Can you cope with teenagers?

The age most British women give birth keeps getting older. That might make looking after a baby easier, but are older mums then able to cope with all the changes they’ll face in their late 40s onwards whilst also having to deal with teenagers? This is a book review of the parenting part of new book, In Your Prime by India Knight (Penguin, £16.99). See more work by Nicola Baird at http://www.nicolabaird.com

Any xxxx

India Knight: “The great, stupid, insulting lie about parenting is that the first years are tough, and that if you somehow power through those, you’re on the home run: that it all gets easier. This is a load of absolute steaming horseshit…”

In Your Prime: older, wiser, happier has lots of good points – the best being that unembarrassed lifestyle writer India Knight explains the menopause. Written with relentless positivity – and I like her jolly lacrosse sticks tone – you begin to think that the menopause is a slightly exotic signpost flagging up the work you’ll need to do on your body (yoga, heel creams, dental whitening, etc) to keep looking good for the next third of your life. Not the last third of your life.

The downside of In Your Prime is it seems to be written for an urban foxy lady – who might have accidentally moved to the countryside – with seemingly no interest in anything outside her mirror. She certainly doesn’t seem to notice world politics, poverty or climate change, or if she does wants to look her best for the apocalypse… Of course this is a manual and perhaps writer rules mean you need to stick to the point – the “me” in In Your Prime. That said, there are plenty of gems in this book for anyone with kids, or parents.

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It’s a fun book if you can cope with sentences that start: “Deep breath – *sticks head between legs* – right, here we go.” Don’t worry this sentence starts the section about family relationships, not, say, how to dye greying pubic hair.

This too will pass
The chapter that fascinates me is about parenting and step-parenting teens. This is written with wisdom, kindness and a certain amount of liberalness: not much is taboo in India Knight’s home. The fears mums have parenting older children is that our boys may be attacked and our girls may be raped (“deal with unwelcome male attention”). Recognising this India prefers that the kids misbehave (with same-aged friends) in earshot – where she hopes they can learn from experience what drinking too many vodka shots does to you. She is extremely forceful in her view that parents must “not give up” on tricky offspring.

Don’t think that if you have a good child you are doing it right either.

She knows why kids are good – because they are people pleasers or desperate to get their rightful share of parental love. Either tendancy will store up such endless long term problems for your child that  you might prefer them to be a painfully annoying teenager for just a few years.

Teens are such a mix of joy, misery and ouchy feelings that it is amazing how few guides there are to living with them successfully.

I have a shelf full of books about baby and toddler care, including the one I wrote, Homemade Kids, but only Stephen Biddulph on getting it right as your family grows. If your how-to-cope-with-a-teen resources are similarly slender then the chapter on family relationships is excellent. India Knight gives you permission to use your wiles to parent and set boundaries. She gives you metaphorical tea and cake when you lose the plot from worry or exasperation and behave badly to your teen, and when you are feeling better explains that you need to talk to these young adults just as you would a colleague.

So if you’ve been rude, or worse a bitch then go and apologise. Instead of grounding a child (preventing them from going out), work out what’s gone wrong and tackle that.  For example if their phone battery went dead before their curfew and they were late home without telling you, sort out a better system for keeping their phone powered up.

There is also an excellent section on dealing with ailing parents – at the same time as worrying about the teenagers.

Who’s it for?
India (she writes in a way where you want to call her by her first name) is a very generous person. She reckons that most problems can be solved by a lovely big meal to which everyone is welcome.

But her sense of what is norm – spending on a super comfy bed, boxtox, eye lasering or a nice weekend in the country – peppered with the suggestion that it’s nice to give yourself treats such as a girls’ lunch with friends or practice a bit of “drunken flirting” really confused me. I absolutely don’t know anyone like this.

My friends always seem to be short of time and money, even while conscious of being some of the lucky ones. For me a girls’ lunch would be sitting on a bench in the park munching from a Tupperware container of sandwiches. I fear India would laugh at this pathetic vision if she swirled past. For this reason I would be cautious about who to give the book to – it’s for a moneyed middle class lady who doesn’t think of herself as middle aged. Readers who enjoy it will need to find the tone fun and not wince at being given a how-to-grow-old book, or take offence that they are – possibly – being told to sort out their teeth and children before it’s too late.

On the plus side those readers will quite probably be the ones who may luck out by unexpectedly learning how to be older, wiser and happier. And have as good teeth as their teens.

Useful: 8/10
A good gift: Possibly.

To buy: In Your Prime by India Knight (Penguin, £16.99)

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