The final weeks of school for Year 12 kids, and especially their HSC (or other final exams, depending on where you are), feel like a particularly cruel form of torture. It’s a daunting time for kids and their families, to say the least. Life becomes all about surviving the HSC weeks in the healthiest, least-stressful, calmest possible way.
These next few weeks are the culmination of all their years at school. It’s a pressure cooker of emotions for the kids, and their parents too. Will I see my friends anymore? What’s life like outside of school? What will the HSC exams be like? What if I don’t get the marks I need? What do I want to do with my life anyway?
I’m the mum, and it feels very overwhelming, so I can only imagine how my boy is feeling. I know many of his friends feel quite smothered by the immediate future of their exams and what comes next for them. We are certainly noticing this in our house, there are so many options and so many decisions to be made in what suddenly feels like a very short space of time.
I made my mistakes and it is time to let go and let my boy make his own choices.
I also need to remember that this is actually not happening to me. It’s his life, not mine. I finished high school a long time ago now (cough, cough, 31 years, cough, cough). I made my mistakes and it is time to let go and let my boy make his own choices.
A dear friend said to me recently that her grandmother used to say, “Worry once! Then it happens and you can’t worry because you are in it, so you simply have to deal with whatever life has handed you.” This is an amazing piece of advice and something I am trying to mindfully live by at the moment. Though I am finding the transition from participant parent to observer parent a difficult one.
Surviving the HSC seems both much harder (so much pressure from so many sources), yet in some ways easier these days. For instance, in NSW at least, early entry applications are available at many universities (note, these have closed for this year). This gives the school leavers the opportunity to apply for up to two courses and be assessed on marks from the preliminary courses of their subjects.
Sometimes, just letting our kids know that there are different ways of doing things can take the pressure off.
Students then get the opportunity to have an interview with the university, to sell themselves as a student and why they want to attend this particular uni. In most cases, unis that offer early entrance will also send out the offer of a place prior to the commencement of the actual final HSC exams. This really helps take a little bit of the pressure off those final exams.
Doing the HSC part-time via the TAFE system, is also an option. Sometimes, just letting our kids know that there are different ways of doing things can take the pressure off. If the HSC exams go belly-up this year, there are avenues to explore next year.
Tips for surviving the HSC for families
Here are some tips I used to give my students and parents when I was a Year 12 coordinator (though, trust me, it feels very different now it’s my child!). This is not an easy time in any family’s life, but it doesn’t need to break you. Start here, and remember, this, too, shall pass.
1. Debrief with your mates
Get together with other parents to remind each other that it will all be okay. You’ve managed to raise your kid this far and weathered many storms, so you know they will get through this one. If you a partial to a prosecco, a cider or a beer then maybe get together with other mums to have a drink or two at the end of the exam week. For me, it will be lots of chocolate.
2. Keep up the self-care
Parents, make sure you take time out for yourself. You cannot do the exams for them, you cannot do the study for them, so don’t take this on. When your kid is screaming because it is all so unfair, remember that this is their battle, not yours.
3. Be open to their mistakes
We parents need to remember that we can’t put an old head on young shoulders. No amount of advice, nagging, cajoling, threatening or begging will change that. Our kids need to make all the mistakes for themselves. I’m reliably told that it doesn’t matter how much I tell my son why he shouldn’t do something (and there are many, many times), he needs to learn things for himself.
4. Create a calm environment at home
Try to give your child the space to study with as much quiet as they need. This might mean changing the family routine to accommodate the times they want to study. Vacuuming a little later in the day or when they are not home, keeping the TV low, limiting social activities at home for other kids. Also, remind siblings that now is not the time to pick a fight about who ate the last chocolate biscuit.
You’ve managed to raise your kid this far and weathered many storms, so you know they will get through this one.
5. Help create a study timetable
Create a plan that includes time for exercise, rest, friends and fun. All work will make Johnny a dull boy, or a very bored boy in my house. My son is far more effective if he has downtime. He is part of a team sport, so encouraging him to continue that is really important to break up the study.
6. Make sure they are well fed
As much as our teenagers would love to live on junk food (well, mine certainly would), it isn’t great brain food and is particularly bad for memory. Surviving the HSC means having plenty of yummy, healthy treats available for them to snack on while studying. Encourage them to limit, or even give up, the coffee. While a little coffee may help them feel more alert, excess caffeine can leave them feeling jittery and even more stressed.
If they are drinkers, encourage them to give up alcohol while they are studying and doing their exams. While they may think it gives them an escape, it isn’t great for their brains while they are trying to study or do exams. And absolutely nobody needs to be facing an English exam with a hangover…
This crispy date is perfect for healthy snacking. Grab the recipe here.
7. Get plenty of sleep
We all know this is important, but getting our kids to agree is another story. While they are studying in the lead up to their exams, having a daytime nap might help. Studying into the wee small hours cramming everything the night before the exam isn’t the most effective form of study, but it’s going to happen. We can only gently suggest they put the books down and get some rest, and one day in the distant future, they might agree with us.
8. Pick your battles
With emotions heightened across the entire family (and siblings possibly feeling hard done by as they are not the centre of attention), it’s time to go easy on everyone and everything. Make sure something is really worth the stress of the fight before heading down that path. Accept that their room is going to be a bomb site, their manners basically AWOL and their focus even less on being a pleasant family member than ever before. Let it go, and let them get on with it.
Absolutely nobody needs to be facing an English exam with a hangover…
9. Remember you’re the more adulty adult
Though many of our 18-year-old school leavers will already be considered an ‘adult’ in the eyes of the law, in reality mums know they are just toddlers in bigger bodies. A lot of their crazy emotions right now are all because they are scared, frustrated, overwhelmed and exhausted. So try to keep a level head when dealing with teen tantrums.
Try to be extra tolerant of their crappy teenage behaviour. Just like when they were little it isn’t really about you. Right now, they just aren’t really in control of their emotions.
10. Make sure they keep balance
Now is not the time for them to give up all their activities in favour of study. Though picking up a new activity or romance is not a great idea at this time either. Just keep doing what they have always done, with no big changes is really the big key.
11. A milestone, not a definition
Most importantly remind them – whatever happens, it doesn’t define them.
It is just a short period of time in their lives and whatever happens, these results do not define them. There are so many pathways to future careers these days. It will all be okay in the end. . Remind your kids that you are proud of them and love them regardless of their results. I know for me if my son tries his hardest (which if I am honest would be doing slightly more work than he is at the moment!), then he will do us proud. I know that as long as he is happy, enjoying life, and kind, then that is going to take him further than great exam marks.
Try to have something exciting planned for the end of it all, so the whole family can let out a collective exhale: They did it! And we survived!
Godspeed, year 12 families everywhere!
What’s your best tip for surviving the HSC for our mums and students?
Recently, I was searching for something to watch on Netflix and came across The Otherhood about three mothers who met in the school playground many years ago who get together to try to reconnect with their adult sons
It’s a nice feel good, happy/sad movie (well I enjoyed it). It struck me as I watched that I am moving into the “otherhood” of parenting with my eldest son. Another way to describe that is moving from participant parenting – where I am very involved in all aspects of his life – to observer parenting – where the opinions and thoughts of others are far more important to him than mine.
While watching The Otherhood and through my happy/sad tears there were two lines in the movie that really stuck with me: “You needed me then [when you were little], but you don’t need me now” and “You know who you are without me, I need to find who I am without you.”
These two lines really sum up where I am at the moment in my adventure of life with my son. My son has been moving me to the sidelines, ever so gently, for a long time now. When he was little he turned to me, he would walk past his dad and come to me for everything. It’s been a long time since he needed me like that.
Not a lot in common anymore
My husband, on the other hand, is in the fortunate position of having something in common with my son. Their shared love of cricket is something they bond over and spend time doing together. Even if it’s just bowling to each other in the nets, my husband has a regular opportunity to still participate in my son’s life, even if it is just a little bit.
“You know who you are without me, I need to find who I am without you.”
I don’t have that regular shared experience with my son anymore. He’s right up against his final term of schooling, so our conversations are mainly around “what’s next”. It’s an equal-parts exciting and scary conversation, for both him and me. This includes a lot of thoughts for me around “what if”. What if he moves out, moves away, no longer needs his mum and more?
Time for the next stage
I conceptually understand that this is exactly what is supposed to happen, we only have our children for a short time. However, now that we are up against it, I am not at all ready for this next stage. All he has known to date is the safe cocoon of school with a small part-time job and a little bit of extra work here and there in the holidays. To be facing the end of everything he has known is daunting for him, and terrifying for me.
I’m moving from participant parenting – where I am very involved in all aspects of his life – to observer parenting – where the opinions and thoughts of others are far more important to him than mine.
Now that my son is less than two months away from him finishing school, the drudgery of his early years feels like a lifetime ago. Yet at the same time it feels like I blinked and here we are, staring down the barrel of his graduation. Honestly, if I could click my heels three times to take me back to those little kid years, I think I would.
Don’t get me wrong I know my son still loves me. There are even still times when he still comes to me, but it happens less and less. I am definitely not a huge part of his everyday life anymore.
If I don’t start finding who I am without my kids, when I fall off that parenting cliff in a few years the climb will feel much harder.
As I move into this next stage of motherhood, the “otherhood”, he is going to spread his wings and find who he is in the world. A world that won’t include me the way it has until now. There will be no more messages from school telling me he hasn’t arrived for the day, there will be no more parent/teacher meetings to keep me up to date with his progress, there will be no more phone calls organising “play dates or sleepovers”, though if I am truthful that stopped a long time ago.
Not only have I been relegated to the sidelines of his life, I am grieving my sense of self. Who am I if I am no longer needed by him. As he finds who he is without me, a very exciting time in his life. It is also a time where I need to find who I am without him. Fortunately I still have two at school, so I am not completely cut adrift. It strikes me though, that if I don’t start finding who I am without my kids, when I fall off that parenting cliff in a few years the climb will feel much harder.
How many of us have sat through assemblies where the announcement is made at the beginning: please hold your applause until the end because there are so many awards! Well, there might be hundreds of awards being handed out, but take heart, there are still loads of kids who don’t get an award. Ever.
For every single one of those kids there is a parent like me or you second guessing themselves and wondering if we should have/could have done more. It feels so defeatist to continually urge the kids to do their best when time and time again we are reminded that their best is not the best.
Take heart, there are still loads of kids who don’t get an award. Ever.
In a world where society celebrates success as the be all and end all of everything, being average means kids often get overlooked. I think the same goes for parenting. Sometimes as parents it is very easy to get caught up in the spinning wheel of ‘my kid can do this’ or ‘my kid can’t do that’. The fact is, as long as they are doing ‘their best’, my kids are perfectly wonderful without being ‘the best’.
The reality for my kids is that they have rarely been those high-achieving kids. To be sure, they are solidly average. For a time, my eldest regularly received the Application Award (also affectionately known as the “try-hard” award), but they are not the most brilliant or most sporty in their cohort. And that’s okay. We are perfectly okay with our kids being average. We should all be okay with our kids being average.
We are perfectly okay with our kids being average. We should all be okay with our kids being average.
Solidly average kids are awesome. They are consistent in their efforts at school and in other things they do. They know that there are some things they simply don’t enjoy and they won’t work hard in those areas. There are other things they love and it’s our job to guide them to believe that focusing their hard work and dedication means they might excel. Or they might not.
Often we see other kids who are excelling and doing amazing things. It is very tempting to benchmark our kids against them and think, I wish my child could … or I wish my child was better at …
However, what we forget is the incredible effort that is often required by the kid to get there. The focus, commitment and drive that is required is truly worthy of award.
Parents also sacrifice plenty to get their kids to this top level. Olympic champions are not simply born champions, they have parents who have sacrificed countless hours of sleep to get them to training, forgone family holidays because their child had sporting commitments, and spent a lifetime supporting, cheering and boosting their little champ.
Brilliant scholars are the same. Children who are gifted and talented in academic areas or the arts also require a huge commitment from parents. Keeping their kids challenged, growing and achieving. All the tutorials, practise sessions and performances. This is not to mention the financial burdens of having kids who excel in one area or another.
Our parenting is as solidly average as our kids, and we should make our peace with that.
For many parents, the commitment required is just not in us. Our parenting is as solidly average as our kids, and we should make our peace with that.
Solidly average and doing just fine
Sometimes when we see other people doing these things with their children, we can feel overwhelmed. It sparks feelings of guilt that we are not (or cannot) provide our children with these same opportunities. Frankly, we need to give ourselves a break! We forget to celebrate all the things we do every day for our children. Providing them with safe, loving environments. Clothing, feeding and sheltering them. Giving them all the things they need to get through each day as well-adjusted people.
Often, the things that matter most are not the things our society celebrates with awards.
As a mother I certainly have my shortcomings (and they are many), but I think overall I do pretty well. I am working towards planned redundancy if you like. They might not be top of the class or sporting field, but they can keep house and do most of life’s admin. More importantly, they are great friends to others. A strong sense of empathy and social justice means that they look out for the kids that are sitting on the outside. Nothing makes me prouder than that.
We need to stop beating ourselves up if we can’t do everything other people can with their kids, or that our kids can’t do everything other kids can do. Often, the things that matter most are not the things our society celebrates with awards. We all have different gifts in life. If at the end of the day we do the best we can for our children with the gifts, abilities and financial means we have to offer, and they do the same in return, that is all that anyone can ever hope for.
Practising what we preach
Hugs to all the mums out there (especially those of us in the trenches of tweens and teens). You are all amazing and your kids are amazing! It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, as long as you do the best YOU can. That is what counts. That is what we teach our kids, so it has to be okay for us as parents as well.
We need to remember that even though our children may not be the world’s biggest, best and brightest, they will always be our biggest, best and brightest. At the end of the day, the most important award we can give to our children is for them to grow up knowing they are loved. Irrespective of who they are and what they do.
And there’s nothing whatsoever average about that.
I’ve spent the last year or so in trepidation, wondering what it’s like when your daughter gets her first period. Well, suddenly now I know. Yup, it happened here on the weekend.
If I am honest I was hoping my twin daughters would get their first period much later than this. Though at just shy of 13 they are probably towards the older end of the age spectrum for getting a first period.
Girls are younger
Paediatric and adolescent gynaecology expert Julie Quinlivan, of WA’s Notre Dame University, told the Sydney Morning Herald that in the past 20+ years the age girls start their first period has dropped from 13 years to 12 years, 10 months. More recently that has declined to 12 years seven months and is now ”coming down harder”.
I have been preparing for this moment for years. Ever since one of the mum’s in primary school mentioned that her daughter had started in Year 5! At first I took the emu approach (bury my head in the sand). Then, encouraged by a close friend who is a midwife, I got on board and made sure that there were supplies in the house, ready for the big moment.
I hadn’t quite reached the point of carrying supplies with me, but I guess I will need to do that again. Given that I have had a hysterectomy, period supplies are not something that I need to carry anymore.
The big moment
So, there I was relaxing on Saturday morning, before we headed out to netball, when my very matter-of-fact daughter announced to me, “Mum, my period just started.”
And just like that I was faced with the moment of truth.
In the past I have wondered how I’d cope with this important milestone. Would I freak out? Tear up? Launch into a verse of “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon”? Or give her a big spiel about how she is all grown up and no longer my baby?
Or would I be cool and calm about things? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 16 years of parenting, my kids feed off my emotions. So, yes, I wanted to be cool and calm. That was the plan.
Turns out that when faced with the reality of it all, and my daughter’s very open approach to the situation, I was admirably calm. We simply dealt with the practicalities of what needed to be done – how to put a pad in, clean knickers, how to soak knickers and how to dispose of pads (and tampons), NEVER down the toilet.
She had questions every now and then throughout the day about various things, like how do I shower and how do I sleep? I just answered each question as she asked it, and the day moved along.
I was concerned about her twin sister and how she would feel with a fuss being made, but she was totally okay with things as well.
In fact, she asked “Why would I be jealous of not having my periods?” Fair point.
Some tips for rookie mums (not me anymore!?)
Have supplies at the ready
As she gets older, give her a little kit to put into her school bag with a few pads or period undies, fresh knickers and wipes, just in case.
… and try not to make a fuss. They really don’t like that. (I got told I don’t need to ask if she is okay every five minutes, just twice a day is enough.)
Take your cue from your daughter
Your daughter will likely take it all in her stride. My daughter announced her period had finished just as matter-of-factly as she announced its arrival. I gently suggested she might need to just wear something for another 24 hours, just in case.
I intend to get my daughter a small charm to mark this big occasion, and will do the same for her sister when she starts her periods. I know some Dads also give a bunch of flowers to mark the occasion. Honestly my girls would die if their father did that, but you know if your daughter would appreciate this or not.
Give options for protection
Discuss with your daughter what protection is available and what she’d like to use (before or after she has started). We had a conversation about period underwear (game changer, I wish this was a thing when I was their age), tampons and how they work and pads.
Given the reaction to the tampon conversation, I haven’t have the menstrual cup conversation just yet. Though from all my friends who use cups, I know they are excellent, so definitely a conversation for the future.
My daughter settled on having tampons in the bathroom for when she feels ready and ordering some Modibodi (a great Aussie small business) period underwear. Given how environmentally friendly all the girls are these days, they may wish to use things that are reusable such as period underwear and cups, so be prepared for that. Plus unless they are the first to start their periods, they will likely want to fit in and do whatever their friends are doing.
It’s about her, not you
Even if you are dying on the inside and not comfortable talking about periods, this is not about you. If you make it a big deal or something to worry about then she will too. If you make it a low-key, pleasant experience, chances are she will start her periods feeling excited and proud.
Just remember, you’ve got this, Mum!
How are you feeling about the whole periods thing?
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