Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

Are Women Just As Guilty Of Disempowering Men As They Are Of Avoiding The “Emotional Labor” Of Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.

You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.

And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.

Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:

“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”

And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.

However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.

But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.

So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.

And I won’t do that to myself the kids.

I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking! 

It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!

The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.

But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.

As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.

So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year –  and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.

But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

Crap Parent Therapy: ‘Consulting’ Rather Than ‘Enabling’

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. urban-1002149_1280

 

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‘.

 

Problem solved.

 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I decided not to question him about the bike.