When we fall pregnant there is an entire section in most bookshops on raising babies into happy children and staying sane in the process. For most of us this advice is diligently followed and suddenly they're potty trained and before we know it, we're learning how to tame our toddler, and then somewhere in between then and us going grey, they grow up. Before we know it they have hair under their arms, and heaven knows where else, pimples and periods and all those things that we can remember happening to us not that long ago. And for the first time in our lives we feel a little bit out of control because laying down the law now is not as simple as it was when they were shorter than we were. There may not be an entire section of books in those same bookshops featuring best selling Teenage Parenting 101 books. There is no manual that parents of teenagers can stand in line for so that they can glide through these tumultuous years unscathed. It is for this reason that Love in the Time of Contempt deserves a very special place at the front of every bookshop. Besides being pregnant with hundreds of pearls of wisdom, this book is a brilliantly written and hilariously reflective account of the teenage years (from the parent's perspective), offering solace to those of us who are either about to go through it, in the midst of it, or licking our wounds on the other side. Joanne's story reminds us that we are not alone; teenagers are taking over our homes and if we don't know what they want or what they're up to, we are in big trouble. There are things going on out there in the world that our teenagers are being exposed to that will shock you to the core. Being forewarned, as they say, is being forearmed. Reading this book was like comparing parenting notes with Joanne over a glass of wine. I am one of those parents who has just been through the teenage years with my oldest son who is now 18.5, and I can sense that it's all starting up again with my 14.5 year old son. Being a young parent I didn't think that getting my boys through their teenage years would be too difficult because I could remember what it was like to be a teenager myself. When their father was killed in a car accident 7 years ago their worlds fell apart. Despite counseling and everything else that goes with it, my oldest son decided in his grade 11 year to experiment with weed - and copious amounts of it. Our lives were turned upside down and it felt as if our home had been invaded by an alien. When it all came out I discovered that although there was a measure of teenage curiosity and confusion thrown into the mix, he was using the drug to escape from the pain of losing his dad so soon; he had no other resource to dull the ache in his heart. Teenagers hide so much under those thick outer skins. They pretend they're invincible when in fact they are super-sensitive to everything. What Joanne suggests is that we need to learn to parent our teenagers from a safe distance. There is no need to write them off as they write us off; it's all part of them growing up. We don't need to be cool or to try to fit in with their friends. We just need to BE there, take the punches on the chin, and remember that as they pass through this tumultuous time in their lives that they still need us and in time will treasure us for always standing in the wings, even if it's only when they are 25. As my 14.5 year old starts his journey I feel, after reading Joanne's book, that I am armed with a secret weapon. When I dropped him off at school to go on his Grade 8 camp this morning I said to him "I'm sure you don't want me carrying all your bags over to where your friends are, so I'll kiss you goodbye here." He smiled, gave me a hug and a kiss and waltzed off, and I smiled to myself as all the other parents walked with their cringing children to the bus, completely unaware. We think we have all the answers when in truth we don't. And as long as we're prepared to accept that, this incredible, heartwarming, funny book will become a firm favourite on our parenting bookshelves.
Johannesburg, South Africa