In my daughter’s bed

2009-10-07 00:00

MY daughter turned 18 a few weeks ago and she celebrated it with all the heady joy a person serving a life sentence might on discovering she’s been granted a pardon. “I can drink, I can smoke, I can stay out as late as I like and I can sleep with my boyfriend!” she whooped.

“No, you can’t,” I said, because as every parent knows, it’s our job to make our teenagers’ lives as miserable as possible.

“I’m 18! I’m a major!” she insisted. “You no longer have any say in what I do.”

“True,” I said. “And I’m also no longer legally obliged to provide for you, so expect a bill for food and lodging at the end of this month.”

So, once we’d established the reality of the situation — that while she lives under my roof and I feed, clothe and educate her, she is actually answerable to me — we got down to negotiating the new terms on which she’d live in my house as a “major”.

She’s allowed to smoke, but only outside (I’m not thrilled that she smokes, obviously, but a surprising number of teenagers do). She may drink socially but may not ever travel in a car with anyone who’s been drinking (no, not even if it was just the one). Her weekend curfew has been extended to 1 am.

But it was when we got to sleeping with her boyfriend that things became a little stickier. She does often sleep over at his house but his mother (who has two teenage daughters herself) assures me that it’s always in separate quarters. And when he’s slept over here at our place, it’s been in the spare bed in my son’s room.

My daughter’s been on a contraceptive pill for about a year and, like all children who’ve been through our school system, has had sex education drummed into her from a relatively young age. I’m not worried that she’ll get pregnant or contract a disease. I suppose it’s just the concept of my daughter (my baby!) having sex down the corridor from me that I find so unsettling.

As it happened, we hadn’t resolved this issue before her boyfriend next came to spend the night. It was a busy evening as usual, with friends around for dinner, and it ended late. By the time I’d cleaned up the kitchen and stacked the dishwasher, everyone else was in bed — but the spare bed in my son’s room wasn’t occupied (I checked, of course).

I had a few moments of existential panic during which I briefly hyperventilated and I may even have shed a few quiet tears. Then I brushed my teeth, washed my face and hit the sack myself.

When I woke up in the morning my daughter and her boyfriend were up, sitting outside on the veranda, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. They both greeted me cheerfully and without the vaguest trace of unease. I poured myself a cup of coffee and joined them. My daughter passed me the entertainment section with a quick, warm smile.

Some landmarks in raising children are harder than others. I found this one difficult, and even considered, at one stage, going to war about it. But I’m glad I didn’t. As a parent, you’ve got to pick your battles.

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