I had to go back for a session of ‘crap parent therapy’ last week, tail between my legs, following another situation with Kurt where the parenting shit hit the fan and the old man and I found ourselves sucked into another potential vacuum of despair.
Patiently, the therapist reminded me for the umpteenth time about the distinction between ‘loving’ kids like Kurt rather than ‘enabling’ them, something that is a complicated and fine line in my relationship with my son, due to the allowances I make for his mental health issues.
I returned pumped and ready to tow the party line, feeling secure once again in the knowledge that a bit of tough love is what all children need, and that I have to be a “consultant” to my son now rather than a “helicopter;” a “supporter” rather than a “pushover”.
The problem with ‘enabling’ is that our kids never learn about responsibility. Because when you help your child out of every mess they land themselves in, they avoid the consequences of their actions and ultimately that reduces their confidence and self-esteem – something many middle-class families are guilty of. Then, when these children reach their twenties without the ability to problem-solve, or seem apathetic or unfocused, we accuse them of being ‘entitled.’
It’s not necessarily their fault, or ours for that matter; the problem has developed from the way society has evolved with the move away from close family and its support and to both parents working.
‘We used to learn from tribes, or large extended families and communities. Now we have small, geographically scattered families, often with parents who work long hours. Some transfer skills they learned over years in a goal-oriented job to raising their children in the hope this will give them the resources to withstand unpredictable futures.’ (The Kids Are Alright – If You Leave Them Alone by By Shaoni Bhattacharya)
I was given my first test sooner than I expected last night, when Kurt messaged me on FB with the message ‘I’m in trouble’ just after midnight – frankly, the stuff of nightmares.
Still groggy from sleep, I called him back immediately, imagining the worst, and felt my blades begin to rotate.
He was drunk and had been thrown out of a club for disorderly conduct somewhere in Metropolitan Sydney – he had no idea where. As much as the old man tried to reassure me that this was fairly average teenage behavior…not so much when you’re as anxious AF.
As calmly as I could, I reminded our son about the Google App on his phone so that he could determine his location, cursing once again that he hadn’t let me add him to ‘Find My Friends.’
When he told me he was in Redfern, I almost lost control of my bodily functions. Redfern is hardly downtown LA, but it’s not where you want your son to be non compos mentis late on a Saturday night.
After several vain attempts to get some sense out of Kurt, I told the old man I was going to call a cab, and tried to ignore the way he rolled his eyes in despair.
‘Tell him to walk home‘, he said helpfully, before reminding me about the times he had been forced to sleep under cars or walk miles to get home. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders that I know to be disappointment he pissed off to sleep in NC’s room, putting on his invisibility cloak at the same time.
The voice of the therapist in my head tried to remind me that I shouldn’t be problem-solving for our son, who at nineteen has to take responsibility for his choices, but those two words that haunt all mothers – ‘what if?’ – wouldn’t shut up.
I ruminated for a minute or two then decided that I would never live with myself if something happened to him in the four hours that he had to wait for the trains to start up again. Even if the old man never talked to me again, I knew I had to follow my gut instinct.
‘Get yourself a cab‘, I told Kurt, knowing it wasn’t the right resolution but needing confirmation that my son would be safe.
He was unable to. He hadn’t taken his bankcard out with him, in case he lost it like he had the other ten bankcards over the past twelve months. He told me he would start to walk, while I began to get heart palpitations.
Unable to sleep, I called him back ten minutes later, the helicopter blades above my head roaring now. I was ready to take off. Anxiety had stepped in and in a final desperate attempt to ensure the safe journey of my son back to my bosom I offered to get up and pay for the cab at the door when he arrived.
‘It’s okay‘, he shouted excitedly, ‘I’ve found a bike and I’m cycling back‘.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I decided not to question him about the bike.