“A cup of tea with a 16 year old” - Personal story from Jo-Anne Clifford, Chief Operations Officer, Harcourts, New Zealand

When my daughter was 16 I wasn’t having cups of tea with her!

By that age I thought she would be pregnant, on drugs or living under a bridge.  

We had gone through some tumultuous years earlier as she had developed physically at a very early age and when I think back on it now her mind was still growing up, but her body was already there.  

She went to school to party with friends and to socialise.  To smoke wherever she could get away with it and drink bottles of my southern comfort that she thought I hadn’t noticed going missing from my liquor cabinets that she hid in her school bag and took to school.  

Day times were being called the to school to hear what she was doing wrong. Whenever I asked there was never anything right it was always something wrong.  

The school didn’t think she was eating enough so they questioned me on whether I was feeding her enough not of course on whether she ate it!  

Night times were often spent by checking to see if yet again she had gone to bed and then got up to escape through the bedroom window to meet up with friends during the night. Driving around for hours on end never able to find her.  

Why did she stay at school? Besides being too young to leave she loved and excelled at her sports which of course had the flow in effect of allowing her more opportunities to socialise.  

And this was all between 12 and 16 so no wonder “A Cup of Tea” wasn’t really going to be the answer!  

I learned a long time ago that you can find out what people have done wrong to allow you to chastise them or punish them or ...... you can find out what they have done with no blame no incrimination but purely to be there and to help get them through it.  

That was the path I chose.  

And so each visit to the headmistress started with me asking my daughter “ Talk to  me about everything you have done, the very worst, don’t hold any details back and I will support you to my very best ability.” 

When the police called to say she was in a car with drugs I was there to defend her and to assure the police it would have been an accident.  

When she was in an accident with her girlfriend driving to school illegally, without a full license, and they both ended up with neck braces from whiplash I said I had no idea how the coincidence occurred with both of them on the same day.  

When she stayed out all night ( I was away from home for the night working )  and finally discovered the next morning she had been at her boyfriend’s house all night and when I asked her where she had been, she lied and said she had been at our home all night. I knew she hadn’t ( having rung every 30 mins during the night) I told her I had been ringing but I understood that everyone forgets things from time to time, it’s so easy to do when you’re busy – and so  do you think on reflection and given how hard it is to keep track in life  of what we are doing are all the time do you think that maybe you were out with your boyfriend all night but that would be ok. So then she said yes she had forgotten and yes she had been out.

And so the next question was do you think that you might have had sex and sometimes it’s easy to forget what happens but maybe just to be safe we should take you to the pharmacy...

And when the school wanted her to leave and not finish her last year although we knew they had no right to make her leave, I was there to say if she wants to stay then I will support her and she will stay.  

My daughter went on to attend an outdoor school and then go over and work in  Camp America. When she came home and decided at 19 she finally wanted to do some study this was the first time she actually wanted to do anything with books - Naturally I wished she’d come to that realisation during her school years but I supported her while she got some qualifications  

My daughter at 36 now with two beautiful children looks back at her life growing up and she remembers all the things she got up to but she also remembers and talks about  her Mum who never judged and without fail was always there to support her without blame or incrimination no matter how ugly things got.

So for parents…

Remember are you asking questions so that you can judge and chastise?

 Are you just wanting to help them get through it and do they know that well before they do anything wrong?

 Will you always be consistent no matter how bad things seem to be?

What I would say to a 12 year old:

I will never ever judge you.

I will always help you.

I will stand beside you and defend you.

My daughter is now my best friend and I am hers.

And for some cold comfort for parents of daughters – daughters will eventually have daughters and in life “What goes around will come around!”



Pauline Smith