AND NOW FOR THE HARD PART

Af­ter be­com­ing the pin-up for work­ing moth­ers ev­ery­where, Al­li­son Pear­son re­turns with a bru­tally hon­est take on nav­i­gat­ing the teenage years

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Af­ter be­com­ing the pin-up for work­ing moth­ers ev­ery­where, Al­li­son Pear­son re­turns with a bru­tally hon­est take on nav­i­gat­ing the teen years

It was 2002. I Don’t Know How She

Does It, my novel about a woman try­ing to jug­gle a ca­reer and small chil­dren, had just been pub­lished and I was at a reader event when a woman came up to me.

“I hate to say this,” she said with a bit­ter laugh, “but what you’ve writ­ten about is the easy bit. Just wait un­til Kate Reddy has teenagers.”

I had no idea what she was talk­ing about. Lit­er­ally no idea. My two chil­dren, Evie and Tom, were 6 and 3 back then. The baby era of bro­ken nights was, if not be­hind us, then soon com­ing to an end. That sum­mer, we fi­nally potty-trained the small boy, who glee­fully ran naked round our Lon­don back gar­den, pee­ing ev­ery­where ex­cept in the potty I chased af­ter him with. “It would be eas­ier to house-train a puppy,” grum­bled my hus­band.

Evie had re­cently learned to read and en­tered the mag­i­cal — for busy par­ents — world of Harry Pot­ter, where she lost her­self for hours. If I thought about it at all, I as­sumed that this par­ent­ing lark would carry on get­ting eas­ier as the chil­dren got older and be­came more in­de­pen­dent.

Se­ri­ously, what was I think­ing? Fast-for­ward a decade and my daugh­ter and her friend are hold­ing a fancy dress party at our house in Cam­bridge. My hus­band did try to veto the plan — “I don’t want a house full of drunken teenagers do­ing drugs and try­ing to have sex with each other!” — but I am wor­ried that our daugh­ter, like ev­ery other 16-year-old girl of her gen­er­a­tion, is anx­ious and un­der too much pres­sure — from school­work, from so­cial me­dia, from things I barely un­der­stand.

Why not let her have some fun for a change? So the party went ahead. A ver­sion of it ap­pears in How Hard Can It Be?, the se­quel to I Don’t

Know How She Does It. “Emily’s party” def­i­nitely has fac­tors in com­mon with Evie’s party.

For in­stance, my hus­band’s pre­cious Jane Austen col­lec­tion had sev­eral pages torn out for roll-ups — and much worse. He did mount Custer’s Last Stand at the front door, try­ing to con­fis­cate al­co­hol and pre­vent un­in­vited guests com­ing in.

The su­per­mar­ket vodka smug­gled in, the teenage cou­ples swarm­ing re­morse­lessly up­stairs, like ex­tras in a zom­bie film, look­ing for a place to cop­u­late. Me ask­ing Evie if it was nec­es­sary for the “disco” to be quite so loud and be­ing told that no one had called it a disco “for, like, 100 years, Mummy”. That much is fac­tual.

Other bits are hor­ror sto­ries I’d heard from peo­ple with kids the same age. Such as the cou­ple who thought their son’s 18th birth­day party was safely over, woke at 3am to hear noises com­ing from their wardrobe, opened the door and dis­cov­ered Romeo and Juliet shag­ging on the mum’s Joseph coat.

As a nov­el­ist, I am part-mag­pie, part­can­ni­bal. I hoard all the glit­ter­ing anec­dotes, sav­ing them up un­til they find the per­fect place in a book. I am re­laxed about can­ni­bal­is­ing my own emo­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences (the closer to the bone I can bear to go, the more pow­er­ful the con­nec­tion with the reader).

So, I am bloody and graphic about Kate Reddy’s menopause, be­cause any em­bar­rass­ment is mine alone.

For my fam­ily, it’s dif­fer­ent. The lonely mar­riage in How Hard Can It Be? is def­i­nitely not my re­la­tion­ship, although Kate’s grow­ing dis­il­lu­sion with her hus­band, the sense that time

is run­ning out and she is liv­ing for ev­ery­one ex­cept her­self, was based on scores of con­ver­sa­tions I had with mid­dle-aged women.

Emily and Ben are close in age to my own kids, but they are not the same peo­ple. Un­like poor Emily, my daugh­ter has not shared a pic­ture of her naked back­side (the dreaded “belfie”) with a ma­li­cious friend and seen it go vi­ral. But she so eas­ily could have; that’s the point.

ONE REA­SON I felt com­pelled to write this se­quel is be­cause so­cial me­dia has wrought such vast, of­ten per­ni­cious changes in the lives of vul­ner­a­ble ado­les­cents like my own. Par­ent­ing Teens in the

Dig­i­tal Age — the ti­tle of the book a de­s­pair­ing Kate con­sults — is much harder than be­ing a par­ent at any pre­vi­ous time in his­tory.

Chil­dren might be in their own bed­room, but there is no respite from the 24-hour con­nect­ed­ness to the peer group, which can bully or in­duce envy and self-loathing.

We are up against forces unimag­in­able to our own moth­ers and fathers. When she first dis­cov­ers Emily’s bare back­side is bounc­ing around the world­wide web, Kate aches for that time when her daugh­ter was lit­tle and she could still fix any prob­lem.

“How am I sup­posed to pro­tect her from things I can’t see or hear?” she asks. “Am I so out of touch that dis­tribut­ing pic­tures of one’s naked arse has be­come so­cially ac­cept­able?” The gen­er­a­tion gap has al­ways been there, but this chasm be­tween adults (who just about know how to use Sky) and their tech-savvy off­spring is new and scary.

An Amer­i­can friend who had parental con­trols put on all the tech­nol­ogy in the house found out that her clever daugh­ter had not only down­loaded “How to By­pass Parental Con­trols”, she had paid for it with her mother’s credit card. That went straight into the book.

“I feel like a stone age per­son liv­ing with Steve Jobs,” wails Kate Reddy. Which par­ent in the 21st cen­tury doesn’t? Mar­vel­ling at their mother’s clue­less­ness, my kids of­ten cho­rus, “Are you from the past?” Yes, I ad­mit, I

As a nov­el­ist, I am part­mag­pie, part-can­ni­bal. I hoard all the glit­ter­ing anec­dotes, sav­ing them up un­til they find the per­fect place in a book.

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