Wednesday 7 December 2016

Smug Married: At 15 our limitless dreams can meet cold reality

Until teens attain the comfort of knowing all things pass, they need emotional cradling, says Aine O'Connor

Aine O'Connor

Published 03/04/2011 | 05:00

The way it worked out, there are nearly five years between our children.

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Our son will be 15 in June, our daughter has just gone 10. Nearly five years and worlds apart. When the eldest was eight and nine, it dawned on me that while we focus on the difficulties of teenagerhood, each age has its own problems.

Seven is regarded as the age of separation, the age where kids begin to see parents as separate entities, no longer just an extension of themselves. Which is rather terrifying. I think that by the age of eight or nine, some children find it tough, they get more introverted, more anxious, more self-conscious before blossoming again.

Apart from the male/female thing and the inevitable difference in treatment, and to an extent rearing, that comes with being elder or younger, our children have quite different characters. Whatever combination of the above made it so, Number One deals with things that scare him by leaping into them, Number Two, by shrinking.

As a small child, Number One was happy to hand over all responsibility to us -- if we said there was no problem, he was fine. Number Two worried, regardless of reassurances. And so it continued when they got past seven, he is anxious on occasion but not by nature, she is anxious by default -- and she didn't lick it off the stones.

There are many differences in their lives just now, although facing into the end of littleness, she is still very much a child, whereas her brother's childhood is over. He has responsibility and romance and the temptations of impossibly close adulthood. However, there is one difference more crucial than any other between their two ages -- their dreams.

It has been odd to see the baby boy become a man -- tall, strong, occasionally aggressive and a brat -- but worst to behold is that he has been, for the first time really, a bit daunted. Something highlighted by the extremes in the house.

The 10-year-old still has limitless dreams. She cannot decide whether she should be a dancer or a singer, she wants to move to New York when she is 16, because 16 is far enough away to feel old. Her dreams are limitless and glamorous, unfettered by pragmatism and unimpinged upon by nasty reality. For her, the future is whatever she wants it to be.

Her brother was like that too, but all of a sudden he sees only limits. Pragmatic concerns have leapt on his dreams and beaten them up. Reality, the greatest of party poopers, has savaged them. He knows the chances of playing rugby for Ireland are slim, at most he thinks he can hope for a career, let alone a successful career, in nine to five, which seems all the more hideously soul-destroying for the proximity of his limitless dreams.

From a certain point in life, dreams start to feel embarrassing, our hopes become our shameful secrets, things we daren't utter for fear of looking foolish or mad. You get used to it after a while, or you change what you dream of, but hope returns, it has to, for without it life is too hard, and methods of achieving become more real.

It can seem that teenagers no longer need much except a watchful eye and some boundaries, but in other ways they need more emotional cradling than ever. At 15, you don't have the comfort of knowing that all things pass, and at 15 you tread on your own dreams, never softly.

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