If you had asked me 10 years ago what my biggest fear was, pretty high up on that list would be my children one day being in therapy. Before you right me off as utterly shallow, the bigger things like nuclear war and my child running out in front of a bus, would also have been on that list, but honestly? This would have been up there.
Of course we all make those silly jokes at our own expense, about our kids ‘one day being in therapy for x, y or z’ but that’s just what it is…a joke. Until it isn’t.
At the time, I thought that my children being in therapy when they were older, would be a sign that I had failed them. That someone else was having to undo the mess that I had created. I wonder if men think like that? Don’t bother pondering on that for long, we all know they don’t!
There’s something about being a mother that makes us feel as though we are solely responsible for their safety, comfort, education, happiness, health and wellbeing. Quite frankly, we put way too much pressure on ourselves and it stands to reason therefore that when one of our children requires assistance from an outsider because we cannot ‘fix’ them, we take it hard.
Or perhaps that’s just me.
As I sat in the therapist’s office last week, explaining that I was a good mum….one who had read all the books on motherhood…been to every parenting course available…someone that friends and family often come to for parenting advice…I suddenly realised that none of that mattered. Not that the time and commitment had been wasted as such, but that sometimes we simply cannot ‘fix’ our children. What a tough pill that is for a mum to swallow. One who has dedicated 16 years to building a loving family unit, hoping and praying that her fear (shallow or not), of her child one day ending up on a therapist’s couch, doesn’t come true.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time unpicking my eldest child’s last 16 years. Replaying events that have occurred in her life so far and wondering whether it was that extra 2 minutes on the naughty step that did it, or the time I shouted in her face because her defiance angered me, or when I picked up on the one mistake she had made on the front cover of her school project (I remember, she probably doesn’t).
The truth? We will all screw our children up. That might sound harsh but we are human beings who are imperfect and actually? I think our children need to know that. Some will learn that fact in more brutal ways than others, but I know for sure that every single one of us will make more than one parenting blunder and our children, when they are parents themselves, will do the same.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this week, it’s this: if we sit in those mistakes, none of us benefit.
Yes parents have the ability to affect their child’s life adversely but of far greater importance, is the fact that we have the power to build them up, encourage them, love them, inspire them, comfort them, empower them, create wonderful memories with them and dream big dreams together. If we dwell too long on past mistakes, we will lose confidence in our ability to be the parent that our child needs and we will miss the amazing opportunities that lie ahead.
My daughter has had therapy on and off for about 6 months; the likelihood is that she will continue to have therapy of one sort or another for a good while yet. The OH and I are currently spending our Wednesday afternoons with a family therapist. None of this means that I have failed as a parent and it is not something that any of us should be ashamed of.
The fact is, we are all trying our best with the little knowledge that we have. Our children do not come with an instruction manual and there’s definitely no chapter entitled ‘when your child is diagnosed with a mental illness’ (believe me, I’ve searched high and low). We are all writing our own manual as we go along and it stands to reason that some chapters will have a lot more crossings out and ripped pages than others.
Keep on keeping on.