If there’s one thing I’ve learnt on this parenting rollercoaster, it’s that you can only do your best and you can never give up on your children.
In all honesty, it would have been the easier option to throw in the towel at one point and I understand that sometimes “tough love” is the only way forward….but maybe we didn’t quite get to that point. My last born child was my wild child. A free spirit with no regard for discipline or tolerance for perceived injustice and he fought against literally everything, refusing to tow the line. Even at the age of three he railed against the world. He wouldn’t eat what was on offer (I’d have to use reverse psychology and tell him he wasn’t allowed to eat it!). He wouldn’t get in his buggy so I’d have to insert my knee into his stomach to attempt to fold him in half long enough to force him into the chair and strap him in whilst he would be shouting “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” indignantly. He would have tantrums in the supermarket regularly and his nursery school teacher told me that he had “anger management issues.” He was impossible to manage and as he got older, things only got worse. I would dread the parent/teacher evenings where only a smattering of teachers “got” him and the rest of them thought he was a hopeless case. All I could do was to hope he was going to improve…and then he got kicked out of school….and then another school….and then the police got involved…and then the courts got involved and without going into too much detail, this was about the time that I had to stop my writing on my blog about anything that was actually happening in my life because it was all too dreadful to share any of the shit we were all going through together as a family.
HOWEVER, right now I am having a supremely proud parent moment. I’ve just received the date for his Graduation Ceremony! He actually made it through three years of university and whatever result he ends up with, I couldn’t be more proud of him. I keep visualising myself sitting in the audience watching him getting his certificate and every time I think about it I start crying, because I can’t quite believe he’s made it.
Five years ago we were in a living nightmare as a family and we had no idea how to deal with the situation or with him. He became unrecognisable as the child I knew and there was blood, sweat and a lot of tears. He was furious with the world and I’m sure our acrimonious divorce played a large part in this, so I was continuously sad and sorry for him, but that didn’t take away from the fact that I was also struggling to manage him. He chose to stay out as much as possible, got in trouble ALL of the time and things were made worse because I knew that if I tried to ground him, take away his phone, his pocket money, his liberties, that he would find a way to get out and possibly never come back. At around this time, when I was pulling my hair out, I asked an older cousin of his who had been through a similar situation what he recommended I should do with him. “All you can do is let him work it out for himself. Just trust him, he will in the end. Let him keep his front door key and remind him that you love him always and that you trust him to sort it out for himself.” I thought it was pretty extraordinary advice from one so young and it really hit a nerve. It was a very difficult thing to do, but I went with it and stuck with that plan and over time, it worked. Not without a lot of battles, but eventually my son realised that his family had supported him and that he wanted to change his life.
He had no plans to go to university and refused to have anything to do with the application process. I’ve always been a massive advocate of tertiary education because I believe it gives you the time and space that you may never have again to enjoy the process of learning and living and growing up. That’s how I felt when I left Hong Kong and came to London to do my degree and I think it was the making of me. As a result of his reluctance, I didn’t think it was going to be possible, but a teacher friend of mine insisted that he should have options and I can’t thank her enough for that advice. So my daughter filled in all the application forms on his behalf and we chose his subject options without him being involved. He got offered a couple of places much to our delight (but not his). When he’d finished his BTEC’s (done at home, because he was banned from school except to sit the exams) and had done a bit of travelling, he realised that most of his friends were leaving the area and he was going to be stuck at home with his mum with nothing much to do. So he very reluctantly agreed to give it a go, despite being convinced he was going to hate it. I suggested, as I drove him to uni in late September, that he should give it until Christmas and if he hated it, he could leave. I kind of knew in my heart that the best thing for him was to be allowed the time and space to grow up a bit. To start exercising his brain for the first time ever in ways that excited him and to begin to make lifelong friends, be relatively independent and learn how to use a washing machine (or not…I’m pretty sure those sheets stayed on for the whole term and then he brought them home to be washed). Part of the reason he was OK to go was that his long term girlfriend was going to be studying in the same city and that was a bonus for him and a support. But a few months in, it went spectacularly wrong and he came back to us with his tail between his legs. It took a lot of counselling from us and a lot of bravery from him to get him back on track.
Then lockdown happened and I was deeply worried about how he would cope, how they would all cope. What an absolute nightmare for those young students to not be allowed out to party and socialise as they should. But things worked out for him and actually, despite the disaster, he couldn’t have been better placed. He’d only just moved into a 10 bedroom house with a few mates and lots of strangers and so they locked down together – what could be more fun than that? Those strangers will now become his lifelong friends I believe. Online lectures were a nightmare for all of them, but he coped and possibly even thrived. They all had to support each other and I’m sure they will be closer for it.
So, the only advice I could give someone going through something similar with a child you just don’t know what to do with because they appear to have been abducted by aliens and you don’t recognise them, let alone can reach them, is just to keep supporting and loving them, so that they know you are there for them 24/7 even if the rest of the world is against them (if you can – I know it’s not easy and it doesn’t work for everyone). My mother always used to say he reminded her of me as a young child and when her mother (my Grandmother) told her that if she wasn’t careful with me she would break my spirit, my mother told her that was what she was trying to do! I didn’t want to do that with my son because I knew that his spirit was too strong but that one day he would find positive ways to channel it. I could see, even when he was very young that he was kind and intensely loyal to his friends and would take no shit. He had emotional intelligence beyond his age and to squash all that would have been to destroy his personality, his very being. He just felt misunderstood and whilst there is a lot of things I haven’t got right as a parent I feel that allowing that free spirit to thrive, whilst protecting and loving him until he was free to roam as he liked was my only option.
I’m not of course claiming much of the credit, he managed it mostly on his own with our support from the sidelines and his siblings were incredible in his time of need. He’s made it through those dark days and is now a tall, beautiful, confident, positive, loyal, wonderful young adult and I can’t wait to see what he does next.