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The delicate art of surviving Christmas with a teenager in tow

The delicate art of surviving Christmas with a teenager in tow

What do you do when the family Yule is no longer cool?

"He wants to be in strict level 5 lockdown when it comes to going anywhere with his parents, and level 1 when it comes to his mates."

What do you do when the family Yule is no longer cool?

Perhaps it started when he asked to hear the truth about Father Christmas. Or maybe it was this year, when he praised me for not once mentioning the ‘discomfort’ of his birth on his 13th birthday.

I guess somewhere between “Mama, you’re the best, I will marry you when I’m big” and “Mama, if you don’t mind, I won’t go with you for your beach walk today”, my son became a teen.

Teens are seen as the resident villain in many a family. They’re this beautiful squish of love and feel-good hormones when they’re born.

Then comes the destruction of the ‘terrible twos’ (Hello, TV screen written on with permanent marker), the outright defiance of the ‘freaking fours’ (Oh hi, toilet blocked with five rolls of toilet paper), and the ‘teen’ years when they either go feral or silent.

My son? He’s gone full feral. Shower? Under duress. Brush hair? Nope. Going out? Only if the parents are not going to the same place.

Which mostly works, except when there’s a family event, or more immediately, Christmas this year.

My child is a lovely human, so people love having him around. And as his parents, we totally agree, he’s pretty grand.

He’s a joy to have around, and the people in our lives are always asking if Tom’s coming along. (Hold on, I think I just realised maybe we’re not actually invited, Tom is the one they’d love to see!)

And just as Elton and I managed to unshackle ourselves from the responsibility, high expectations, and disappointment of being the first-borns, we now have to bear the burden of the grandparents’ disappointment when they see our cars in their driveways, and we say, “It’s just me/us, no grandchild.”

Christmas has always been tricky for us as both families obviously want to see Thomas. My father lives in the northern suburbs, and my in-laws live in the southern suburbs, so we opted for the alternate year thing.

One year my family, one year my husband’s family. This year it’s my in-law’s turn, but our son is not keen on leaving home.

I think the ‘COVID-stay-at-home’ message has landed firmly with him, and we are trying to find a way to do Christmas with both families.

I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that the little boy who used to run to the car, strap himself in, and request his playlist as we went to the mall or road-tripping, no longer does that. He wants to be in strict Level 5 lockdown when it comes to going anywhere with his parents, and Level 1 when it comes to his mates.

I remember reaching this age and being enlisted in ‘outreach visitations’. I didn’t mind family and friends I liked, or who were fun to be around.

But my dad joined some semi-cult, and the most awful visits were to leaders of the ‘church’. Their kids, way younger or older than me, had all the nice things us tithe-paying families couldn’t have.

That’s why, when my son started saying he’d rather be home, it was important for me to honour his wishes and not force him.

And luckily for him, the grandparents are better at respecting wishes and a child’s autonomy in their old age.

So, to accommodate the grandparents this year, he’s agreed to various Christmas sessions.

Just the grandparents for a dinner in Christmas week, no big families descending on the family home for one hot, sweaty day of rituals and heavy, weird food he doesn’t really like. And none of the cousins are young enough to still believe in Father Christmas.

Instead, he has cousin and friend dates at dams, beaches, and homes with pools, and that is where he will be happiest.

Away from the pinching cheeks, you’ve grown so much, I remember when you used to climb the burglars bars, and the usual parents and grandparents reminiscing.

Long gone are the days of all the parents sharing the babies and toddlers milestones and having to carefully watch grandpa and the drunk uncles, so they don’t trip over the ‘ankle-biters’. We are now left to sit in our awkward silences with years of baggage.

While he is out living his best life with his peers, the parents will have to sit with their parents and just get the lunch over with.

Presents, reminisce, heavy lunch, paper hats, pulling crackers, and gingerly stepping around past issues and feuds.

Although much has changed, I look forward to a Christmas where the kids are given the freedom to do their grandchild duties for as long as is considered decent, and then go and do what is fun for them.

I say let them be. They have had it the worst and deserve to feel like kids again, without carrying the weight of their disrupted childhood and adult expectations this holiday season.

Although going out with the parentals is no longer a thing, I wish I could bottle the feeling when my strapping 1.78 m, 13-year-old old son puts his head on my lap while we’re watching TV, and tells me what’s happening in his world.

Even if he never ever goes anywhere with me again, knowing that I still have my gentle giant all to myself at home when no one is around, cracks my heart wide open every time.

Rochelle Barrish

Change expert, Rochelle Barrish, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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