friendship

'6 things about being an HSC mum I’m learning the hard way.'

Well, we got through day one of the HSC. Note my use of the term “we”. I’m not invested in this at all.

My son started his HSC this week and it’s been a rollicking ride to this point. A few years ago I remember talking to a woman about her daughter who was weeks away from doing her HSC. “How is she going?” I asked, my own future experience looming large as I sought clues on how to navigate it. “I don’t even care how she does anymore, I just want it to be over,” she replied with a mix of anguish, impatience and exhaustion.

I thought this was a little melodramatic, frankly. I was perplexed about why the HSC would have taken a toll on her as a parent and I didn’t get why she was feeling so overwhelmed.

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Now I understand everything. The exhaustion, the anguish, the anxiety, the stress, the overwhelm. The eagerness for it to Just Be Over. I’m there and I’m living it and it’s all about me.

Wait, it’s not. It’s about my son. I know that. Mostly. But it’s been a special challenge trying to work out what my role is during this whole process. And my God, is it a process.

Mia Freedman and Luca on his first day of kindergarten. Image supplied.

The hardest part about being a writer who is also the mother of a teenager is that you are forbidden to write about any of it. So I’m not going to say much about my son’s HSC experience except that he’s studied really hard for a really long time and I haven’t had to nag him at all. Truth.

But I’ve been surprised at how all-encompassing it’s been for me as his mother.

I don’t recall my parents being even remotely involved in my HSC back in 1989.  If pressed, I doubt they could have told you what subjects I was doing. This wasn’t unusual though. School used to be something kids did and parents weren’t involved in.

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Times have changed and I have mixed feelings about this. In some ways, I love that parents are much more integrated into school life than they used to be. Other times, I will bitch loudly about the expectation I attend every open day, music recital, choir performance, Easter hat parade, Christmas concert, sports day and excursion, all of which are during work hours and with three kids at different schools, can sometimes run into dozens of days a year.

As I’ve written previously though, I’ve really appreciated the inclusion of parents in many of the rituals of my son’s final year of school. It’s been an unexpectedly emotional experience. Equally unexpected has been working out how to best support him through the HSC. Here’s what I’ve learned so far – DISCLAIMER: this applies only to teenage boys. I have NO IDEA what it’s like to mother a teenage girl through her final exams but I suspect it’s terrifying so please can someone write about it so I can make notes for when my own daughter leaves school.

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Mia Freedman with Luca. Image: Instagram.

DON’T ASK TOO MANY QUESTIONS

Like many women and all mothers, I like to gather information. From everyone around me about everything. This is frequently tiresome for them but no-one is as put-upon by my info-mining as my son. Unless I’m given a hard limit, I will keep going. I want to know how his friends are going, what his teachers are saying, and how he’s feeling. Invariably, he’s feeling annoyed that I’m asking so many questions. He now says “Question limit reached, Mum. In fact you surpassed it ages ago.”

DON’T ASK “HOW ARE YOU FEELING”?

For a long time this has been confusing to me but I’ve almost accepted it. I would happily talk about my feelings until your ears fell off but teenage boys aren’t quite so into that line of conversation.

DON’T ASK…..ANYTHING.

I’ve learned the value in shutting up. I’ve tried to force myself to leave some space for him to initiate conversation instead of me jumping in all the time with questions. This is a work in progress. Oh, and whatever you do don’t ask about what they want to do next year. It’s pretty much the only question they’re asked by everyone they speak to for 18 months and it’s excruciating. Apparently.

READ THEIR MOODS.

Sometimes they do want to talk. Other times they just want you around. You have to be agile and malleable and put your own wants and needs aside. This is hard for me.

FILL THE FRIDGE.

Apparently it takes a lot of food to fuel the teenage brain. I can’t cook so I fill the fridge with all manner of snacks and meals that can be consumed at any time of day or (frequently) night.

No more school lunches for Luca... Image: Instagram.

BE THERE.

Oddly enough, I’ve found the most important thing this year has been quantity time with my son. Just being around without any expectation that we’ll be engaging in any meaningful way. Just there if he needs me. Mostly he doesn’t and I’m not in his face. I might be working or reading or binge-watching or just pottering but I’m available and he knows that and occasionally, when he wants to, we talk.

BRING PERSPECTIVE, ENCOURAGE BALANCE.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzy of study angst, particularly towards the end. In my opinion, the three-week study period NSW students have between the end of school and the start of exams is way too long. All that unstructured time after 13 years of being mico-managed can be a major headf**k. If every time they come out of their room, you ask them how study is going, they’ll lose it. Try to talk about other things. Distraction is good. Make sure they’re getting out of the house and into the world regularly. Tell them stories of how it was when you left school in the olden days. KIDS LOVE THAT.

I should point out that all the above wisdom comes from trial and error, mostly error. Every kid is different and every relationship has its own unique nuances. All you can do is try to read your child and try to give them what they need in that moment.

And buy more food.

How are dealing with your child's HSC?

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