Bill Linnane: When mums & teen daughters are at war
There is an old saying that daughters wreck your head and sons wreck your house. It’s obviously borne out of sexist ideologies – that men are dense brutes and women are scheming vixens – and once you have both in your life, you realise that actually both wreck your house and your head in equal measure.
When our daughter was born, everyone reassured us that we were fortunate to have a girl first as they were much more manageable. I’m not going to pick that one apart – there are countless articles, academic and otherwise, being written about nature, nurture, gender and sex as we speak – but we were led to believe that somehow a daughter would be a gentle introduction to parenthood.
For me, it probably was, but for my wife, it was slightly less so, for there is a dynamic between the two of them that I can’t get my head around. If the two of them head off for the day together, it often ends in a phone call from one or both of them to me, explaining that the other was being unreasonable, or mean, or rude. A simple trip to the shops is a powder keg, as I sit at home with the phone on loud, waiting for the flare to be sent up so I can try to reason with them both. Obviously, you don’t need to be Freud to understand that my interventions are an issue in themselves. My daughter and I are very close, we share our own little private jokes and go off on outings together.
This is because I am the fun dad, who pays little heed to the real-world business of running a home. The fact is, my wife does the vast majority of the work – the crushing, relentless, unpaid work – of raising a family. But in particular, she is the one who cares for our daughter since she was diagnosed with lupus – she is the one who attends the hospital appointments, who organises the medication, she is the one who can explain medical supply chains and logistics in a post-Brexit world, the one who knows the prescriptions off by heart, the names, both brand and generic, of each drug, she is the one who knows all the side effects of the drugs and the condition itself. She is the one who makes our daughter breakfast in bed, who tidies her room, who tries and tries and seems to endlessly hope that they are going to have some sort of Gilmore Girls connection if she does that little bit more. I, on the other hand, do none of the above – I went to one hospital appointment with my daughter and fell asleep while the consultant was talking to her. I tell her to tidy her own damn room, make her own dinner, and generally just muck about and tell my daughter that she is a sloth in human form.
But I get to have the banter – if my poor wife tries to make a joke, it turns into an exercise in door slamming. But the prophecy is now self-fulfilling – both sides now head into exchanges fully loaded, so no matter the context, they are waiting for the other to say something that ticks them off, and kablammo, the WhatsApps and/or tearful phone calls start flowing in my direction.
But this is a tale as old as time – I try to tell my wife that this is not personal, that she is not unique in her struggle, or her hurt, or her frustration. Equally I try to tell my daughter that her mother is, in fact, the one who does all the work, and that maybe when she spends half a day cleaning her room, don’t respond by shouting ‘who was in my room’ at her.
So the struggle continues – and I continue to be of no help to the situation. My wife thinks I am taking sides when I try to defuse the situation, my daughter just refuses to listen to me try to explain that a tiny bit of gratitude from time to time might be nice, and I am just counting down the days to when this period of life – that battle for power and self that shapes the teenage years – and both sides can go and walk around a shopping centre without either party walking off in a huff to go sob in a Starbucks, and I can sit at home with my phone on silent.
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