Last week, my son, Ollie, took part in a music festival. We were so proud of him. He’d only taken up the bass clarinet this year, and here he was, playing in an orchestra with over 200 other intermediate school children at the town hall.
When the concert was over, Richard and I and our respective parents were standing at the top of the stairs waiting for Ollie to come and meet us. He dragged his huge instrument case up the stairs, while we congratulated him on his amazing performance, telling him how impressed we were.
Ollie stopped. He smiled. Then he announced, “I met a girl!”
When we got home, I told his sister about it, who responded “You know I’ve got a boyfriend too, right?”
And just like that, we’ve fallen into the next phase of our children’s lives.
I hadn’t anticipated that this phase would happen so quickly. Both have had “the talk” at school, and are learning about romantic relationships as part of their physical education syllabus. Amelia is well and truly through puberty and out the other side, but Ollie hasn’t even sprouted his first hair at this stage!
He’s always enjoyed the company of girls over the company of boys, even from a very young age. At about 5 or 6, he told us that he knew who he was going to marry (the very pretty blonde daughter of a good friend). When we go away skiing, he’s always surrounded by a flock of girls. He’s kind, he picks them up when they fall into the snow, and he likes that he doesn’t feel like he needs to compete with them. He’s always more relaxed with girls.
I’ve talked to Amelia a great deal about the challenges of adult relationships. About being treated with respect. About walking away from boys who are verbally, physically or mentally abusive. About setting your own timeline for progressing to a sexual relationship. About the importance of taking control of your own fertility. About how we will always be available when she wants to talk, or if she finds herself in trouble, night or day.
As a former teenage girl myself, I understand the minefield that is female teenage romance and sexuality. But I’m a bit in the dark with teenage boys.
I’m not sure how to construct a narrative that isn’t inherently negative. How to teach him to treat women respectfully, without him feeling that I suspect he may do the opposite (which I don’t, by the way). How to stay away from a girl who’s had too much to drink. How to use his brain first and his penis second.
But equally importantly, how to make sure he’s treated with respect. To make sure he walks away from girls who are verbally, physically or mentally abusive. To make sure he sets his own timeline for progressing to a sexual relationship. To make sure he knows the importance of taking control of your own fertility. To make sure he knows we will always be available when he wants to talk, or if he finds himself in trouble, night or day.
I guess the narrative is the same for both children, regardless of gender. They are both navigating the same challenges, just from opposite sides of the coin. But many of the challenges they face will be exactly the same. Their hearts will be broken, they will make mistakes, they will treat someone badly and be treated badly in return (although hopefully not too badly). And we will always be available when they want to talk, or if they find themselves in trouble, night or day.
In the same way that I would hate for either of them to have their behaviour judged on the basis of their gender, so I need to make sure we treat their emerging sexuality without gender bias.
I just thought I’d have a bit more time.
RECIPE MATCH: PORK BOLOGNESE
I created this dish as yet another way to get vegetables into my children’s diets (yes, even as they head into their teenage years, they are still a challenge diet-wise). It’s a bit lighter than a traditional bolognese sauce, so is well suited to our emerging spring days. Find the recipe here