Last week, I wrote openly about my despair at the behaviour of my children during the first 2 weeks of the new school term. I was shocked and unsettled by the news from teachers that not just Freddy was being 'disruptive' but, uncharacteristically, Bobby too.
My thoughts spiraled and I felt like I had failed in certain aspects of my role so I sat down to write as a form of therapy to get the problem out and turn things into some kind of action plan for immediate improvements to be made.
It had appeared as though I was being very down on myself, my interpretation of my personal failure wasn't an overall view, just temporary or in that moment. I know very well that any crisis can be salvaged from the jaws of impending doom and I move on well because I know what's in the past is unchangeable, so I simply concentrate on making things better instead.
In retrospect I've realised I put more pressure on myself to be a successful parent to Bobby and Freddy for two main reasons.
Firstly I am so aware of my responsibility to bring these boys through their childhood, singlehandedly managing their grief along the way. Jade worked tirelessly in her last months to ensure that their education was paid for and it's my job to ensure they fulfill their potential in the classroom so that effort is satisfied.
Secondly I feel, probably unnecessarily, that I place myself under more pressure because of the fact that many people loved Jade. Publicly and privately many are following the boys progress - keeping fingers crossed that they turn into fine young men that make a positive contribution to society, and are fundamentally healthy and happy.
What if, try as I might, I can't control their path and one or both end up in trouble with the law? Does that mean the 20 years of my life I spent raising them results in failure? Will I be the man that couldn't honour the memory of the mother of his children? I could think like this constantly if I allowed myself, but thankfully this trail of thought is only as a result of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, evaluating my efforts and setting standards. I don't want the children to just 'cope' I want them to feel strong enough that they might want to help and give hope to others who have too, suffered a loss.
The timing of our 'wobble' proved to be coincidental in that the weekend just gone was the charity Grief Encounters residential camp. In the 4 years since Jade passed we had never been to any events organised by the charity, I had always felt willing but clashes in the diary, work, Bob's football etc. were always to blame. I had sadly underestimated the value of spending time with other families in the same position as us, but never again.
I collected the boys from school and, inevitably, while one son Fred was really excited about learning what this camp was all about, Bob was clearly angry at the thought of having to 'open up', tearfully groaning the whole way there. I was tempted to spare him what he considered to be like a punishment but I had such a strong instinct that something special was going to happen that we continued to the scout camp as planned.
On arrival without having set foot out of the car we were instantly met by a young lad of 8 who introduced himself confidently: 'I'm Michael and my Dad has died,' Fred responded politely and honestly: 'I'm Freddy and my mummy has died'. I instantly saw the value of the boys spending time with other children suffering loss. In everyday life the boys are a minority struggling to deal with something on the inside whilst labouring to maintain a tiresome 'I'm unaffected facade' on the exterior, but when your at camp, you're just another kid, all equal, one of the gang, free to talk about death and sadness in a way they can't anywhere else.
For the children it was about fun and freedom, meaningful exercises were scattered around fun activities. Freddy typically thought he was at Butlins and enjoyed everything about his time there, Bobby again typically stuck to my side for the best part of the Friday evening and then I hardly saw him on the Saturday. His initial fears had been replaced by a reassured confidence, the boy who had refused to continue to see his counsellor at school anymore was over a massive hurdle, there was nothing to hide so he was relaxed and the difference in him was telling.
For the adults it was about strength in numbers, pulling together and supporting each other. We had an adult session, a form of group therapy I hadn't experienced before sharing our thoughts, feelings and concerns. I asked questions that were on my mind and I listened and learned from people's stories, discussing solutions I hadn't even considered. I got so much from that hour or two and I left with an overwhelming feeling of confidence that actually, we are coping amazingly well!
Coming back round to the subject of schools, the reason for my previous blip where the focus was teachers: how much compassion would you have for a bereaved child? Then ask yourself if that child were misbehaving badly, how would your levels of compassion be then?
In the group therapy session I heard one horror story of how a child was almost being punished for grieving his loss. When the boy held a card up (which was an approved method of saying 'I feel sad' in a private way) the teacher then shouted in front of all of the pupils: 'Why don't you put that thing away because I haven't got a clue what you're on about'.
Makes my blood boil just thinking about it. That teacher should be sacked. For children to communicate that they can't keep up with the work because their heads are elsewhere it requires a 'special person' to be looking after a bereaved child.
In the school in question, due to the mum's brave battle with the ignorance of a member of the staff and apparently that of the headmaster and governors she finally found some compassionate ears in that 3 of the teachers at that school went on a weekend course so that they can learn about the additional needs of a pupil suffering from loss. Good for them, what an unselfish thing to do and what a huge help they will be in every sense of that child's development whilst at that school.
Two years ago it was suggested to me by a senior teacher in the infant school that I seek medical help for Freddy, so that they might give him some medication to calm him down. I decided not to share with that woman what I felt about her apparent concern for fear of making Freddy a target for any dislike she may have had for him, but that kind of narrow mindedness towards the effects grief has on a child should be the responsibility and concern of any school that is aware they have a pupil under these circumstances. I truly hope these are isolated incidents.
Subsequently from last week's Huff Post blog, at home I did everything I could with the boys in order to get them back on track at school, and according to the week of mostly positive remarks in both of their homework diaries it seems that they are behaving and performing wonderfully. I will continue to communicate with their teachers and hope that they continue to be sympathetic to their experiences.
I see it as my responsibility to pass on what I learnt over the weekend about children dealing with grief to the school, and I'll also give them the details of this course that they can go on if they are serious about getting the best out of not just my child but anyone who they may teach in the future who is missing someone. It is of course their decision as to whether they see that as a prudent investment of their time, I for one would be Incredibly grateful if they did.
We are a very happy camp right now, I will always share what I find difficult about parenting because without this I would not have made such complete progress, to admit to a problem is not to show weakness, it's to invite the good people amongst us to pick us up and send us off in the right direction.
Thank you Grief Encounters and thank you my wonderful friends on twitter - your positive encouragement never fails to lift me. Things might get tough occasionally but the answer is only ever a good friend away.