Mother of a Man-Child

My life with teenage boys

Learning the hard way February 14, 2014

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workmen's tool beltOur role as parents is to guide our children in life.  As they get older, we let them make more and more decisions for themselves, hopefully so that in their adult life they are well equipped to manage independently.  As part of this, experience is a great teacher, and often shapes what we learn and understand about the world.

One of the men-children is job hunting this year.  Having successfully completed a TAFE course last year (much to our delight), he is now looking for an apprenticeship in his chosen trade – carpentry.  It has been interesting to observe his approach to full-time job hunting.  It started with “I need a holiday, it can wait until after January, no-one is working then”, to “You guys know a lot of people, you help me find a job.”  I was suitably unimpressed, and set about educating my son about the various channels he would need to explore to find himself a job.

To be fair to said man-child, he has had a part-time job for several years, so it’s not that he is afraid of work – he just doesn’t LOOK for it willingly, somehow it always finds him!

Anyway, as luck would have it, an opportunity recently fell in his lap to potentially work for a builder, as an apprentice.  It commenced with a few days “trial”, on a large construction site, and required us to drive him across to the other side of town for 3 days at an ungodly hour of the morning, which of course we were very agreeable to (he should have his licence in about 3 weeks we hope).

Naturally I was keen to know how the day went, and was shocked to hear that the guy he worked on site for had been quite nasty – abusing our son, swearing at him, calling him a “moron”, etc.  The mother in me wanted to ring him up and abuse him right back that night, and tell him that workplace bullying was illegal.  However, I took a deep breath, and we decided that perhaps on day two he would be in a better mood and not quite so awful.  My son is amazingly resilient in these situations, seemingly thick skinned, but really just like a lychee – tough on the outside, but soft and gooey in the middle.  So off he went on day two, which improved a little on day one, and our son found a friend in his other young apprentice, who was at pains to assist him to understand what the boss generally “cracked the shits” over.  Again, I was appalled at the thought that these kids worked in such an environment of fear.

At the end of day two, I told my son he didn’t have to work day three if he didn’t want to.  He again elected to return, telling me “maybe this is just how it is Mum”.  I asked him if he thought that the 3 builders he had done work experience for would treat their apprentices the same way, which got him thinking, and I saw the light go on, as he realised it actually wasn’t normal.   Anyway, off he went on day three, after his mother had another sleepless night angry at the employer and worried for my son (yes, I was in protective mother bear mode for 3 days).

I did seek the advice of some colleagues who assured me that yes, sadly, this behaviour on some building sites was pretty normal, and that apprentices were simply a form of cheap labour that allowed them to make margins, and they weren’t really focussed on teaching them – I was quite alarmed it’s fair to say (and clearly naive).

I saw my son briefly at the end of day three, and much to my dismay, heard of more abuse and bullying on site.  To my sons absolute credit, he had actually stood up for himself several times on-site, to explain to this IDIOT that he was the one making mistakes, not my son.  Clearly apologising was not in this man’s nature!   If the man had crossed my path that night, it would not have been pretty.  I apologised to my son for finding him the job (I really wished I hadn’t), and reassured him that not all builders were like this.  He had been left “hanging” for a text message over the weekend, to let him know if any more work would be required the following week.  I asked him if he wanted to work for him, and could see him wavering.  So I told him we would rather he was unemployed than work for an arsehole like this bloke.

It took all my nagging to finally get him to send “Builder of the Year” a text message that weekend, explaining that he wouldn’t be working for him again.  My draft was carefully scripted to say he was going to look elsewhere (read between the lines, I’d rather have no job than work for you pal), but my diplomatic son insisted that saying he had found another job was certainly nicer, and probably meant he might be paid.  As to the latter matter, we also sent a follow up text message about payment for the 3 days work – due this week.  Trust me, if the money doesn’t hit my son’s bank account, rest assured our friend will wish he had never heard of me – as I will pursue him to the end of the earth (and VCAT) to see my son paid for 3 days work.

So what has the above taught us?  It’s taught my son that not everyone is nice to work for, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it.  It’s taught his mother that she must learn to bite her tongue, and not take control,  but be there to offer guidance along the way (and assert her influence very strongly when required).  It’s also taught my son that it’s okay to stand up for yourself, and to walk away if you want to.  And to demand what is rightfully yours.

So where does that leave us?  Back to square one.  I have armed my son with all the information he requires to job hunt, had him send numerous emails to relevant contacts, sought advice from friends about where to look for work and showed him where to find apprenticeship jobs on  As I explained to him the other day, you are the horse and I have given you the water.  I can’t make you drink it, but if you don’t, then you won’t find a job!!!

So begins the next lesson in life…..I will keep you posted.  And if you should hear of a NICE builder looking for a great young apprentice, who was top of his class, and is most definitely NOT afraid of hard work, please let me know.

Working has been a popular topic for me (yes, I like my children to work):  Here’s one about work experience, and school holiday work, and labouring work.


The World at his Feet November 4, 2013

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BulldozerA few days ago, one of my sons finished his course (and in effect his school life), and is now ready to enter the workforce.  He literally has the world at his feet, and the future of his career in his hands.  It’s an exciting, but also scary time.

For those who know our men-children, we made the decision over 12 months ago to let one of our sons leave school at the end of Year 10 and undertake a VCAL/Pre-apprenticeship course.  The academic life wasn’t for him (no matter how bright he is) and life as a “tradie” was begging.  He has spent the last 9 months at TAFE, doing a building course and to his credit thoroughly enjoying it (that’s the practical side of things, it’s fair to say he still didn’t love the academic requirements, no matter how basic).

In that time of “adult learning” they have taught them all manner of skills, both building related and not, and undertaken a vast range of modules, including green bowling (I kid you not), and community oriented activities such as teaching kids in schools.  I think our son has learned things about himself, and also about others.  He has certainly been exposed to a life outside of his sheltered private school upbringing (always a good thing) and probably has a new sense of appreciation for how fortunate he is.   This particular man-child has always been pragmatic and pretty down to earth, so I don’t think he’s been too far outside his comfort zone.  I have to say though, I’d like to send his twin brother along to TAFE for a short time – it might open his eyes a bit more!!!

So where to from here for our future “tradie”?  He has a part-time job he will continue, whilst he looks for an apprenticeship.  We have encouraged him to contact everyone he knows to make them aware he is job hunting, and also to seek recommendations from his lecturers.  I have also ensured that he realises it’s a tough employment market, and it might take a while to find an apprenticeship – not wanting to dull his enthusiasm – quite the opposite, to create a sense of urgency.

To the credit of our man-child, I am not at all concerned about him.  I know he has found his “thing” (how fortunate at 17 years old) and I have confidence he will do well in his chosen field.  I know he is not afraid of hard work, and therefore will be rewarded with success in due course.  He has also come to the realisation that his desire to leave home as soon as possible might be thwarted in the short-term, now that he has learned exactly how little the hourly rate is for an apprentice!!   As I said, if you want the ute, and have to pay for petrol, there won’t be much left for anything else (secretly of course I am happy about the chance to keep him at home a little longer – REALLY!!)

I told him the other day that we are extremely proud of him for completing his course and following his heart – I hope it confirms how much we believe in him, no matter how often we disagree about mundane details in our daily lives.

So onto the next chapter – whatever that brings.  I can’t help but share in the excitement of what might be around the corner for him…..I will worry when I need to, but just not now.

Our decision to let him leave school early wasn’t easy, but we survived the journey.   Read more below:




New Adventures – So Far So Good February 22, 2013

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When your children enter a new school, whether it’s as a preppy full of anticipation and enthusiasm on the first day, or a year seven starting the journey that is secondary school, just a bigger version of a preppy really when they’re going into “big school”, there is always some anxiety on the part of parents.  Will they like it, will they find friends, will they get lost, will they do well, will their teachers be good, will they make the most of every opportunity they have, and give back to the school as much as they get?

As we have discovered ourselves, each of your children is different, not just at home but at school.  That’s part of the wonderful journey as we watch them grow as individuals and find their place in the world, first at school, and amongst their peers, and later at work, in the land of “grown-ups”.  And as we know, one size school does not fit all, and the challenge is to find options that meet the needs of your child, so they can continue to grow and excel in whatever area they choose.

toolbeltNaturally as our own man-child headed off to TAFE this year to pursue his passion for building, leaving behind mainstream school, we were a little anxious.  All of the same fears are still at work even when they are nearly 17.  But really we shouldn’t have worried.

  • Will he find friends?  In fact he already knew a few boys doing the same course and then bumped into someone he knows well in his own class.
  • Will he meet new people (not the “wrong crowd”)?  It didn’t take him long to be part of a small group that organised a gathering one Friday night.  Great to see them all getting to know each other.  I wasn’t that surprised to learn that they’d already found some nice girls, naturally doing the hairdressing course!!!
  • Will he find his way?  No problems, got himself sorted, early right down to smart tactics to secure a locker for all his gear, and knowing where they offer the free sausage sizzle for lunch or bacon and eggs for brunch.
  • Will he be engaged in learning at TAFE (he wasn’t at school)?  Up early every day, leaving early, getting the work done – all music to our ears!
  • Will he like his teachers?  And will they be good?  He seems to think so, and one of them is already talking of next term when she can offer them building work on-site if they are interested – which he is!  All good.
  • Will he do well?  As we have said to him, if this is what you really want to do, then go for it and work hard.  You want to be the pick of the bunch when the employers come knocking looking for apprentices so aim high at trade school.  The great news is in his first assessment doing a practical task he got 98%.  He was delighted, as were we. 🙂

All of this comes off the back of a moment of panic, which saw him diagnosed with Glandular Fever on the first day of TAFE.  We were waiting for the assault on his body that would lay him low for 2 weeks, but thankfully he seems to have missed that blow.  That said, we will make sure he doesn’t run himself into the ground, for fear it will recur.

As they say, so far, so good.  Our man-child is off to a great start, ticking all the boxes to allay our fears, and by all indications seeming to have found his niche.  We are confident it will continue, and are thrilled to see the first signs of success, because as we all know, success in itself it can be such a great motivator.

Did your kids start at a new school this year?  As a preppy or Year 7?  How did they go?  Did you have the same anxieties as me?

I have written about my own memories of school here following our recent 30 year reunion:  School Memories.  30 Years On.



Committed to their causes October 26, 2012

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It’s not often I wax lyrical about the men-children (it doesn’t make for the usual amusing reading) but from time to time, to be fair to my subjects, it is worth recognising their achievements and acknowledging that where there is ambition and commitment there can also be success.

Two cases in point. As many would know, one of our men-children has indeed made the decision to leave school (with our support), and head to TAFE to undertake a trade course and an apprenticeship. We were naturally delighted that he conducted himself well at the interview and was successful in gaining entry to the course of his choice. He is looking forward to next year, and to focussing on something he really wants to do, with a clear end goal in mind. He is already talking about the opportunity to work on building sites during the course and get valuable experience on the job. I admire his passion and hope it translates into dedication and success.

As we rightly pointed out however, don’t lose focus on finishing year 10 this year, because without it you can’t continue onto the course. Such is the life of parents, why is it we always seem to dampen enthusiasm! Having recently seen the drop out rates for trade apprentices I was momentarily alarmed. However something tells me our man-child will thrive at TAFE and find success in his chosen career.

Our other man-child will of course remain at school, with plans to head to university eventually. As an aside, yes you are right to realise our twin boys are very different, both in personality and aptitude at certain tasks. Hence one is happy to remain at school and most likely head into a business course, and one is off to trade school so he can work outdoors.

blistersNaturally, in remaining at school, one son is continuing rowing, something which they both excelled in last year. Of course this season, it’s a whole new level of intensity, as it’s “open squad” for Year 11 and 12 boys, and now very, very serious. So whilst we thought last year’s training schedule was demanding, this year’s is incredible. Two early mornings a week, two afternoons a week, lunchtime gym sessions 5 days a week, and a 50km row on a Saturday up the Maribyrnong River (and that’s their light training program)! As you can see, the blisters on his hands are just starting to heal, and the skin harden, as they do at the start of each season. Apparently his hands look good compared to some of his friends!

My son knows what he wants to achieve and is working hard to get it. Each seat in the skull is highly prized and sought after. He has his sights set on rowing in the “seconds” this season and hopefully sharing in the ultimate prize of a spot in the “firsts” the following one. With determination and continued development we hope he achieves his goals. But we are already proud of him!

I do take my hats off to the boys that pursue rowing at this level. The demands are enormous, physically and mentally, and totally time-consuming. It impacts their working life (you can almost forget a casual job), their social life (good news is they forego alcohol), and their school life (reduced time for homework) and eats into their holidays with camps and more personal training. In doing so, it also teaches them the importance of the commitment that is required to pursue sport at a high level, and the sacrifices elite sports people make on a regular basis.

So as we head into the end of the school year (and for one his “school” life), we watch our men-children continue to grow, like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, having left behind their life as hungry little caterpillars. We know they will both be beautiful butterflies in due course, we just don’t know what colour they will be, and what direction they will fly in. All part of the excitement (and worry and stress for parents) of our children growing up. 🙂

I have written about their rowing before: Rowing when they first started out (Row, Row, Row you boat), and their success last year (Hats off to my rowers)


Should Man-Child Leave School? May 25, 2012

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rowingThey joys of parenting includes surviving the highs and lows of your children’s school years.  From the excitement of the kinder and primary years (such times of innocence and youthful enthusiasm) to the more serious journey into adulthood that secondary school marks.

Our boys enjoyed wonderful years in their primary school.  They had great teachers, made wonderful friends, and both did well academically and on the sporting field.  Happy times in a school with only 300 kids and a wonderful sense of community.

Then off to “big school” from Year 7, into an all boys’ school, which is well suited to our men-children.  It’s a large school, with great facilities, catering to diverse interests of the school population.  And very well versed in how to care and manage for boys on their journey through adolescence and beyond.

In the last 3.5 years we have certainly enjoyed the fruits of their sporting excellence, but it has to be said neither has excelled academically.  That in itself is not an issue, we can’t all be good at everything.  Our hope is merely that they apply themselves diligently and make the most of every opportunity they are given at school.  What we don’t enjoy is knowing that they are in fact intelligent, but not really making the effort required to excel in their studies.

To be fair, one of the men-children is pretty diligent, and doing okay (not amazingly, but well enough).  Let’s just say ahead of the recent careers night I did advise him bluntly that law and medicine were probably not worth pursuing, unless he’s been hiding the report that shows straight A’s!!   Sadly, our other man-child has really not applied himself well to academia at all.  The parent-teacher interviews have been pretty repetitive over the years – very capable, but not really living up to his potential (read LAZY).   And that attitude has extended to homework (not really bothered to do it if the subject didn’t interest him), and more recently school punctuality (why rush when you can sleep in after mum and dad have gone to work?), resulting in a familiarity with key teachers/staff in the school that we’d rather not have.  This familiarity is the result of countless email exchanges, meetings, and phone calls over the years about our son.

We considered boarding school once for him – ironically his own school wouldn’t take him – he was seen as too disruptive!!!  We also considered shifting schools – perhaps he would be better with a fresh start, away from his twin?  I spoke to a few schools, one of which provided us with amazing advice and guidance about surviving the teenage years at school and recommending that we didn’t shift him at all, because the results would be far worse.   (Then again, maybe he was just trying to discourage us from sending him there – LOL!)

The reality following work experience and a recent careers night is that our son is not an academic and doesn’t thrive in the learning environment typically offered by mainstream schools and universities.  He’s just not interested enough.    He knows he doesn’t want to be office bound, but wants to do some sort of trade, and work outdoors.  He loved his recent work experience stint with a builder, spending the day with tradies, doing physical work, driving utes, etc.  So you can imagine how he finds the regime that is school – NOT!  So we finally bit the bullet and seriously looked into VCAL – the TAFE alternative to Year 11 and/or 12, where they can commence studies in a chosen trade ahead of applying for an apprenticeship.   And to be honest, what we found seems the perfect mix for our man-child.   A blend of hands on learning about a chosen trade, coupled with general Maths and English units, and other life skills to ensure they’re still educated to an acceptable level.   We’d rather he be happy and engaged at “school” than stuck in a system that doesn’t work for him.  Who knows, he might one day decide he wants to do further study, and being his own decision he would probably apply himself.  Countless people before him have done the same and gone on to be very successful.

We have discussed the possibility of him leaving to do VCAL with his current school, and they have been extremely supportive, both about our potential decision to leave the school at year-end, but also about the chance to retain him at the school if he wishes to stay on.  It’s almost a relief to have it on the table (probably for our son as much as us), but also an added incentive for him to complete Year 10 well since it’s a pre-requisite for VCAL.

One large regret for us if he leaves the school is him also leaving the school community and the sporting opportunities that he has so far enjoyed.   But to be honest we’re probably more worried about that than our son.   He can still pursue sport outside his current school – it just won’t have the cache that some of the private schools associate with sporting excellence, and again, maybe that just isn’t important to him?

So it may be a very different year for our boys next year, especially if they both find themselves at different schools.  My prediction is that one will go to trade school, work full-time, buy his longed for ute with his hard-earned money and move out (he wants his independence desperately), whilst his brother will go to uni, and be a poor student for years, living at home with Mum and Dad.  As I’ve said before, they’re very different, and no doubt their lives will head in very diverse directions, but I know they’ll be great mates when they’re older, just like me and my twin sister, and hopefully they’ll both agree that we did everything we could to support them through their school lives and beyond.

You can read about the joys of Parent-Teacher interviews here.  As I said, rarely enjoyable.