HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: My daughter is turning 13 and we are officially in a very different season.

I am typing this while trying to resist an overpowering urge to text my daughter. 

Everything okay? I will message, soon, when I can't hold out any longer. 

And I'll watch my phone, in real time, until the little blue bubbles appear, and seem to hover there forever before finally, a reply. 

Y x

The 'x' is because she knows I'll be just a little bit pissy if it's not. What this message really says, between the dots, is: YES. FFS. GO AWAY. 

Watch: Things Parents of Teens Just Get. Story continues after video.

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My daughter is 13 on Friday. 

It's 13 years since the wild pre-dawn morning she arrived, peachy perfect and squalling. Thirteen years since she flew into the delivery room a full fortnight early to a chorus of bellowed swear words and a dad who was ready to catch her.

I can't explain how those 13 years have been a century, crawling past, and also just five minutes, jetting by.


I can't explain to you that for 13 years, my first thought every day has been of her. What did I think about before, when I woke up? I can't remember. That's how it is, this parent thing, it changes you. It just does. 

That’s not to say that I think of nothing else. There’s her little brother, too, of course. And their dad. But also, a life full of other things and people and plenty of work to do and bills to pay and tasks to tick and problems to solve. 

But still, through the distinct seasons of parenthood, she was the first constant. And often, in the toddler season, she’d literally be the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. Too loud. Too close. Too shoving something in my face to make me get up. 

Her proximity, for a lot of those years, was defining. 

Image: Supplied


But not in this season. On the brink of the teen times, my first challenge has been the beginning of the big let-go. 

We’ve been letting go, bit by bit, of course, since we first dropped her at daycare, then kindy, then school. I’ve always worked, since she was a baby, and left her over and over and over. 

But in those seasons, I have known, every minute of every day, where my daughter was. What she was doing, who she was with. What she was wearing. What she was eating, even. 

Now, things are different. 

High school is a foreign country. I have been there twice. She travels to and from without us. She has friends whose homes she visits and stays at for hours, sometimes overnight. Twice, this past year, she's gone on holidays with another family for a few nights at a time. While she was away, she discovered she gets seasick, she discovered she likes salmon, she discovered a flair for mountain biking. On a day out without us this summer, she got horribly sunburnt. She saw a blue groper and got stung by a jelly. She got yelled at by a 'gross' man. She catches buses, she rides the tram. She buys bottles of coke and hot chips and bags of lollies with her friends and they guzzle them. She rides her bike, who knows where.


If these sound like innocent steps towards independence, they are. The point is, she now has plenty of experiences that don't involve us. There’s an ever-growing list of things that happen in her world that we don't witness, sanction, or know about. 

And that’s a very new season. 

They're also the steps I’m able to share. Recounting cute stories about that time your toddler drew on the wall with lipstick is one thing. But in the teen times, the messes aren’t so cute, and they are intensely private. Her stories are exactly that, Hers. She has read this piece, she’s comfortable sharing these things. There’s her line. 

My daughter is no longer an open book to me. She's more of a locked diary I occasionally get granted access to.

Her life is expanding, she is gathering stories to stitch together and her Dad and I are slowly fading from our main character roles. It hurts. It's a little bit sad. It's exactly how it should be.

But it’s a wrench. Because I’m obsessed with her, of course. But also because the letting go rubs against every bit of parent culture I’ve absorbed in more than a decade. The great contradiction that the ultimate job of a parent is to make ourselves redundant, but the zeitgeist marker of a “good parent” is that you are involved in every tiny detail of your little kid’s life. 


The tension between these things sticks in my throat as I look at my phone, waiting for the blue bubbles. 

I know I meant to be her manager, in calm control, and to hold on to that job for as long as I possibly can. But every day, I sense a small demotion.   

If your kids are still tiny, still constantly in arm's reach, still crawling all over you, pulling at your arms and legs while you're trying to talk/work/shit then right now, you are imagining the freedom I'm describing, of having a child just... gone some of the time, and you're drooling. 

Image: Supplied


You’re thinking, Are you back at yoga? Are you gunning for a promotion with all those extra hours you can work? Are you having sex? Are you... sleeping? 

And the answer to those things might be yes. But something else grows in that space during teen season. 


We’ve been living with it, of course, since the pee first hit that pregnancy test, but here at the mouth of the teen tunnel, the stakes feel impossibly high. 

The sucking of teeth that follows adolescent girls around is ubiquitous. You’re going to have your hands full there. Oh dear, you’re in trouble. Hope you’ve got a shotgun handy. 

The news cycle joins in, offering up constant versions of our worst nightmares - an anxiety epidemic, normalised self-harm, bad body image, disordered eating, sexual assault, image-based abuse, bullying, pressure, toxic competition. All of it peck-peck-pecking at them until they fall.  

We just have to get them through it, parents whisper to each other, as if we’re crossing a treacherous ocean. And maybe we are.


This is a season, clearly, that’s low on highlights. 

And then I look at my daughter, who burst into our world and changed everything, and made change the only constant ever since.

Listen to Help I have a Teenager. On this episode, we have a first: our first ever question from a teen. They listen to the show to understand their parents better, and now they want some advice on how to get their mum to understand them. It's a question every parent of a teen should hear. Post continues below.

This new season, this letting go, twists my heart but it reveals new bits of who she is every day. 

It’s fascinating. And glorious. And terrifying. Just like all the best things. 

So, excuse me while I text her again. 

You okay, babe? Having fun? Need anything?

We've hunted down every bit of crucial info you need to help your teens thrive, and put it all in one place: The Living With Teens Summit. Presented by Mamamia, and streaming February 15. Get tickets now. 

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