'You're Ruining My Life, Dad'

The hardest thing for me in times of difficulty is that if their mum was still here, my relationship with the boys would probably be better

I tweeted recently that family life isn’t always perfect, and it surely struck a chord with many. I mean it’s a simple fact isn’t it, parenthood is incredibly challenging and maybe that’s why all being well, it’s a job intended for two.

It’s also an openly accepted fact that the teenager stage is the most trying of times. I find it particularly difficult that at this point, when I have put my heart and soul into the upbringing of my 15-year-old, that my reward at times should be such hostility and downright disapproval of everything just short of my very existence.

You only have to look up at him (he is 6ft 2”) to be reminded that this kid is turning into a man, at least in appearance, and these last few years of his childhood are going to flash before my very eyes.

I’m desperate for us to make the most of them, for him to realise his potential. I long for us to enjoy each other’s company, for him to still want to do things together, for him to understand that everything I do is meant for the best and not designed to hold him back, but I’m often brought back to the knowing that you must be a parent first and foremost. That very little of what I decide is ever going to be met with any understanding or approval, which I strangely feel like I’m looking for at times.

The truth is Bobby is entitled to these occasional erratic outbursts. He is a beautiful boy with good manners and a good heart and he will make a wonderful human being. All children should be safe to express their anger at home, whether it’s deemed justifiable by adults or not, because surely that’s all part of adolescence? I despair for not knowing what ingredients such resentments consist of though; when is it grief? When is it tiredness? When is it hormones, negativity, low self-esteem, depression? I’ll never know because he can’t and won’t tell me. It’s all too complicated. I want to make it better for him and to a large extent I must accept that I’m relatively powerless. When he was younger I could solve every problem he ever had so it’s really sobering when that power to be the solution subsides.

I looked for reason too often: why does he feel this way and can I help him to find solution? The answer is that a bad day can often be followed by a better one, with no conversation necessary. The wave can just pass on its own and as he says regularly, stop always trying to make it about mum. My eldest doesn’t express his grief often, it is my biggest regret, so when he feels low or angry I always suspect it’s at the bottom of it. Sometimes I gently try and voice this, sometimes I don’t, either way I must learn that this kind of analysis, the search for reason, doesn’t really help. It doesn’t matter what I think, it is more important to establish what he sees and feels instead.

I often wrongly describe the next few years ahead as the “home straight”, suggesting there is a finishing line that our children cross at a particular age which signifies our job is complete. Depending on circumstances our children might live with us well into their 20s, so for me to feel such pressure to complete their childhood in such a way might not serve me so well.

Parents of children that have entered their adult years will tell me that there is no such thing as a definite ending or a time when you can celebrate a job well done. Maybe some view graduation or marriage as that marker? Others may feel like just getting them to 18 in one piece is a miracle in itself. What even is “the job” in the first place? I think this is where our definitions are all unique, based primarily on our own personal experiences of childhood and then on the combined principles of mum and dad, if the child should be fortunate enough to have both. Some may not even think that far into it?

For me “the job” changed when Bob was five years old. Things were comparatively easy up to then, I had him half the week and it was all just love, fun and pride. I revelled in being a young, hands-on father, I was giving him what I didn’t have and then tragically it became something different.

I often wonder if Bob would be the same boy if mum was still here. Surely less anger, more self-belief? It’s fine to speculate what version of ourselves we would all be, but sadly it changes nothing. We are all partially a product of that loss and we must do our best despite the limiting effects of grief. And there it is, the hardest thing for me in times of difficulty is that if their mum was still here my relationship with the boys would probably be better, more enjoyable, less painful?

I would love to have shared the responsibility, I wouldn’t have had to become the bad guy so often but we just have to get on with it and hope that for all of the times we’ve struggled, we will be rewarded with a heightened desire to have a good life, to feel that we deserve it, to have each other and for there to be a strength between the three of us that we didn’t realise possible. Hopefully we can be proud of what we’ve achieved, I think that much is guaranteed.

The job now is to hold on to those moments when the love slips through the cracks, to create the memories when the guard is down, even if they are sabotaged by the hard stuff because you must believe that whilst the comments about ruining lives are forgotten very quickly, the good times create memories that will last forever.

I’m learning now that it’s ok that I can’t win, because winning has to be viewed as a long-term goal. I supposedly win when my rules and boundaries are consistent, yet I still lose because, on the surface I don’t always sense that I have his love. Teenagers need the consistency more than ever. They need to be allowed to make mistakes and they must be able to earn back what you decide they lose through punishment.

You can’t try and be popular, you have to satisfy your own parenting principles and resist the constant urge to take everything personally, because this is a stage of parenting that was always going to happen and it’s far too late in the game for you and I to give up now. I’m lucky to have these boys and to be here to face these challenges is a privilege, its quite simple when you look at it like that.