Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: How can I tell my family I want to be alone on Mother's Day?

On this week's podcast, Viv discusses a teenager who won't do his homework, how to leave behind a childhood home, and a mother who just wants to be left alone 

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv, 

I’ve got a teenage son who, quite frankly, is bone idle. I attended his parents evening recently to discover that he’s not doing any of the work that he needs to be doing to even stand a chance of passing his A-levels. I’ve done everything, I’ve sat down to help him, yelled at him, help create a work diary… you name it! And yet the penny hasn’t dropped so now I really don’t know what to do. 

I think what makes me particularly angry is an awareness of what a privileged position he’s in, he’s got a stable supportive family, doesn’t have any external worries or pressures outside of those of a normal teen and has access to a great education. We’re contemplating the threat of him needing to get a job to pay his way through retakes if he does fail, but could that backfire and the lure of money deter him from passing his exams altogether??

I’m really at my wits end, neither the carrot nor the stick seem to be working, what do we do next?

Oh dear. The curse of the bone-idle teen. Well, this is a well-worn question and perhaps it will help you to remember that: you are not the first parent and you will not be the last parent to have a teen who looks as if they are going to fail everything. I’m thinking about the time of year and realising that there is time for this to be fixed or turned around -- the exams aren’t until late spring. But I think it’s also important that you turn this around in your own head: because this may be a situation beyond your control. 

I have friends who have seen their children through A-Levels (my eldest is 14 so I don’t have personal experience of this nightmare yet) and I’ve watched them adopt various strategies. Here are the options I’ve seen.

1. Back off. Show him you’re supportive but you expect him to step up and do this stuff himself. You can’t take the exams for him, so let it go and see what happens.

2. Lean in. I have a friend who sat down with her son every day for about six months and physically did his homework with him. It got them both through. It’s an extreme approach and not one I think I could personally face. But it’s what some people do.

3. Enlist the help of another adult. Bring in someone who isn’t family. A godparent. A young adult. A tutor. Get them to make a plan with your teenager. Keep your relationship out of this fight. This is a good option if this person exists in your family’s life or if you can afford to buy them in.

4. A money-related solution. As you suggest, some kids are motivated by the idea that if they fail their exams they can just go and get a job rather than have to go and do more studying at university or whatever. Others are motivated by being paid sums of money for specific grades. Personally, I think it’s healthier to keep money out of these transactions. But I also don’t judge other parents: get your family through this however you can.

Those are just some of the options. Opening up to other parents with kids in his age group might yield more. It might help to sit down and make a list of these options, even the ones that you think are impossible for you. I think you need to become aware that you have choices here: you can choose to be less angry, you can choose to feel less responsible, you can choose to overlook the fact that he doesn’t understand how lucky he is. Turn your focus away from him a little and look at yourself: you may have to accept that you can’t entirely control this situation. You can only try things and do your best and accept that your efforts may or may not work. Blaming and being a control freak will not help here. Sometimes teenagers are just teenagers and we have to accept that they need to make their own mistakes in life.

Of course, we can’t stand by while they do that. We have to support and guide. But we have to also accept that they are virtually adults and all the support and guidance in the world cannot change them into someone they don’t want to be at that moment in time. Take the pressure off him. But, more importantly, take the pressure off yourself. Breathe, be calm, have a laugh about it and solutions will present themselves more readily.

You can hear the answers to this and the following questions on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv, 

My parents are in their late sixties and are moving house soon, downsizing to a smaller place down the road from the house they own now, which is the house I grew up in. 
 
I know it shouldn't be a big deal for them to be moving house. I'm in my thirties and have a flat of my own (I'm one of the few in my group of friends who is lucky enough to own a place) and, although I'm chronically single, I'm pretty happy with my lot in life. But their move means I will have to say goodbye to a lot of childhood memories which up until now have always been constant – the apple tree in the garden, the door with our height measurements on, not to mention my childhood bedroom, which I still stay in when I visit. It feels like the end of an era, but also it's making me think about how I've aged and, more importantly, how my parents are ageing and might not live forever. 
 
Perhaps it's very spoilt to be thinking this way when a lot of people don't have this stability, or lose parents very early on. Do you have any advice on how to come to terms with it all?

Dear Viv,

Mother's Day! It’s the one day a year where your family are supposed to worship at your feet, give you flowers, make you breakfast in bed and do all the other stereotypical stuff we are supposed to love as women.

Though all those things are fine (usually on my birthday), this Mother's Day I literally want my family to book me into a hotel the night before, and for me to wake up on my own. Is it bad I don't want to be reminded that I am a mum on Mother's Day?

These questions have been edited for length. 

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

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