My daughter was so annoying I sent her on holiday to get some peace – it backfired

George Chesterton and his daughter, Clementine
George Chesterton and his daughter, Clementine - Claudine Hartzel

My 13-year-old daughter Clementine is intelligent, mature and kind. She is also annoying. So annoying that when the chance came to send her on holiday with a friend, I hastily concluded that the unplanned cost of the trip was well worth it.

“Are you sure we can afford this?” asked my wife after we returned from a family holiday with bank balances at breaking point. “Are you sure we can afford not to?” I replied.

You are no doubt thinking the worst of me. How can it be that someone who has such an amazing child, whom he loves so dearly, can be driven crazy in a way that seems so disproportionate and unfair?

I never thought, from the moment I first held her before anyone else (she was born by complex C-section), along with all those memories of school assemblies and Disney rides, that I’d be lobbying to get her out of the house. But a week is a long time in family politics.

Clementine’s innate capacity to irritate has been moving past basic levels of teenage etiquette for a year or so: it goes beyond dumping clothes on the “floordrobe”, letting the bath flood, abandoning uneaten food, leaving hair straighteners plugged in until they become hotter than hell itself, and the everyday, general-purpose flouncing. This is just the perfectly normal stuff.

So what would sending her on an “bonus” holiday – effectively rewarding her for the same behaviour that has driven me and, to a lesser extent, her mother and sister mad – achieve? We assumed a rare week of relative peace would be our compensation.

The first thing that convinced me banishment was the necessary course of action (albeit banishment with a friend to an all-inclusive hotel on the Turkish riviera) was a new and heightened arrogance. I presumed this was a hormone-activated “boast reflex”, an instinctive need to throw her weight around, apropos of nothing.

At her worst, the person she reminds me of most is Donald Trump. Whereas Trump will say things such as “I’m the least bigoted person you’ve ever met”, or “nobody loves the Bible more than I do”, Clementine will say, “I’m so funny. I’m probably the funniest person I know”, and “I really am the best singer around”. At least Trump is a high achiever, so that’s something to look forward to.

Her ability to make me lose any sense of perspective is uncanny. Compared to a phenomenon like pro-Palestinian protesters clashing with New York’s Met Gala — the Large Hadron Collider of narcissism – Clementine’s vanity is nothing. Yet it just nags away at me every time she boasts about being great at baking.

Then there is her need to be triggered by almost anything; the constant declarations of her own sensitivity to this or that phobia. None of these are particularly convincing. She appears to have adopted a “sickness” phobia from children and ran with it as “hers”.

George and Clementine Chesterton
George realised the traits in his daughter Clementine that most irritated him were those he was prone to himself - Claudine Hartzel

This is the modern world moulding her brain, a culture that trains its children to pathologise every natural reaction (I don’t like vomit, therefore I have a diagnosable problem; I don’t want to be stung by a wasp, therefore I have wasp trauma) are just another habit that’s designed to test my admittedly low levels of tolerance for performative behavioural excess.

We started to call her “Neymar” for the propensity she shares with the Brazilian footballer to scream in pain whenever she is touched – usually nothing more than her sister brushing up to her on the sofa, or her mother gently opening a cupboard door against her leg.

When challenged, she reacts with the grace of an American at the Ryder Cup, and these self-generated crises deteriorate into a very strange performance (or a “Clembolism”) where she stamps her feet, then waves her arms up and down like a goose attempting its first flight while shouting “no, no, no”. It rarely helps diffuse the tension.

Another thing that convinced me to lay waste to my overdraft is her rudeness. At times she’s like a B-52 carpet-bombing from such a height she can barely see the targets. It’s strategic rudeness rather than tactical.

When she demands that I make a hasty departure from the bathroom, even a second’s delay is greeted with “nobody wants to see you naked” (fair enough). Her sister is often shut down with “nobody cares what you think” (a bit harsh), while her mother might get “nobody needs to hear your opinion” (debatable).

Clementine has an excellent singing voice and performs in school shows, drama groups and with her band. The downside of this is that she sings incessantly. Occasionally, she is politely asked to desist for a moment if Taylor Swift in the musical theatre style is deemed inappropriate (such as when we are eating dinner or greeting relatives at a funeral). This is usually followed 30 seconds later with a less polite request to belt up. “You are forcing yourself on others,” I point out. “I can’t help it,” she replies.

It’s a humdrum but pretty accurate bit of cod psychology to assume that the habits and characteristics we most dislike in others are the same ones we most dislike in ourselves. I’m stubborn and a know-it-all. I complain a lot and I want everyone to listen to my half-baked opinions. I used to sing a lot, too.

My daughter appears to have inherited this from her old man. So there is a strong case for saying I’d like to take a holiday from someone who behaves exactly like I do. Over-sensitivity and arrogance are things I’ve had to fight in myself, having learnt how their excesses can hurt me and those around me. I was getting a taste of my own medicine, and exhibiting the selfishness and lack of empathy that characterised my own father’s approach to parenting.

Clementine’s week away was no Eden for us: it was me who felt banished, not her. When we sat down for family dinners her place was empty, as if a corner piece of the jigsaw was missing. It was an ugly thought that I had become so inured to the many virtues of my own daughter that through sheer complacency I’d begun to see her foibles as flaws, her feelings as invalid, and her choices as errors. It was as if I’d forgotten how generous and sensitive she is. I had to accept I was scared I might not know her as well as I once had.

When she returned, we rejoiced. Of course, once she’d recovered from the flight home she was as bad as ever. Each time she is away from us – even if it’s just for a sleepover – she comes back not only taller but emboldened and more dismissive, as if she’s taken an arrogance booster jab. It doesn’t matter. I don’t want her to go away again.

The lives of children become a measure of your own and it’s at points such as this when the sight of their tide coming in brings the awareness that yours is going out. Letting her go away achieved nothing other than to reveal what the future will look like for us.

That’s one of the things I notice most about being a parent: every time I think my misjudgment has peaked, I manage to outdo myself.