing) for the little girl in my daughter who adored me and looked up to me. I miss her. But I know she will come back to me – as an older, wiser, beautiful young woman who still wants and needs me in her life.  And I do love the witty banter and more grownup humour and insight a teenager in the house brings!

So if, like me, you find yourself floundering a bit as this new stage in your child’s life hits, you will thoroughly enjoy Love in the Time of Contempt. It is not a guide book with how to’s and what to’s but a sharing of lessons learnt, a reflection on the issues facing teens and an understanding on what is motivating your teenager and really fueling their brain at this vulnerable stage. The answer: a hormonal influx, swinging emotions, and an undeveloped prefrontal cortex – which is the bit that helps to plan, prioritse and measure the consequences of their actions.  While it won’t make your teenager a nicer person overnight it will make you more able to understand where they are coming from. It’s also very funny – the kind of read aloud to your partner in bed at night and some gems of wisdom you’ll want to underline and share.

Joanne Fedler is the mum of two teenagers and she has learnt her philosophy of imperfect parenting (kind of like a wabi sabi for parents) through trial and error, lots of love and a big dose of patience.

PS: If you’re battling with a weight issue her book When Hungry, Eat is revelatory. 




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