Sink or Swim?

Several hours ago my husband left for Las Vegas.  I have been dreading this day for the best part of a year.  If I allow myself to think about it, I get angry – his going to Vegas for a stag week means that there will be no family holiday whatsoever this year but whatever, that’s not the focus of my post.

I have been dreading him going away and been thinking, “He can’t leave us alone for a week, I’ll never cope on my own with The Kid!”  I actually know this to be utter bullshit.  We have been left alone together once before when he had to attend a course for work and was gone for 5 days.  I was certain that my world was going to fall to pieces (see here) – not only did it not, we also coped just fine and managed to have a blast in his absence.

Yet again the anxiety has been building over the last few months as I knew that his flights were booked and this would definitely be happening.  Yet again thoughts of “I’ll never cope! I shouldn’t be left alone because my depression will spiral out of control.  How will I manage caring for my incredible 4 year old, working full-time and teaching my fitness classes in the evening?” buzzed around my head.

He’s been gone 4 hours and as I sit here I have to ask myself, “When the fuck did I lose so much faith in my abilities?  Since when have I been reliant upon someone else’s presence in order to succeed?”  I swear I used to ooze independence – I may have not been the most confident person but I certainly didn’t need anyone to ‘save’ me.  In the past 4 hours I have played with The Kid, scrubbed 3 bathrooms until they shine, done 3 loads of laundry, the dishes and the whole bedtime routine complete with story and cuddles.  And now, I have the evening to myself.  I can do whatever the fuck I want.

Remind me, why was I dreading the week ahead?

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Normal.

Happy_Childhood_Memories

Do I wish I was ‘normal’? No.  Do I wish that I belonged? Of course, who doesn’t want that?  But I don’t and I’ve pretty much come to accept that.  However, the power of normal should never be underestimated.  To some, normal may be synonymous with boring, but in terms of childhood, normal is good perfection.

I have spoken before of my admiration of the incredible woman who is Drew Barrymore.  I have found her fascinating for much of my life.  I see in her aspects of myself – the damaged child, desperately trying to make it in the big, bad world by maintaining a positive and almost innocent outlook.

Much like my own, her childhood was far from normal.  But the thing is when you experience that kind of dysfunction during the formative years, as a mother, it becomes increasingly important to shelter and protect your own child/ren from the same experiences.  Because, hindsight is a powerful thing – I have been told by numerous professionals that many of my ‘issues’ are a result of a lack of stability, dysfunction and multiple rejections during my childhood.

I recently read an article regarding Drew’s approach to parenting and I could definitely relate.  Click here to take a look.  The zero consistency approach that she experienced herself really struck a chord with me.  My childhood had no consistency whatsoever.  My mum’s approach to parenting was to be my best friend.  Period pain? “Here have a beer!” My mum has no filter whatsoever.  Zero.  There are things that you just don’t want or need to know about your parents.  Sadly, I don’t have that luxury. I know the lot. With minute detail.

As a result, I know exactly the sort of mum that I don’t want to be.  My daughter is not my friend.  It is my responsibility to protect and care for her.  Therefore, I am strict with her, I am consistent in my approach.  I provide her with routine and structure so that she always knows what to expect.  I bake with her.  We do arts and crafts together.  We go for walks in the wood.  She knows that I love her with all of my heart and that my main priority in life is to protect her.  I did not become a parent to become a best friend – that role is available to someone else.  I am, and will always be her parent.  She will never feel responsible for me.  She will never have to sacrifice her childhood because of me.  Am I a perfect parent? Of course not, there’s no such thing. But I am determined that my daughter is going to be unaffected by my illness as she grows up.

After being a teacher for 13 years, I left the profession to work in child protection.  As much as I love this job, it breaks my heart.  On a daily basis I deal with kids who are all too familiar with life that involves gangs, drugs, prostitution, domestic violence and self-harm to name just a few.  To them, this is normality.

Part of the reason that I do this job is that when I was growing up there was literally no-one there looking out for me.  There was no-one whose job who was to notice the signs.  I hope that through intervention and support I can at least help to soften the blow of these tragic childhoods that are occurring before my eyes.

However, some of these children are so critically damaged.  I can see no way out for them.  Sadly, more often that not, a child will remain in the ‘family’ home, even when it is obvious that they shouldn’t.  I don’t know the ins and outs of the circumstances as I don’t work in social services but I can only assume that it comes down to lack of funding and lack of emergency foster care places.

I think of the impact that my childhood has had on me and the experiences that so many others that I have spoken with who have significant mental health issues and I have to wonder, are these children’s life stories already written?  Can the damage be undone?  Are they destined to a life of mental health problems, anxiety and mistrust of others and the inability to get close to others, or on the other hand, trust too much in an attempt to finally feel safe and as if they belong?

When you consider the above, it becomes apparent that normal is all any child needs.  Kids don’t need what they think they need.  What children need is time, love and boundaries.  Without that, you can’t go too far wrong.