A mother’s love is an undisputed guarantee that travels the test of time but there are moments when it is tested to its limits and how we respond says a lot as to its value.
My eldest is close to completing his second year at university but his transformation from the day we dropped him off, a complete newbie to life away from home and now, makes me on occasion sad, tearful, regretful almost.
We fought so much about him having a year out after his A’levels. He wanted a break from the pressure of studies. Time to decompress, to stand back and reflect on the next stage of his life he said. Travel was mentioned too. Most of his mates were doing just that, so why couldn’t he was the big question of the summer. We were insistent, however, he continued and maximised his educational progress at that point and then maybe had a break at the end.
A consistent high performer in the class room at school and on the sports field he is a mere reflection of the boy he once was. Always too sociable for his own good, there are even more friends to add to the mix and stories that confirm he is having the best time of his life. But beneath that is the son I love and adore battling I sense with finding his way as an adult and yet still trying to do the best by us.
I dismissed the subtle changes last year, turned a blind eye to the escapades of university inductions that made me scared and kept me awake at night. Whisperings of drinking games widely reported in the media struck a chord, echoes of similar stories around the lunch table when he came home were I convinced myself just that - echoes and I reassured myself he was fine, invincible almost. After all in my role as mother I had equipped him with all the necessary skills to make the right decisions to keep safe.
None of this of course was made any easier with my cancer diagnosis being thrown into the mix in his first term, just as he was going back to take his exams. At the time I was insistent that life for both my teens carried on as normal, but particularly for him being away from home so we tried to downplay it. He needed to be calm and settled. To get on with his life. We couldn’t weaken. He couldn’t see me or us scared or worried. We had each other to lean on after all but he was alone.
Parenting is a journey of challenges and human nature teaches us to cope, to ride the rough with the smooth in whatever way necessary. Our journey of late has been a bit bumpy but that doesn't mean it is insurmountable, we just maybe need to change course.
Our son hates failure and works hard to deliver but now whilst he is thriving with his studies there is no real passion for his learning. Equally his love of the sport which shaped his early teens and saw him reach a bowling speed of 80 mph that made those facing him quake, has diminished. Any mention by us is brushed aside and we are told to stop nagging. It’s his life and we can’t control him or tell him what to do with it. A familiar story no doubt for all of us parenting teens.
Self-doubt as a parent is normal but that doesn't make it any easier to handle. I mourn the days of my seemingly perfect son and I question whether we made the right decision about him not taking a year out. My husband says I beat myself up about the most ridiculous things but there it is again staring at me in the mirror - a mother's love. If we had allowed him to pause, to explore who he was and what he wanted free of the confines of education rather than just dictating our way would it be different? Would he feel better about himself? Do we even have a right to feel disappointed?
Ultimately there is no reason for us to. He is on line for a first but then so are 25% of those in university education so it is no longer the place of the elite but the majority. It’s not just about the scores, however, as I have said before, university is a place to push boundaries and more importantly to grow as an individual but it is pressurised. The lecture and tutorial timetable is intensive. There are exams every six weeks. There is no respite and that takes its toll eventually.
A mother's role is to watch over her children, to nurture, set out the stepping stones of life, to guide and support but more importantly for me it is also about always ensuring they know there is a path home regardless of their age or dilemma. Melodramatic to many maybe but an essential component of family life to me. For me right now as a mother I just want the "whole" him back and turning our back is not the answer.
In a period when the mental health of our children has never been so prevalent the end result is we are considering applying for a year’s break in his studies. So our early rebuttal of his request for a break is now back firing. This time, however, I am taking notice. Really listening to what he is saying and not just hearing what I want to hear or convincing him otherwise. I am putting his needs first. I pride myself on always having done that but hands up I think I got it wrong this time. We all make mistakes after all.
I don’t want a future of regrets but one of hope for my teens and sometimes the gut instinct the one that dictates a mother's love is the one that takes control and right now I want him home. I took my eye off the ball last year during my illness but I am back on track now. My journey as a mother of teens is taking an alternative route and that’s fine. We will handle it as we always do as a united front, supporting each other and there will be a different twist to our story as a family that may make us stronger. At least let’s hope so. In the meantime it just proves that parenting never ends and is always quite simply work in progress.
Editor's Note: Your thoughts as always are most welcome. x