Screen queen Johanna Griggs is in an enviable position. As a parent, the teen years are mostly in her rear view mirror and her career continues to soar. She recently took some time out from filming to reflect on her experience as a mum of two boys, sharing some insightful parenting tips along the way.
It has entered my mind that Johanna Griggs might be different in real life to the person you see on Better Homes and Gardens and House Rules… after all, can someone really be that warm, friendly and approachable off-camera as well as on?
On the day after the Logies, Johanna manages to squeeze in time for a chat about what life was like raising Jesse, now 20, and Joe, 19.
But far from sounding rushed or dismissive, here she is, after Australian television’s biggest night and a long day of work, waxing lyrical about how astronomical housing costs in Sydney make it impossible for young people to get a start in the market.
She is an interviewer’s dream. And, yes, she’s exactly as you see on TV.
Johanna’s quick to point out she’s no parenting expert but, as our chat continues it’s clear she’s learned a lot as a result of raising teenagers. “Some days we got it right and some we didn’t,” she laughs.
Overall, things seem to have turned out pretty well for her and her “two lovely young men”, both of whom live with Johanna and husband, Todd Huggins.
Creating the right parenting mix
So, how did Johanna’s relationship with her young men turn out so well? In part, she attributes this to the traditional values she instilled into her boys.
“One of the positives was having routine. Every night we’d sit down to dinner and talk about the best and worst of everything,” Johanna says.
“It’s about basic things like a family meal and engaging… getting them to really value family and realise how precious that time together is.”
She laughs about dragging her reluctant boys to family events every second weekend. But it was a challenge that later paid off in spades.
“Now they feel lucky to be from such a large and loving family –
something not everyone has. They have an incredible relationship with their grandmother and great grandmother,” she says.
She’s also been careful to cultivate values like respect and working hard, “I come from a really big family of strong women, I wanted them to respect that and have a good work ethic… and to always be polite,” she says.
The absence of traditional values in some younger people today is shocking to Johanna. As teenagers, neither herself or Todd were allowed to enter a friend’s house without first greeting the parents – something that’s rare these days.
“I don’t know where the breakdown is but we had kids turn up (to the house) and not even say hello, you’d just find them. We would have been crucified if we didn’t say hello to the parents when we went somewhere,” she says.
Although Johanna held on tightly to many traditional aspects of parenting, she also learned to let go of some, in favour of adopting a more flexible (and therefore effective) approach.
“Growing up there was definitely one set of rules, one way to live a life – my way or the highway. I had to let go of my autocratic upbringing – our approach had to be more relaxed. I’m a big believer that everything we have to do with the kids will ultimately result in them making good decisions… you have to trust your children and let them do things,” she says.
What if the problem isn’t actually your teenager?
One of Johanna’s most profound realisations as a mum to teenagers was to accept her own role in the drama. This helped her to see that she often had more control in tough situations than she had previously thought. “I remember when they were 16 and 17 and I realised it’s not actually them, it’s us. It’s how we’re reacting.”
At one point, she and Todd sought external help to help make sense of unchartered territory, and she encourages other parents to do the same when they feel out of their depth. “Be open to the idea that it’s about you, not them, and often it’s old habits you didn’t know were habits,” she says.
The counselling was both insightful and helpful – and it is why she thinks it’s so important to work on how we communicate with our kids. “Communication is key… a one-size-fits-all doesn’t work in this day and age,” she advises.
Even after getting these foundations in place, Johanna says she still found it a real battle not to react when teenage hormones took over. She was able to recognise, however, that trouble often came down to poor timing.
Describing Jesse as ‘not a morning person’ she says that unless it was absolutely dire straits, she would save important discussions for late at night, when a better outcome was more likely.
As for the boys themselves, Johanna found it hard watching them want to be a lot older than they were, telling them “You’re 16 and you want to be 18, but just enjoy this part because you’ll soon be 42 and want to be 18!”
Ever-present social media doesn’t help either. Johanna reflects on how everything would end at school when she was young, providing a much-needed breather, but these days teens are constantly connected.
“With the boys so connected, they never really had a break… it’s just the relentlessness and amount of technology. It’s probably even harder for my sister with teenage girls!” she says.
Moving forward: Life beyond school
So, does Johanna miss being a school mum? “Not at all!” she laughs. She’s really enjoying the new dynamic as Jesse and Joe enter adulthood.
For Jesse, who loves sport, starting a career with the NRL and Melbourne Storm is a dream come true, and Joe, who has electrical training has recently returned home from nine months overseas to try out modelling.
“It’s the start of a really exciting stage. I had kids really young and a lot of our friends are just settling down now. We feel like there is so much freedom for us now – we can see the world with them and by ourselves. We can now nick away for a weekend, and don’t have to worry about leaving meals – they’re confident,” Johanna says.
In fact, Johanna and Todd waited eight years to have their honeymoon, because of competing schedules, and timing with the boys’ schooling.
A recent trip to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and Mexico was particularly special for Johanna because it was their first together. “We’d never travelled so it ended up being absolutely awesome,” she says.
Johanna’s proud of the fact she’s raised strong, opinionated young men who can debate things for hours, but warns not to expect things to work both ways. “You can’t ask them to be engaged and well-rounded then to ‘sit and be quiet’ when it suits you,” she says.
“They’re reaching an age where they’re really grateful and really respectful – you can see the trade off for all the years of feeling like a broken record where you go over the same things again and again,” she says.
I ask Johanna whether she has any advice for parents with children just entering the teenage realm, and she leaves me with: “Just breathe! It gets hard for a second, then it’s easier afterwards and then it becomes a whole lot of fun!”
Better Homes and Gardens airs Fridays at 7pm on 7Two in Adelaide.
Look out for the new season of House Rules coming soon.