We’re a month or so into Flea being nine.
I’ve been a parent now for almost a decade. And I’m realising – it doesn’t get any easier.
Sure, children learn to dress themselves. They can tell you if they’re tired, or hungry, or hurt. They can play independently for entire afternoons, providing there’s a ready supply of Lego bricks and Ribena.
But something happens around this age. I think up to the age of seven or eight, children are really pretty much the people you make them. Everywhere they go, you’re there – so it’s not like there are too many mistakes they can make.
At nine, though, Flea’s becoming more independent. She’s making more choices of her own. And I’m starting to see all the lessons we still have ahead of us.
At an age when I thought parenting was going to be less about me, and more about keeping Flea warm, safe and educated while she found her place in the world, I find myself wondering about things like, “How do I teach her to be responsible?”, “How can I instil a sense of compassion?” or “How do I teach her that sometimes it’s okay to make a fuss, and push for what you want?”
Stupid, I know. And it turns out these lessons – the ones I never considered how I would teach – are far, far harder to learn than tying shoelaces and folding socks.
I know it might sound weird, but Flea didn’t tantrum as a toddler. We’re a very low drama household. We don’t shout, we don’t slam doors, we don’t say unkind things to each other. Even as a toddler, if Flea was very upset, she would tell me that she was sad, and she would take herself off to another room until she felt better. She’s a ridiculously easy child in so many ways that we’ve never really had those battles that help kids learn difficult lessons as they go.
But this weekend, my nine year old ran away from home. Granted, she was careful to say goodbye, and she only got as far as the top of the street (I was following her, out of sight, of course) before running back home as fast as her little legs would carry her, but it was a quiet moment of defiance.
I sort of don’t mind. Secretly, I’m pleased to see that my easygoing, perma-relaxed daughter will eventually push back if she’s cross enough.
Equally, though, I’m having to be a grown-up and explain that, no, being asked to keep your room tidy and not lose incredibly expensive things ALL THE BLOODY TIME does not count as child cruelty, actually. And I’m going to have to keep pushing her to be responsible, to make good choices, to consider the people and things around her.
I’m not sure I’m fully prepared for this stage.