This is the letter I wrote to my second son today. I have not been blogging because I could not bear to write about how awful things have been at home recently, but I feel that my dear friend K’s suggestion to write to my son has unblocked something, and I now feel I have a way forward,,,,
It was lovely for me to have you in for a cuddle this morning and for you to say you too are tired of fighting. I think we need to talk but I thought it might help if I set some of my thoughts down on paper so that you can get some understanding of my concerns and worries.
I can see so much potential in you. You are funny, thoughtful and creative. You have begun to think deeply about social issues and to care passionately about injustice. You can weigh both sides of an argument and discuss intelligently. You can be engaging, charming and very personable. You are sensitive and can be super considerate and very, very kind. All these qualities make you into a fine young man of whom I am very proud, and whom I love very very much.
It has been very hard watching you struggle with anxiety and low mood; it hurts so much to watch you distressed, shaking & panicking and feel unable to help you, I thought you managed with such stoicism and bravery in the early days in Africa, when I know you tried very hard to put a brave face on your anxieties. I am so sorry that I had to terminate your therapy with X, although you have repeatedly said you don’t mind, I do feel that an important source of support has been taken away from you at a time when you are very vulnerable. And you have coped so well with moving school, managing the transfer from media to Philosophy yourself which is a real mark of maturity. Recognising that in fact Media was not for you and being proactive about making a change was a really positive step, and I felt very proud that you had done this yourself, seen the right people and made the decision.
I want to say a word about ‘me’ here. I know you have accused me of being self-centred and making it all about me. But I hope you believe that I have your best interests at heart. All I want for you and your brothers is that you are happy in your adult lives, I don’t care what it is that you end up doing, but I do care passionately that it is something you can enjoy, take satisfaction in and feel fulfilled by. That is so worth striving for. And for none of you will that fulfilment come from a minimum wage job stacking shelves or similar.
So, son2, to our current issues.
Firstly school. This is such a great opportunity for you, doing subjects that you enjoy and can be interested and inspired by, in a new school. Subjects that no one has done before and that you can really display your talents in. Honestly, I really believe you can do very well if you can apply yourself to some study. And sadly neither I nor your teachers can do this for you. I can provide a warm room, a desk, computer, text books and all the support I can, but I cannot make you learn. I see that ‘hitting the ground running’ is such an important part of success in May 2020 and it frustrates me beyond belief that you are making such minimal effort to even try and do the necessary reading and studying outside of school. I haven’t insisted you get a job, I let you alone the whole of Sunday afternoon to do these essays and you just sat on your bed with the phone. It is a known FACT that young people (in fact all people) are distracted endlessly by technology, and I was trying to get you to take some responsibility for doing your work by giving up the phone for a couple of hours. If you get behind at this stage you will feel overwhelmed by the mountain of work you will need to catch up with, and we both know how that will impact on your mood, mental health and academic results.
You need to TRY J, and that means being mature and responsible about studying. Setting yourself a routine and regular study times and actually DOING it. You are 16, not 6 and you simply cannot abdicate responsibility for your own life in the way you are currently doing.
I hope we can talk about this in a calm way later.
If you really feel that A levels are not for you then you do have another option. You can quit now and look for an apprenticeship or similar. You do have 5 GCSE’s and I’m sure we could get you a position somewhere reasonably local. You could go back to College at a later date to do A levels or something else if you feel more inclined to study in the future.
What you can NOT do is coast along doing nothing productive, becoming increasingly grumpy, irritable and aggressive. It’s not fair on any of the rest of us and it would be a dereliction of my parental responsibility to allow you to do this. Life isn’t one long day lying about listening to music, and I won’t allow it to be so for you.
Second: the contribution you make to the household.
I’m not going to get into an argument about how much time I spend at work. Compared to others who are lone earners and live as we do, I am extremely privileged. I work 5 minutes from home: because I am one of the Bosses’ I can take time out to take you to appointments, to be at home for tradesmen etc : Many people have to commute to London as K did for many years, leaving home at 7am and not returning till 7pm or later. Many other doctors have to work nights and weekends, I do very few Saturdays and no nights. We are super lucky, we live in a big enough house in a fantastic area and you have not had to work to contribute to household finances as many, many young people do. I am able to fund your Maths tuition, your guitars, your phone as many other parents are not. And that is not to mention the fantastic trip we have just done and the plan for Japan next Summer. So enough of the ‘you spend too much time at work’ – Adults have to live and provide for their family, I am not in a position where there are two adults contributing to raising my family so I have to earn myself. I am a doctor, I cannot just walk out at a set time when I have patients booked to see me, it would be totally unprofessional. And whilst my family comes first, it is not my only responsibility.
When your father and I divorced I could have downsized, could have moved further ‘out’, could have gone part time at work. And maybe I should have. Maybe. The problems would be different, but perhaps worse. Rather than berate me for decision that I cannot change please try to count your / our blessings and be thankful for what we have. We live close to Dad which offers you all the chance to see him and Granny as often as you wish, we stayed close to friends and my family too… we have a house large enough for you all to have you own rooms ( I cannot imagine the tension if you had to share which many young people have to)…..
One of the consequences of my working full time is that I need help in maintaining and running the household. I employ M to help with ironing and cleaning but I still do about 50% of the cleaning myself, I do 90% of the cooking, shopping and washing and 100% of the bills/finances/house maintenance/planning/ booking holidays etc. It’s a lot on top of a FT job. I am also responsible for supporting you all emotionally and sometimes practically – lifts to school, buying text books, organising maths tuition, getting you to the psychiatrist, attending parents evenings etc (to list a few of the practical things I have had to do for you in the last fortnight) Remember there is also son1 and son3 who need support of different kinds.
I’m asking for you all to keep your rooms tidy, to keep the first floor bathroom clean and tidy and to clear up after yourselves in the kitchen. I’m asking you to keep the Den clean and I’m asking for general help in emptying the dishwasher and taking the bins round. I’m asking you to walk the dog when you are at home. Are these unreasonable expectations? For three able bodied young men, none of whom are out of the house for longer than I in a week?
They are not.
And coupled with my frustration that you would not do any school work on Sunday was my resentment that you sat around and let son1, son3 and I do all the work in preparing the Den for the new furniture, let us clean out the big shed to make room for that furniture. None of that was really for my benefit, but for yours… and last Sunday you did the same, lay on your bed in a filthy messy room, too disinterested to even put your clean clothes away…
It’s been a hard few weeks for me . I had to fight hard for my boundary with respect to drugs, meaning son1 had to leave home for a few days, there has been physical violence in the home between you and son1 which quite honestly terrifies me, I have had our unhappy dysfunctional family life exposed in front of a colleague and live with the Shame of that. I have been shouted at by your father picking up any shred of discord and using it to call me neglectful and threatening me with further social services involvement. We are facing further painful family therapy. My senior partner is on long term sick leave which means I have had to shoulder more responsibility at work in areas I feel under-qualified to do a good job, I’m struggling son2, struggling to try and hold it all together and literally I reached the end of my capacity to cope on Sunday night.
I’m a person too , as well as your mother. I have no parenting manual to help me always make the right decision. Honestly I try my hardest, but I am as imperfect as the next person and sometimes I get it wrong. I believe you are old enough and mature enough to recognise this and to take some responsibility for the disgusting scene that erupted last Sunday. I apologise for losing my temper and shouting at you, I apologise for sweeping your stuff into a big pile on the floor and most of all I apologise for swinging your bass guitar at your back as you left, I did not really intend to hurt you, but I apologise sincerely and without reservation that I did.
What I need from you is threefold.
- I need a commitment to try at school, I need a recognition that you cannot study with headphones in, I need a mature and responsible attitude to your studies that mans that you voluntarily put your phone down for periods of time in order to facilitate meaningful study. Or, if you cannot commit to this, I need a decision to leave school and look for an apprenticeship.
- I need you to recognise that you too have a responsibility to the shared house we live in. I need you to understand that as a young man you must play your part in keeping the home clean and tidy and the chores done. This is not optional and it is not acceptable to do it only after repeated nagging and with obscenities and foul language.
- Thirdly you need to take more responsibility for your own mental health. You know what stresses you out, and you know what you should be doing – eating proper food regularly, getting enough sleep, taking exercise regularly and keeping your own space uncluttered. Just taking tablets will not remove your anxiety, you have to proactively manage it, and this means making an effort yourself.
Son2, I hope you know that I love you very much and that I want everything good for you. I would be failing indeed if I allowed you to sit around being a passenger, wallowing in anxiety and self-doubt. You CAN help yourself and it’s time to step up, show your character and do it. I know you have it in you.
Let’s try and have a quiet talk sometime. I hope this letter makes sense to you and that you can accept it comes from the heart.
With much love
Its been a car crash. Starting with three days of physical fighting between sons 1&2, and ending in my losing it last Sunday evening.
No one said sobriety would be easy, and this is ‘life’ not sobriety that is hard, at least Im fully present and sentient as i try to navigate my way through.
I’m putting this out there in case it helps anyone else struggling with difficult teenagers to feel less alone, less defeated and less like a complete parental failure. I’m better today, K’s strong support and robust defense of all that I have done and continue to do has boosted my self esteem such that I feel able to move forward.. but Oh how very hard it all feels. She bought me a bunch of flowers yesterday….roses like the ones above and they gave me hope and renewed courage to plod on ….