My daughter is battling with a toxic friendship.  Unceremoniously "dumped" by a friend completely out of the blue, a pattern of events is starting to take shape which suggests this friendship is more trouble than it's worth, but ultimately the decision is my daughter's.  It is her life, but daily I fight the urge to get involved and call time on the whole thing.

It all started as I mentioned in an earlier post on Teenage Friendship Conundrums, the day of her Grade 1 music exam.  She emerged from school sobbing uncontrollably.  Apparently she had messed up one of the pieces.  We hugged and I tried as best I could to console her.  Nothing I said, however, made any difference. It was not until much later that the story about the friend emerged and she explained that whilst she had held it together for most of the exam, her emotions overwhelmed her and she had lost concentration.

My immediate reaction on learning the truth was "little bitch how dare she!".  My maternal heckles were raised and I was mad.   My daughter had practiced day and night for weeks for that exam and was, as all her friends knew, absolutely dreading it.  A real friend just would not do that right before her exam.   To my daughter, however, I offered a sympathetic ear and cuddles aplenty but gently encouraged her to enjoy her other friendships.  Be polite to the "frenemy" yes, but no more.  She deserved to be treated better than that.  Life, however, just isn't as simple as that though is it?

It was clear as the days passed my daughter was in emotional distress, struggling with the the whys and wherefores of the situation.  There had been no explanation and she was torturing herself trying to work out where it had gone wrong.  One minute they had been chatting and making plans for meeting up over the weekend, the next it was all over.  She had shared things with this friend that she had not shared with anyone before apparently.  This friend had really got under my daughter's skin.

Friendships are what make the world go round,  without them our lives would be very empty and desolate and throughout life we are constantly learning who our real friends are.  As an adult, however, it is easy to forget the value placed by adolescents upon their friendships.  As they move to secondary school and progress through the tween years into the teenage world,  their friendships mark a significant chapter in their development, they are symbols of their autonomy and independence.  These aren't friends that we as parents have foisted upon them through our own friendship network, but ones they have formed themselves.  It is about much more than sharing the same interests.  They have invested time and effort in seeking out friends who they have an emotional connection with as they mature both socially as well as physically.

After intially ignoring my daughter completely, both in the presence of other mutual friends and even teachers, the "frenemy" suddenly apologised.  Her explanation was that she had struggled with my daughter's extrovert nature as her preference was to be more introverted. My daughter enjoys her own company and will happily pass up an invitation to come home and just chill by herself, but ultimately, however, she could not see why anyone would not want to enjoy multiple friendships and was that really a reason to end their friendship?   Also,why hadn't she discussed it with her and told her how she felt rather than behaving the way she had.

The apology was accepted, but my daughter pointed out to the "frenemy" that she had really hurt her feelings and that her trust and confidence had been broken.  It would take time for her to come to terms with the situation and she was not sure they could return to the way they were.  When she told me, I felt so proud of her for handling it so maturely.

Gradually over the weeks the "frenemy" has become closer to her again.  They are hanging out again, chatting and exchanging messages.  Rightly or wrongly, I urged her to err on the side of caution, not wanting her to be hurt again, but ultimately knowing that she had missed the role the "frenemy" fulfilled in her life.  They shared interests and conversations that were unique.  Not that her other close friendships were any less important but this one was different.

Then last week it all changed again.  The frenemy posted a social media message questioning my daughter regarding some arrangements she had made for some friends to come to our house during the time she was not speaking to my daughter.  A barrage of messages continued, each more damning and incomprehensible than the last. Baffled, bemused my daughter did not respond.

Positive friendships are needed for healthy development.  My daughter has asked us for advice and I am confident that we are all on the same page in terms of recognising the red flags of the controlling and unhealthy nature of this friendship.  We all hang onto friends that are no good but I am hoping that my daughter will start to distance herself and put her energy into developing the friendships that don''t cause her any angst.  In the meantime the "frenemy" has apologised again, blaming exam stress for her outburst.  As for me I am not sure that if happens again I will be able to stand back anymore.

Have your children been affected by a "frenemy" situation?  If so how was it settled?  I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts.

 

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There is some irony in the fact that Friday 13th was the start of study leave.  Just as when I did my O and A' levels, study leave provides crucial respite during exams, entitling students to an approved absence from school and requiring them only to go in to "sit" their exams.  The downside, however, is the threat to the sanity of those around them.

With an intense schedule of AS exams for the next two weeks, Teenager No.1 is actually "off" until 16th June.  Already, my time is no longer my own and I miss that.  The average exam is 90 minutes and allowing for travelling there and back, my time to get on with what I want, when I want has been reduced by 75%.  Despite having been here last year with the GCSE's I had forgotten just what an impact it has.

I have followed my own advice from my previous post on Exam and Revision Tips - How We Can Help Our Teenagers and encouraged a good routine, stocked the fridge and been there to discuss not only the revision but also the post-exam analysis, but already I am desperate for some peace as Teenager No.1 stalks me around the house. I can be revelling in some "me time" reading the paper and listening to R4 and he will come in, sit down and start randomly discussing coastal erosion or the impact of migration on the economy.  Even the bathroom, the guaranteed seclusion zone isn't safe anymore, as he tracks me down and sits outside, oblivious to my assurances that "I will be there soon" and pleas to "leave me alone".

My son's work ethic is commendable.  He is conscientious and completely focused on doing well for himself.  I love him to bits.  He is my first-born, my only son and maybe because of our time together after my divorce from his father, we are close.  There is no doubt, however, that at exam time his needs are overwhelming. I knew this and of course it is completely understandable but the shock to my system is no less.  As well as my physical support, he needs mentoring and it is exhausting.  My wings have been clipped and my sanity and patience is being pushed to its limit.

Relaxation time when revising is essential and TV provides a welcome distraction during his breaks.  Invariably it will involve watching either sport, an action movie with a bit too much gratuitous violence or dare I admit it Geordie Shore!  Now I am not here to question my son's viewing habits at nearly 18, but when it is in my space I have a view.

We have a small TV/games room upstairs for the teenagers and their mates which leaves us free to enjoy the downstairs rooms without arguments about what they watch and when. However, this is all forgotten during study leave as he has migrated down to where I am, the result being that my kitchen/living area is regularly consumed by a cacophony of  different sounds that I wouldn't ordinarily choose to listen to and at what I would refer to as, "inappropriate times of day".  The gentle banter of the cricket commentary I can handle, but what post 40 year old wants to listen to the drunken antics of a bunch of young reality stars at 8.30am on a Monday morning? Add to this the fact that he has also decided that he needs to vary where he studies and consequently has taken over the kitchen table for his revision during the day and there is no respite.

He also likes to burn off some stress by going for a run around the block, a strategy I wholly support.  However, when this is translated in to a need for 5 showers a day leaving no hot water for the rest of the family my patience begins to fray.  Plus, the showers are normally accompanied by loud music.  Sometimes I feel as if I have been transported to an abandoned warehouse as club music literally shakes the foundations and sends the snails in the garden running for cover.

Then there is the constant request to accompany him on a walk!  He likes to walk and talk.  Normally this is an activity I relish with my teenagers, as it brings us together and gives me unfettered access to what is really happening in their lives as we chat and laugh about all manner of things. Now, however, it is an opportunity for another therapy session and it is irrelevant whether I might have something else I need to do or if the time is not convenient.  It has to be at his behest.  "Of course darling, if you want to" I respond.  On the rare occasions he does go alone, I cannot settle to anything as I subconsciously start counting the minutes until his return.

As if all this is not enough yesterday presented another challenge in the shape of the answers of the AS Maths paper he had taken only two hours previously being published online. It is challenging enough trying to offer your child supportive assurances that however tough an exam may have seemed, no-one really knows until the results, without having to compete with some faceless entity on social media dashing his hopes.

There are of course some upsides to spending time together and I am sure I will look back fondly on these times in years to come, after all it causes huge merriment in the house around the supper table as my husband and Teenager No.2 ask me "So how is he and how was your day?"  Until these exams are over his wish is my command as I maintain a calm and stress-free zone for him but only 5 days in and I wonder how I will survive the course and more importantly if my will sanity hold out?  Are you in a similar scenario?  If so please let me know how you are coping.

 

 

Mummuddlingthrough

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Tomorrow evening I am hosting my book club and I am absolutely dreading it. The reason is not because I don't like the people - I really do.  We meet once every 6 weeks and probably like most book clubs we don't spend all evening discussing "the book".  Yes we touch on it and show off our intellectual prowess with analysis of the hidden meaning behind the words, but ultimately it is all about the actual meeting.  Conversational topics are varied, pretty much like any Mumsnet forum really, all interspersed with hot gossip on the people we know, washed down with plenty of vino.

So what's not to like??  Well over the last year the book club has become even less about the book and more about the food. To attend now you not only need a love of books but a burning ambition to be the next MasterChef. To understand why this is bad, you need to know that if there was one thing in the world I would quite happily give up it is cooking.  When I worked (and almost certainly before children), I was happy to dive into the kitchen and relax with a glass of wine whilst preparing the latest must-do recipe.  If it was good, fantastic.  It not, hey ho I had had fun, almost certainly got drunk and was quite happy to laugh at my mistakes.  Now, however, having spent the majority of the last 13 years preparing a minimum of 4 meals per day and sometimes with more than one sitting at a mealtime, my desire to cook has evaporated and there is very little laughing going on.

I love recipe books, I love reading food blogs and admiring the fabulous pictures of what other people have created, I love going to restaurants and exploring new cuisines, I am addicted to MasterChef.  But that is where my love affair with food ends.  I can and do cook wholesome and nutritious food but I don't want to be a culinary whizz.   So imagine my despair when last summer 25% of my book club declared they had signed up to the Body Coach.  Now for those of you who don't know, he is Joe Wicks (I quote) "the online nutrition coach and creator of the 90 day Shift Shape and Sustain (SSS) plan" which has literally transformed lives by overhauling people's diets and exercise regimes.

The result has been that for those of us in the book club not on the plan (I am not the only one) we have listened with a mix of abject horror and morbid fascination as our committed SSS friends have educated us on their nutritional overhaul and then proceeded to serve up the delicacies for the book club supper.  In fairness the recipes have been tasty if somewhat overloaded with tabasco or chilli.  I suspect the purpose being to activate the digestive system and thus give greater credence to the Shift part of the plan, but in all honesty John Torode and Greg Wallace wouldn't get out of bed for the food.

Apart from the obvious personal satisfaction they have gained from pursuing this plan, food is now a hot topic on the book club conversation agenda as they swap stories on the latest "healthier" alternative, now it's all about "eating well". Sugar has been replaced by stevia, plain flour kicked into touch by chestnut flour.  Olive oil, the mediterranean favourite credited for the long and healthy lives enjoyed by those who live over the sea, is banned in favour of coconut or ghee oil.  Needless to say anything that starts with a P is totally off limits, ie, potatoes, pasta, pastry and ultimately pudding!  No exceptions are made....ever.  Now where is the joy in that?  Isn't there an age when we should all be kicking back a bit or does that make me very old fashioned?  Well clearly the answer is yes as "eating well" is clearly where it is all at. At the last book club meet we dined on skinless grilled chicken and a green salad with a lemon-tahini dressing.  It was lovely, very light.  It was also low calorie, low carbohydrate, low chloesterol, low saturated fat and last but not least gluten free!  The piece de resistance however was the avocado cheesecake.  Despite my cynicism I was blown away by the popular Hemsley sisters dessert but can't see myself reproducing it at any family gathering in my house without the risk of everyone walking out.

Tomorrow, it's my turn and for the last 6 weeks I have agonised continuously and tried out all manner of recipes on my poor husband.  He has dutifully chomped his way through a variety of quinoa dishes with and without basil pesto, tried not to grimace at being served his beloved ragu with courgetti and even eaten a sticky toffee pudding made with ground almonds and chestnut flour..all in the name of research and for a quiet life.  On Saturday, however, all was not quiet as I lumped and swore around the kitchen for the final time to rehearse that all elusive meal that would keep my reading buddies happy,  In fact so bad was my tantrum, to avoid being force fed buckwheat and chickpeas, Mr MoT escaped to buy a BBQ as a back-up plan.

Now just 24 hours to go and I am still non the wiser, but I am currently scanning my way through some delicious looking and healthy recipes from the marvellous Nigel Slater and Gary Rhodes and my new favourite cooking blog, Cooking Classy.  There is nothing too untoward, just good quality, seasonal food and surely I can't go wrong with that?

Do you enjoy cooking?  Where do you fit in the Eating Well debate?  Please let me know your thoughts and any good recipes along the way.

 

 

 

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Last week I attended a lecture on adolescent health and the psychological challenges affecting young people.  The talk touched on a variety of subject areas such as the value of adolescent friendships, exam stress, the impact of social media and the omnipresent threat of terrorism and its impact.

The common thread throughout, however, was anxiety and how all of these factors can contribute to create levels of anxiety within our children which could become unhealthy and result in long term problems.

Research has shown that in recent years there has been a staggering 50% increase in anxiety being reported among young people, with 10% presenting with a mental health problem as an adult.  So what is anxiety?  On a simple level it is a sense of apprehension or nervousness about something that is going to happen, however, it can manifest itself into something more serious and have a detrimental impact on daily life.

Anxiety and stress are closely interlinked, yet stress is a flippant term that we all bandy around on a daily basis. Reflecting on our own family weekend, "I am feeling stressed"  was a phrase that regularly cropped up, whether in relation to preparing a meal on time, fixing the computer or revising for an exam.  These are all trivial occurrences yet none of us thought twice about proclaiming how "stressed out" we were.

The key difference between anxiety and stress, however, is when the "stressed out" feeling becomes overwhelming. Having butterflies in your stomach is a normal sign of nerves, but sleepless nights, feeling or being sick, breathlessness and heart palpitations are all indicators that it is developing into something far more.

I fell victim to anxiety attacks several years ago.  They appeared from nowhere like an unannounced visitor and consumed my daily life for more than a year.  My first experience was on a solo shopping trip. One minute I was discussing the thread count of sheets with a shop assistant, the next my heart started to race, my palms became clammy, I felt faint and couldn't breathe properly.  The rational part of my brain was attempting to impose calm, whilst simultaneously the vulnerable, human part of me was appealing to a complete stranger for help.

There started a pattern of almost daily attacks that I had absolutely no control over.  I started to recognise the signs and would attempt to take myself off somewhere secluded until the rising panic had passed but despite my best efforts, it was not always possible.  These attacks didn't need an invitation or it would seem, a reason. My husband was compelled to return from a business trip abroad on several occasions at the bequest of my GP.  My friends had to step in and regularly collect my children from school as I couldn't guarantee that I could manage the 10 minute walk to the school without being overwhelmed on the street. A family holiday to Greece in the summer was blighted by constant and increasingly inexplicable attacks. My children, then only 10 and 6 were attentive and caring,  my husband less so.  Constant pleas to pull myself together fell on deaf ears as I struggled with the battle between my mind and my body.

I tried to rationalise it every day.  My GP suggested I was stressed and needed to rest.  I had held down a busy and demanding job for many years, dealing with stressful scenarios on a daily basis; I had experienced a difficult divorce from my first husband; I had been a single working mum. How on earth could I be stressed now?  I was at home, not working, just looking after my children. My eldest was about to take his school entrance exams, my husband was travelling on a weekly basis. Rest was not an option.

Thus, with no respite from the attacks and all our lives being sabotaged by this demon on a frequent basis I sought help elsewhere.  I found a therapist, something which contravened everything I had ever believed in, namely that therapy was for weak people.  I had a big support network of friends and family, why did I need a therapist? I was stronger than that. But it would seem I wasn't.  He introduced me to the theory of "fight or flight", he explained that these anxiety attacks could be a delayed reaction to a build up of stress.  It didn't need to be due to something that was happening right now, although my current scenario could be the trigger and this was my body's prolonged cry for help.  For the first time in months, somebody made me feel like I was normal again and that I could conquer this with the right help. I began a pro-longed course of CBT.

For the first time in my life I bought a self- help book.  I read it from cover to cover, devouring every case study, examining all the scenarios for clues that I could identify with, but most importantly looking for more answers.  Nutrition and exercise popped up frequently alongside the suggestions for continued therapy and so I sought out a local Pilates teacher as well as a nutritionist and slowly but surely, started to build my damaged body as well as my mind.  The Pilates taught me how to breathe properly again and to centre on me.  By building my bodily strength and learning to focus on my breath in moments of anxiety I started to feel stronger again.  The nutritionist overhauled my diet. Out went coffee, alcohol, sugar anything that was going to increase the stress load on my body.  For three months my body was my temple as I went back to basics.  I had never been overweight but I was guilty of drinking a lot of caffeine, not eating properly in the middle of the day and then snacking on high sugar foods to get me through to dinner and the wine was just an unnecessary distraction.  I was recommended a variety of vitamins to help combat stress, namely as many B vitamins as my body could consume.

So the lecture reminded me of this period in my life, now  (touch wood) a distant but very real memory.  I don't know if any or all of the above courses of action were responsible for returning me to normality but they certainly enabled me to seize control again.  That feeling of being out of control is one of the worst things I have ever experienced.  Thus, I imagined being a child experiencing what I had experienced, that overwhelming, all consuming sense of a loss of yourself as you have previously known it and tried to think how scared a child would be, as I was. It is widely thought that an anxious parent will make an anxious child.  Perhaps not surprisingly this week I have reflected on my own children's current state of anxiety.  Teenager No.1 is facing his A levels and proclaims his anxiety on a daily basis.  Have I been too flippant in dismissing his anxiety as just exam stress? Teenager No.2 has in the past had her own friendship issues to deal with which due to their timing just before a music exam have resulted in her feeling anxious before any exam she sits now.  These are all common scenarios which could nevertheless make an adolescent emotionally vulnerable.

The importance of the role of us as the parent in monitoring and helping our children to manage their stress/anxiety cannot be underestimated.  Even if we can associate with their anxiety, it is vital to keep it in check and handle their anxiety calmly. Managing anxiety is as I found out to my detriment is a life skill and it would seem if the statistics are correct, this is a valuable lesson for us to pass on to our children.

So on a practical level what can we do?  Apart from making sure they eat well, exercise regularly and get plenty of quality sleep, the most obvious one apparently is to make sure we are always there for them, to listen to them and not to dismiss their concerns.  Of course, they may seem irrational to us, but to them they are real so we need to make sure we take them seriously.  Telling them to just get on with it is not helpful.  If it is something which we can identify with, maybe because we had a similar experience when we were their age, tell them so that we can help them to recognise what they are experiencing is perfectly normal. Don't coddle them too much, be compassionate but firm.  In other words, sympathise but encourage them to recognise what they are feeling for what it is and to face it head on and deal with it and help them come up with a solution or a coping mechanism. Most importantly though we must be ready to step in if we feel things are getting out of control.  This is difficult with teenagers in particular as they are always pushing us away in a bid to take control of their lives and thereby assert their independence.

I have found you never stop learning as a parent and I came away from the lecture, contemplative.  Yes a lot of these things may seem like common sense but sometimes it is always valuable to step back and re-evaluate what is going on around you, how you react and to redress the balance where necessary.

So in answer to the question, "Am I to blame for their anxiety?".  I hope not.  In experiencing anxiety attacks myself have I become more anxious as an individual?  More cautious and more wary maybe but hopefully not to the detriment of my children developing their own sense of identity.  The anxieties they are experiencing now are normal worries for children of their age.  The concern would be if these went unchecked.  I take faith from the fact that they offload their stresses on me and tell me how they feel, but now that I have been introduced to the fact that what I experienced is affecting young people everywhere and can arise from the simplest of scenarios, where my own teenagers are concerned I will be more alert to any changes and approach my role with a fresh perspective.

 

Mummuddlingthrough

A Cornish Mum

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