So here we are at the end of Year 8. I’ve got to say, Flea’s not the only one who’s learned a lot this year.
I feel like I’ve completely changed the way that I parent my daughter this past year. I’ve definitely changed my approach to her schooling.
At the start of Year 8, Flea was excited to no longer be the youngest in her senior school. She was a bit nervous (her Year 7 exams didn’t go brilliantly) but was optimistic about the year ahead.
By the end of her first half-term, Flea was already struggling. Year 8 is a time when the school expects kids to be a lot more self-sufficient. There’s a bit less hand-holding, and they’re expected to organise their own homework and games kit.
At the same time, it’s an age where our kids are bombarded by hormones. I don’t know about your 12-year-old, but mine appeared to entirely lose her short-term memory. She can go upstairs for a sweater and I’ll find her an hour later watching Snapchat, sweater entirely forgotten.
So it’s not surprising that Flea would forget kit, and books, and homework. She’d end up doing work in the library, in 5 spare minutes at lunchtime. Her marks started to decline, but nobody seemed worried. Except Flea. She was so cross and frustrated with herself.
As far as school was concerned, her marks were perfectly okay, and she is such a friendly, polite girl. “I just want to hug her every time I see her, she’s so lovely,” said the head of year. Except the more Flea’s teachers seemed to accept her marks, the lower they got.
I went into school so many times, but nothing really happened. I tried being stricter at home, supervising homework. I checked diaries and kit bags, and made Flea re-do homework if it wasn’t up to scratch.
It felt like all we ever did was bicker and sulk and talk about school. It made me so sad. We’ve always been so close, and I hated feeling like we were constantly at odds.
Another tricky element of Year 8 is the friendship issues. Girls of this age are notorious for flexing their social muscles. Although Flea was friendly with everyone, they seemed to already have their particular, close friends. She planned a belated birthday party and only one girl accepted the invite.
It all came to a head after her February half-term.
An automated email sent to me over the holidays said that Flea would be moved to a lower set for Spanish when she went back to school. No discussion, no warning, just that. Yeah. I could say a lot about that.
Flea was terribly upset. She didn’t know what was wrong with her. She used to be clever, now she was stupid. She couldn’t do anything right.
A few days later, Flea’s PE teacher stopped me. She told me that Flea was like a different child. Quiet, withdrawn. Not taking part in any extra-curricular activities. So far from the chatty, funny girl she had met the year before.
I remember thinking, “She’s not happy. What are you waiting for?”
We made an appointment with the head teacher at Flea’s old school, and Flea moved back a couple of weeks later. Honestly, she was transformed. It was like a weight was lifted, and she was back to her old self.
Very quickly, Flea had a circle of friends, many of whom she’s known since pre-school. It was a fresh start, with teachers who have higher expectations of her. Who believe she’s capable of getting good marks, and doing well.
By the end of year 8, I’ve got a happy girl again. Hurrah! There are still the odd niggles here and there because, you know, puberty. But she’s riding the storm a lot better these days.
Her end of year exams were amazing. As in, most of her marks were around the average, which is no mean feat when you only join a month or so before the exams. Last year was STRESSFUL. This year, Flea’s happy. She’s confident, and motivated.
I’ve learned that matters more than anything. It’s just one of the things I’ve learned in Year 8.
I’ve learned that my opinion on most things means nothing, particularly anything involving clothes, Snapchat, music, or boys.
I’ve learned that for the sake of my mental health I need to chant the phrase, “Not my room, not my business,” whenever I enter the utter pit that is my 12-year-old’s bedroom.
I’ve learned that it’s important to have something to occupy you when you have a 12-year-old because they’re going to spend 96% of their time in their room, only coming down 20 minutes after dinner to say, “I’m starving, have we got any crisps?”
I’ve learned that once in a while they’ll emerge for a cuddle on the sofa for no particular reason, and that’s okay, because being 12 is hard.
Perhaps the biggest learning for me has been telling myself, “That’s a teacher problem”.
Flea is growing up, and I need to let go of my control freak tendencies, in lots of areas.
I no longer think it’s my job to make sure Flea does her homework or does it to the best of her ability. That’s her job. And if she doesn’t do it, for the most part, that’s a teacher problem.
Other things that are teacher problems: rolled up skirts, amount of make-up worn, hair not being tied up, and jewellery peeking out from under school uniform.
I provide what Flea needs to do homework, and I remind her to check if she’s got work to do. I will help if she asks me to look at something. but I don’t do much more than that.
My job as her Mum right now is to celebrate her successes, and show her that life is about more than school. She’s amazing and kind and funny, and we love her regardless of test results or match scores. I have faith she’ll figure it out.
I want to be her safe haven when life gets hard, not just another thing that makes life harder. I could see that earlier this year Flea was well on that path of self-hatred that doesn’t end anywhere good for teenage girls.
This July, Flea organised an early birthday party and ten girls from school came along. They had dinner, took selfies, posted on Snapchat and generally had a blast. Flea was thrilled to actually be able to be part of it, and it’s made her so excited for Year 9.
What Mum could ask for more than that?
[Gratuitous shot of both the gorgeous young ladies in my life]