LORRAINE CANDY shares the life lessons she's learned the hard way

Want to tame your teen? Always let them yell at you. . and ignore the messy bedroom. In the second part of her riotous book about parenting girls, LORRAINE CANDY shares the life lessons she’s learned the (very) hard way

  • Lorraine Candy is mother to Sky, 18, Grace, 17, Henry 14, and Mabel, ten 
  • She says her adolescent girls often cannot even bear the sound of her breathing 
  • Mother-of-four feels her tendency to shout is her greatest maternal weakness 
  • Lorraine shares ideas for soldiering on through mothering female adolescents

As the mother of four children (Sky, 18, Grace, 17, Henry, 14, and Mabel, ten), I’ve learned quite a bit about the parenting of teenagers — especially girls. I’m not a trained expert, more of an observer; an imperfect human trying her best.

But I have discovered that mothering adolescent girls may require you to be the most responsible person you have ever been, that you may have to move up a level in patience and emotional maturity.

This is Jedi parenting, which requires a great deal of inner calm. A virtue of mine patience is not, as Yoda would say.

I get it wrong many, many times.

One of my personal parental regrets is my tendency to shout. I feel it is my greatest maternal weakness and, while my anger is probably an expression of fear, I feel guilty about it all the time.

Lorraine Candy (pictured) who is mother to Sky, 18, Grace, 17, Henry 14, and Mabel, ten, shares her useful ideas for soldiering on through mothering female adolescents

Take my digital curfew, for example, when I insisted my eldest daughters, then in their early teens, hand in their mobile phones at 9pm every evening. I’m ashamed to say I often ended up snatching devices that weren’t given over. Appalling parenting on my part, but I was frightened. (I also remember saying, ‘because I say so’ as fruitless justification on more than one occasion — the world’s most ineffective parenting habit.)

And I’ve struggled to accept that some days my teenage girls simply don’t like me. Be under no delusion: parenting adolescent girls is not a popularity contest. Often they cannot even bear the sound of my breathing in the same room as them.

I survive these tricky teenage years mostly by maintaining an air of magnificent indifference and wearing the coat of maternal stupidity, as I remind myself that the huge changes in their bodies and brains are at the root of all this new behaviour. The days when I do lose it, or I don’t feel strong enough for the emotional battering or rejection, I get my love elsewhere. The dog comes in handy. Or I wander off and have a bath — sometimes I use their shampoo as a small revenge.

And it helps to remember that I am not alone, that many of you, too, are soldiering on through the battlefield that is mothering female adolescents.

Along the way, I have discovered a few reassuring and hopefully useful ‘do try this at home’ ideas that you could give a go . . .

RESET RUDENESS

I used to hear other women’s teens talk to them like servants and swear to God mine would never be like that. Then you discover that one of your teens has said something so unacceptable you couldn’t repeat it.

Rudeness is a given and, of course, much of it may be down to their rapidly changing neurology and inability to judge their behaviour, but your response can be moderated to de-escalate conflict.

Lorraine said she’s a fan of pressing the reset button and saying: ‘I don’t want to talk about it today’, when arguing gets too much. Pictured: Lorraine with daughters Sky (left), then 14, and Grace, 13

When the arguing gets too much I have learned to say things like: ‘Perhaps you should walk away now, you’re being rude.’

I am also a fan of pressing the reset button and saying: ‘I don’t want to talk about it today — we can discuss this tomorrow when you have reset the rudeness levels to zero.’ This can plant a seed in their minds that tomorrow is another day and gives them time to grapple with their feelings so they can then present a better version of themselves the next day.

It also reminds them of how the world works: poor behaviour shouldn’t get you what you want.

But to do this you have to be very adaptable and oh-so patient.

There are times when it is absolutely right to say: ‘I don’t like it when you speak to me like that.’ And times when it is best to ignore rudeness, and ask: ‘Are you OK? Do you want a cup of tea so we can talk about what is really going on?’ — even in the face of tremendous fury or poor behaviour.

Taking a moment instead of instantly demanding apologies may allow you both to explore what’s ‘under the bed’, as the psychologists say — to look at what is behind the fury.

PICK YOUR BATTLES

No matter how exasperating, irritating and infuriating your daughter can be, some of her behaviour should be ignored. She might be ripping a giant hole in what was, up until that point, peaceful family life, but it is wise to pick your battles and stop seeing your teen’s behaviour as a reflection of your parenting. Don’t take it personally. There are times when you will have to be curious rather than furious.

But boundaries are important: tell them what makes you uncomfortable, make it about how you feel not how you feel about them. Boundaries are proof you love and care for them.

Lorraine (pictured) said resist any urge to comment on your daughter’s looks or body because as their number-one female role model your silence is golden

State your rules clearly, stick to your reasons and, while they may not agree, they will know you have thought them through and therefore care. This might apply to curfews, behaviour in the home, colourful use of language or the relentless ‘borrowing’ of your stuff. You should give your teens guidance on what is acceptable and what is not. You’re still the boss at home.

They will always test boundaries as they form their new identities, so politely and calmly hold firm on those that matter most to you, even if it is uncomfortable. You might find they rely on them as an excuse to get out of things that frighten them, so they can save face with their peers.

BODY IMAGE BAN

Resist any urge to comment on your daughter’s looks or body, and don’t succumb to using the careless, toxic language of funny put-downs or casual remarks about weight, skin or shape.

Avoid commenting on what she, or any other female, looks like or is wearing, and never make comparisons with other girls or siblings. And ask grandparents to do this, too. All chat about appearance, size, shape and looks has to stop.

Listen, by all means, but don’t talk. Your silence as their number-one female role model is golden. Give bodies or body image no value. Instead, give value to attributes (kindness or hard work, perhaps), while keeping your expectations around achievements in check.

Accept that teenage girls have secrets and its’s healthy for them to have privacy, advises Lorraine (pictured)

WALK AND TALK

Any time you want to chat with your teen, do it side by side — never face to face (too confrontational). Any issue, however big or small, can be discussed in the car, on a dog walk, or on a bench at the park. But accept that teenage girls have secrets. It’s healthy for them to have privacy. You cannot possibly know everything about your daughter, so make peace with that.

LISTEN PROPERLY

I had no idea how much listening would be involved, and how time-consuming a teenage girl’s monologues are. Half the time they don’t want to talk to you, and the other half of the time they just won’t stop talking to you.

Teenagers need to feel heard. They cannot bear interruption. Wait for them to finish their sentence before responding, no matter how daft it is, and listen actively. Concentrate fully, understand and respond based on exactly what has been said. It’s harder than it looks, but such connection makes them feel safe and loved.

Try not to leap in with problem-solving techniques. Use the ‘listen, nudge, coach’ approach instead: empathise with their problem, ask them to suggest a solution then chat through how that could work. If you fix things, they won’t learn how to cope with problems.

NEVER SHOUT BACK

If your teenager is a screamer or shouts at you, don’t shout back. She could be feeling insecure or scared, or might be in emotional pain — the opposite of what she is projecting.

Let her yell it out safely; don’t react in the moment. If she is screaming, she’s in an extreme place, so it is important she feels heard. Calmly tell her you don’t want to be a verbal punchbag and that the cause of the problem is something you should tackle when everyone has calmed down.

Lorraine (pictured) said stop shaming yourself, it’s never too late to make things better and connect again

EAT TOGETHER

Rituals are the glue of a healthy family life and one of the best ways to maintain a connection as your child moves through their teens.

Eating together is a vital moment of family connection for teenagers. This is a piece of advice given by all the mental health experts I’ve spoken to over the past decade. It can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be every meal. Often I find myself providing four different dinners in an attempt to keep everyone at our kitchen table at least twice a week.

FORGIVE YOURSELF

We can mess up — we shout, overreact, make the wrong call, punish when we should forgive. We can be hurtful and cruel. I have spent a lot of time thinking I am useless as a parent, but that’s a waste of energy. It’s never too late to make things better and connect again. Stop shaming yourself. Instead, forgive yourself and start again the next day.

COACH THEM WELL

Teach your daughter to find her voice — and to be comfortable talking about money. In all my 30 years of managing teams, rarely have I had a female prospective employee ask for a better pay deal during an interview — but men always ask.

It is so important in our society that women are not consistently talked over by men, and we need to help our girls speak out, whether they are extroverts or introverts. We need to teach them to ask for what they want to thrive and to conquer the money conversation.

I also tell my teens never to start a conversation by apologising for what they are about to say, which is such a female trait.

Lorraine (pictured) said put your phone away when you are with your children, as moderating your use can help to moderate theirs 

PHONE HYPOCRISY

Don’t be a distracted parent. Put your mobile phone down for dinner, for family TV times, for trips, for visits to relatives. Just put it away when you are with your children.

To help them moderate their use, you must moderate yours. Teenagers can sniff out a hypocrite a mile off. Mine are always comparing their screen time notifications to mine (social media) and their father’s (online Scrabble).

As we discover more about how exactly screen time affects Generation Z, moderation is key — and so is keeping phones out of bedrooms during the night.

TOLERATE THE TIP

There have been times when a full nuclear waste-proof biohazard suit was required to enter our eldest’s bedroom. Her room once got so bad it looked as if a burglar had been in, ripped off his clothes and decided to have a lengthy shower involving 27 towels. But my objections were never helpful.

When teenagers hit adolescence, their brains are taken apart and rebuilt. As this happens they may not see things in the same way as an adult. This means they probably don’t notice titanic mess; the mould-filled crockery and mountains of clothes on the floor. So my advice to you is take a deep breath, wash your hands after you’ve collected their grubby washing and close the door until they are 18.

Then you will walk into an empty, tidy room after they have left and find yourself sobbing your heart out at the marks on the wall where their pictures used to be, wishing you couldn’t see the carpet and that this room was once again filled with piles of empty plastic bags, till receipts, dirty pants, smelly trainers, the dog’s missing lead and many of the belongings you’ve been looking for in the past five years.

Adapted by Louise Atkinson from Mum, What’s Wrong With You? 101 Things Only Mothers Of Teenage Girls Know by Lorraine Candy (£14.99, Fourth Estate) out June 10. © Lorraine Candy 2021. To order a copy for £13.34 (offer valid to June 4, 2021; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0203 308 9193.

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