My son turned 18 this year during covid. Like many people it has thrown things off track for him. He couldn’t do his exams, he couldn’t have a big party and his driving test has been cancelled twice. He also found out earlier in the year that he couldn’t join the RAF in the role he planned as we discovered he is colour blind at the medical - who knew!? Once covid kicked in there was no time to plan anything else. So for him it feels like a year of disappointment with things being put on hold. Feeling in limbo with no certainty for the future. With nothing else to do he made a decision to go and stay with his dad for a month to work with him in his business. I had mixed feelings. He’s my boy and always has been. His dad has had very limited (though regular) involvement in his life growing up. I was largely mum and dad and, all things considered, I think I did a pretty good job! Now his dad gets to spend time with this amazing young man and be the one providing him with some direction when he has never before played this role in his life. It’s hard for me and I am working out who I am without him here with me. It’s freeing and daunting at the same time.
This year I also fulfilled a dream to start back in direct clinical work after years of mainly consulting on other clinician's work. I have had a large number of parents contact me about all sorts of different concerns and behaviour issues with their children. This has made me reflect back about my own son and the struggles growing up; sleeping and coming in my bed every night, not eating the food he was given and then being ‘hungry’ half hour later, refusal to do simple things like brush his teeth and the nightly battles around this, taking half hour every morning trying to get the seat belt on him in the car and worrying about being late for work, the terrible temper meltdowns and battles with the nursery, the embarrassment in the shopping centre as he lay on the floor screaming and the nursery staff walked by, being called in to school because of his behaviour one more time and sitting on one of those tiny chairs, feeling chastised myself by the head teacher whilst trying not to giggle inappropriately, tears and confusion about his dad as he began to understand and wonder why he didn't see him so much, the visit from the police when he had an altercation with another kid in the park...
And the list goes on - day in and day out of parenting challenges. They felt so bad at the time when right in the middle of them.
In among this was the joy and smiles; staying up all night cuddling and watching Scooby Do cartoons after he had been sick in every bed in the house so the only clean place left was the sofa, being told how kind and curious he was by nursery staff when an elderly lady in a wheelchair visited and he chatted with her all day asking totally innocent questions without the judgement provided by an adult mind, putting on fur coats in a store and posing with one of his friends, playing Fifa with him until he got old enough and good enough that playing with me was no longer a challenge, him choosing to eat salad when going to McDonalds rather than a burger, the first time his football team won a game after endlessly loosing and the celebration with his team mates afterwards, passing his black belt in karate and barely being able to walk the day after, telling me how he had been supporting one of his good female friends around some family issues she was having, seeing his face when he first saw his car on his 18th birthday, admitting his friend who crashed his car was looking at his phone and he promises never to do that himself.....
And the list goes on....all the memories and little things which make me smile. He is an only child so I never had the sibling fights and rivalry to deal with like many parents. Lucky for me he had some close cousins to spend time with and learn a bit about sharing attention and not always getting his own way!!
But as I look back there is something which strikes me....
There was a last time he openly held my hand in public.
A last time he came in my bed in the night and cuddled up.
A last time I dropped him at nursery and kissed him goodbye.
A last time I stood in the cold on a Saturday morning and watched him play football with his friends.
A last time he was happy to sit all day and play Xbox games with me.
A last time he posed in public before teenage shyness kicked in.
Thinking about this gives me a slight twinge of sadness. It's true. At the time I didn't know they were the last time.....
But there was also a last time he made a battle about brushing his teeth.
A last time it took half an hour to get him to accept his seat belt on in the car.
A last time he had a temper tantrum about the smallest thing.
A last time he screamed about something in public because he couldn’t have it
A last time I had to hear from the school about his ‘challenging’ behaviour.
Even though I know he is coming back from his dads in the next few weeks I also know that one day there will be a last time that he will say he 'lives at home with his mum'.
So even when you are in the middle of some parenting challenge and it feels like it will go on and on forever remember, good or bad, there is always a last time....
To all the amazing parents doing the world's hardest job - hang on in there!