I recently received an email from a friend forwarding on a request to write a blog article about my experience as a teenager. The email invited us to answer questions. The first was: Tell us about a time when you were a teenager, ‘that you felt the love’, felt connected or close to your parents.
My immediate reaction was, I don’t think I did. The next thing that came into my mind was my father playing with us on Christmas eve, the cakes and the delicious food my mum used to cook for our birthdays. But that was when I was a child. As a teenager I can’t recall that much. Could it be that I only remember the more difficult emotions, the pain and not the fun and the love?
True, even as teenagers, my mum always kept a clean house and there was always warm food on the table every lunch and dinner. We always had clean and crisp ironed clothes. She was there for us when we were ill. My dad less so, as he was working late to bring home the bacon. But he did show us some love when he felt creative in the kitchen as the more exotic dishes was his realm.
But as a teenager that wasn’t enough. I had a late puberty due to a genetic medical condition and even though sex came late to me, I still had challenges to face. Why do my fellow pupils have armpit hair and I don’t? Why can’t I take part in physical education classes? Why do they say I look like a child? Why do I get bullied at school? Why do I have only one friend? And why did he decide to turn his back on me when he made some other friends? Why do you have to choose my clothes? Why do people from the town call us villagers? Why did you lecture me on drugs when I had more important issues to face? Why can’t I buy poetry books?
Perhaps it was the second part to the question, felt connected or close to your parents, that I’m finding more difficult to answer. Even though my mother was only 21 when she had me, and my father 30, it always felt like a big generation gap. I was a sensitive kid, and a sensitive teenager. My mum and dad grew up at a time when food was scarce in Greece but my sister and I had our basic (physical) needs met. I was craving books but that was seen as a waste of time by my parents. Why waste money on buying books? Why don’t you buy something to eat instead? So I had to sneak out and go to the library and read Brecht and Oscar Wilde. In that sense I never felt connected to my parents. I withdrew into my little bubble of craving knowledge and being nourished by culture.
One time I did feel the love though, and I had a very unexpected reaction. It was on my last year of school, when I had returned home from a three day school trip to Corfu. For the first time in my life I had tasted freedom. My parents have been quite invasive with personal space, I had to learn about boundaries the hard way later in my life. When I got home, mum, dad and my sister had made a wonderful dinner and welcomed me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Instead of the reaction they expected I ran to my room, sobbing almost uncontrollably. I had tasted freedom and that freedom had just finished. I was mourning for that. I couldn’t enjoy their “love” as the love I needed was something completely different.
I can’t say I didn’t feel close to my parents but it was perhaps a bit too close; as in: No boundaries. I already mentioned that I have a genetic medical condition. This condition has required me to go to hospital every 2-3 weeks for blood transfusions. My parents would organise and manage that whole part, from making me take my medication to taking me to the hospital, staying with me, organising appointments, blood tests and doctor visits. Quite literally my life dependent on them. But it was too much of a dependence. Close but not healthily close. It was a long and painful journey breaking free from that after I left home to go to uni.
One of the challenges as a teenager was the dependency on my parents for pocket money and buying things for myself, which felt very restricting. We were not a very wealthy family and mum was quite thrifty. We would only get a little pocket money to buy food at school. Most other stuff we had to pay for, clothes, haircuts etc would be provided by my parents. So we often didn’t have a choice in those. A way that worked for me was to be verbal about my dislike of that and to ask for what I needed i.e. more pocket money and to not have to constantly ask for it. I would often discuss that with my friend at school whose parents seemed to have better boundaries and he would rarely have to ask for pocket money. We had to ask for pocket money, it wasn’t a given, like my friend. His parents would leave his pocket money at the same place, at the same time every week. My sister and I never had that. We had to ask each time. It was a constant battle until I left the town to go to uni.
I can think of more things my parents did that I wouldn’t want to do I ever had teenagers myself, like not observe boundaries, discourage honesty by using that against us etc than the other way round. But one thing they did that I would want to do, is move us from the village to the town when we became teenagers. And off the topic, I feel a village is the best place for kids to grow up, not too far from a town though for the occasional provisions that the village won’t provide (arts and crafts material etc).
The other thing they did, which was mostly dictated by the Greek culture, is maintain a sense of family and warmth, with frequent visits to our beloved grandparents, family lunches and dinners and a great housekeeping by my mum.
If I could leave you with one piece of advice that would be: Raise your children well, with love and teach them the right morals. Equip them with that they need, in order to make the right decisions and then let them make their own choices trusting that they will make the right ones. And do not worry too much about them taking the wrong decision or being influenced by ‘bad’ people. I will never forget what my uncle said to my mum, when she told him she was worried I was hanging out with ‘bad’ kids: “You should not worry, if he hangs out with bad kids, they will turn good”.
Recently, a friend of mine who has teenage kids confided in me that she is concerned that her son does too much weed. After our conversation she admitted that she doesn’t mind her son doing a bit of weed every now and then and nothing had changed in his behaviour but she was still worried. I advised her to ask her son to give HER a lecture, on why he is more than well equipped to handle weed, and why she should not worry about it!”