On 3rd April it will be my first-born’s 18th birthday. A landmark ‘Coming of Age’ birthday for him, but also an incredible milestone for me, as his mother. For April 3rd marks my own milestone – 18 years as a mother, a Role that did not come easily to me and a journey that has taken me from the heights of newborn ecstasy through the lows of post natal depression and onto the learning curve that is parenthood.
Thus this time of the year holds strong memories for me, not least because my son was eight days late and took three days to arrive after making his arrival imminent.
Like many mums, I can count off the ‘anniversaries’ throughout the whole week, the anticipation, the warning contractions, the long hours of nothingness followed by the excruciating trip to the maternity unit, only to be sent home as I was only 2cm dilated. The fiasco of a further three trips – down a lane covered with speed bumps, I might add, before receiving the prognosis that my baby was presenting ‘back to back’ and the excruciating pain was going to last a long, long time before I would be anywhere near giving birth.
A little background to the reasoning behind my writing this story is the fact that I was raised by highly reluctant parents. Neither relished nor enjoyed the task and my father actually told me once that he ‘Never wanted any children but produced three quite easily! Luckily I was not offended as by that time there was very little about my father that had the power to hurt me any more, after years of indifference and moodiness; I was now immune to his abrasive delivery.
Looking back I think my father would be diagnosed with Aspergers if such a thing had been invented pre-war when he was a child. As it was he was simply labelled ‘Thick’ and pushed into factory work like his father before him. As an empathic adult I hold a lot of sympathy and understanding for his being the way he is and am immune to his inability to communicate on a personal level.
For many years I felt I was in the wrong, that I displeased him or angered him in some way. Backed up by my mothers constant disapproval of everything, the world I grew up in was closed down, quiet, voiceless, emotionless, strained and desperate. If anyone had ever entered our world from the outside I am sure the silent vitriol which filled my home would have been blatantly obvious; but no one ever did. The few rare visitors were my mothers friends, and they were, as women are, always ‘in on the secret,’ having their own dark secrets in their own homes.
Between my disillusioned mother and my barely communicative father, I was raised to the following mantra
Sex is over rated – don’t bother
Don’t get married – you’re not domesticated enough
If you ever come home pregnant you can find yourself somewhere else to live
Now I know these sound like really harsh statements but they were pretty much the way those baby-boomers lived. Both my parents were born pre-war; ’28 & ’35 respectively. They were adolescent in the 40’s, first married with kids in the 50’s, divorced and remarried with me by ’68. Products of their time. As my dad told me when I asked about the swinging sixties “The sixties happened in a few streets in London. They certainly didn’t happen here in Coventry.” The world my parents lived in was hard. If you have seen the recent TV shows ‘Back in Time for the weekend’ etc, you will have seen the harsh realities of life in those decades and none of it featured fun. It is hardly surprising then that I was raised within a sense of struggle and bitterness, and that in time it manifested within me as Depression and Anxiety.
My blessing was that I have lived in a time with A Voice! My world featured Yuppies, recessions, The Cold War and the launch of MTV. I have also witnessed the Birth of the internet and the launch of the Smart Phone. Both inventions which would have made a considerable impact on my parents had they been able to enjoy them in their youth.
Today, we can talk to friends across the world; make friends with people we have never met yet and yet still we are increasingly isolated, lethargic, and sick.
As a mother it has been my staunch duty to create a realistic world of potential and possibility for my kids. A world in which, more than anything else, they are both seen, and heard. They have a voice, an opinion and a stake in our family. WE are partners of equal worth and as adults, we have no right to ‘pull rank’ and overpower their youth or enthusiasm.
I was not blessed with this environment, being told repeatedly by my mother that I would
‘Never know as much as her,’
and constantly being reminded that
‘You don’t know the half of it’…’If only you knew,’
and also being offered this most enlightening of support phrases:
‘If you ask for our help and you follow our advice then we will be here for you again. However if you Do Not follow our guidance, we will not be here for you the next time.’
It was some time before I learned about the concept of ‘unconditional Love’ for one’s children, having been raised in an exceptionally conditional household.
I recall my partner commenting that he was proud of our tiny children, then aged 4 and 2. And I was confused. Proud of what? I wondered. They haven’t done anything! He in turn was astounded at my view and understood then, a little more of the roots of my constant depression and low self worth. For in my mind you had to earn other peoples approval and that in itself was a near-impossible task yet one you were never supposed to stop reaching for.
But back to this forthcoming anniversary, in spite of everything one might imagine, I am now the incredibly PROUD and wonderfully HAPPY mother to two incredible young people, who have lived through my own struggles, together with their fathers physical challenges, and grown to be the most understanding, mature and loving youngsters you will ever meet.
I have been approached by strangers more than once to remark on their good manners, politeness and general pleasantness. One that sticks out in my mind was a fireman at a local fund day who noticed my kids amongst the many little ones racing about getting over excited. He beckoned me over and enquired ‘Do those two belong to you?’ I nodded, and he smiled broadly, ‘What lovely kids,’ he said, telling me that they had asked nicely to board the fire engine, asked questions and waited their turn, where other children were pushing and shoving, shouting and cheeking and generally being hard work. This first report began a flow that has lasted until very recently, with local police commending my son on his manners and maturity as he appeared in court as a witness to a racist attack. Proud, doesn’t come near! I am one blessed momma!