Becoming a mother is a defining moment in any female’s life. The entire world suddenly tilts on its axis and life is changed forever. From the moment I first discovered I was pregnant, I was determined to be the best mother possible. I believe most of us set out with this noble intention. I devoured every book I could find on the subject of caring for babies and toddlers. Three children later, I felt I was doing a pretty good job.
My husband and I have four grey hair makers between us. I have a son, he has son and we have two sons together. (There is a serious overload of testosterone in my house so I have acquired all female pets to even up the gender inequality) The earlier years of motherhood had its ups and downs, but nothing prepared me for the teenage years. I didn’t feel the need to read books this time, besides the fact that I was working, studying and playing taxi driver to the boys’ numerous extra curricular activities. Anyway, I mistakenly believed that I remembered the anguish and frustration of being a teenager. Wrong!
In truth I don’t believe any book could have prepared me for the absolute agony of being the mother of a teenage boy. But gee at least with warning, I could have stocked up on tissues and stress remedies to get me through the gruelling adolescent years at the very least. It seems that I sent my baby off to high school as a polite and responsible young lad and someone swapped him with an angry, argumentative and self-righteous replacement.
I guess I’ve long held a misguided belief that bad children come from bad parenting. Wrong again. Let me tell you that when reality slaps you in the face, it doesn’t hold back, it slaps you very hard. This is not to say that I considered myself a ‘perfect’ parent. However, I did believe, that as parents we’d applied the appropriate balance of love, guidance, security and discipline.
In some families, it seems that parents sit back and ‘hope’ the problem will go away. I for one wasn’t prepared to sit back and ignore the problem. I wanted answers and so I kept asking questions. After eighteen months of appalling behaviour coupled with detentions and suspensions I finally got some relief. The school agreed that my son should be tested for learning and behavioural problems. To say I was gob-smacked with the outcome was an understatement. I was actually questioned as to why my son was being tested. His manners and behaviour were impeccable and his intelligence ‘normal’, whatever that was?
These questions definitely put a dent in my parenting armour and caused me to question my ability. At my wits end I made phone call after phone call and I approached every counselling facility in the area where I lived. One counsellor told me that as parents we were doing all we could do for him. A mental health facility informed me that unless my son was suicidal that there was a ten month waiting list.
In the end I lost count of the number of counsellors and support services that I approached. It was always the same response. ‘Your son seems happy and well adjusted’. I had a broken car windscreen and smashed front door which to my way of thinking wasn’t well adjusted behaviour. Yes let’s face it; I am the mother of an Academy Award candidate. He could bluff and bluster with the best of them. No matter who I took him to, he would tell them what they wanted to hear.
I tried sending him to a different school, he didn’t turn up. I tried sending him to live with my brother, (his favourite person in the whole world) His appalling behaviour and lack of respect damaged that relationship also. He came home again. Through all of this I was determined to remain his constant support. He would hug me and give me a kiss and thank me for continuing to believe in him. It was hard to continue believing though.
This nightmare four year existence culminated in my husband being arrested last year, the result of an overly loud and violent argument and well meaning neighbours. Despite my son’s refusal to press charges the police took the matter out of our hands because of his age. It took us eight months of hell through the court system to have the charges dropped. My son was largely responsible for the charges being dropped. Once again, his counsellors attested to his happy and well adjusted behaviour. Wrong again.
I recently found a poem that appeared on a number of internet websites which used the term ‘mean mums’. (I've included the link at the bottom of the page for you to have a look) In summary, a mean mother is one of those mothers “who loves you enough to ask; where you are going, who you are going with and when you’ll be back” she also “loves you enough to say no, even when she knows you’ll hate her because of it” I guess that makes me a mean mother because I did all those things. I tried valiantly to raise a responsible and moral young man; I also tried to protect my child from the evils of this world. I explained the dangers of a fifteen year old walking the streets at night, not to be a killjoy but because I cared. It did little to stop me receiving a phone call from the hospital at 4:30 in the morning saying that my son had been severely beaten and was in the emergency department.
It seemed like the turning point came when he left hospital; I don’t know but I thought that maybe the beating had knocked some sense into him. He finally landed a job and was quickly offered a traineeship. There was a God; I felt that finally we were on the right track. Wrong again. Two months after my son landed his job, my husband applied the ‘mean mum’ tactics, telling him what time he could be home. My sons’ response ‘I can do whatever I want and go where ever I like. You can’t stop me because I can call the police and you’ll go to jail.’ One of the conditions of the charges against my husband being dropped was that he was not allowed to harass or intimidate my son. The judge obviously didn’t have teenage children.
It broke my heart to ask my son to leave home, but I did it because I felt that I had no other choice. I had two younger children to think of. He now had to learn the hard way. This is what they refer to as ‘tough love’ and I guess I do make a good ‘Mean mum.’ He moved in with a friend and her family and what followed was six months of bliss. He was working hard and was happy and healthy. I wanted to kiss the feet of these people who had taken him in. No more stress, he’d finally sorted himself out. My faith in my parenting ability was rock bottom but he was safe, I could live with my insecurities.
Four weeks ago I got a phone call from the people he’d been staying with. My son had had a disagreement with the father and hadn’t been seen for five days. It was those damn ‘mean mum’ rules again. I tracked him down to another friend’s house and he assured me he was still going to work. Two days later his boss rang to say he’d have to let him go because he hadn’t bothered to turn up to work, or even to ring to say why. Mind you, he did remember to turn up to collect his pay.
I swear my hair will be grey, well before I hit forty. The first week I loaned him money, the second week I said no. (Another ‘mean mum’ rule) It broke my heart to do it but he needed to learn his actions had consequences and that I couldn’t always bail him out of trouble. There are only so many things you can do as a parent before you realise that the child has to be willing to change. I’ve found it’s much the same as bashing your head against a brick wall, after a while you realise that as much as it hurts like hell you can’t keep doing it.
I spend so much of my time worrying about him. Silly things like whether he’s eating properly or how he’s coping without most of his belongings (he’s left it spread between a number of friends houses). He is presently the other side of town, with no plans to return. I find myself feeling guilty when as a family we go out to tea or when I buy treats for my other boys with the shopping. Truth be known, none of this probably concerns him at all.
Why is it, as mothers, we worry about all the silly things? A worried mother suddenly develops the ability to conjure all sorts of horrific images in her head. And believe me they can be bad. I’m hesitant to talk to people because I feel embarrassed. I feel that somehow I have failed in the parenting game. My husband and his mates are quick to point out that my son is a man now (well almost) and that he has to grow up. When does a mother ever stop worrying?
I have spoken to a number of people, one of who was quick to tell me that he left home at sixteen and lived in a hostel alongside drug users and homosexuals. This was despite having a loving mother and a nice home. I don’t know if this was intended to ease my worry or scare me witless. Yet, I look at this individual and nine years later, he is happy and healthy and in permanent employment. Many people have tried to convince me that this is just a boy thing and eventually my son will grow out of it. It gives me hope. Without hope I’d be lost.
Overcoming my insecurities as a parent and talking to people has had a surprising result; we all suffer through the adolescent years in some shape or form. Nearly everyone I have spoken to has a horror story to tell or knows someone who’s gone through the same hell. A google search of parenting teenager’s sites produced a story of an American couple with an almost identical arrest story as the one we experienced.
My son remembered me on Mother’s Day, after no contact for over a week and not knowing whether he was dead or alive, he rang to say he loved me. It was the gift that no amount of money could buy and meant the world to me. His words ‘Mum I’m fine, I’m eating well and I’m having fun. I love you.’ I cried my first tears of joy and not worry in a long time. He’s even got a job no less; pushing trolleys mind you, not my idea of an ideal job but better than sitting on his butt collecting dole payments.
I can only imagine the absolute anguish and heartache which mothers’ experience when their children run away or go missing. The agony of not knowing is perhaps the greatest pain a mother can bear. And as a mother it makes me truly value my own mother and the incredible job that her and my dad did. I know that deep down I’ve instilled the right values in my son and that in the end he’ll make the right decisions.
Besides, if this is indeed a boy thing, then my husband and I have three more to get through. I don’t know that I’m ready for that, but I will be prepared. I’ve started stocking up on tissues and stress remedies. My one saving grace and the thought which keeps me going, is that one day hopefully my son will be the father of a teenager. Boy do I look forward to that moment.
(We've come a long way since my son was a teenager and he became a dad in June 2011. Gotta love karma with the old belief that what goes around, comes around)
Please click on the link to read the 'Mean Mums' poem - Mean Mums