I Love Him, But I Sure As Hell Don’t Like My Child (And That’s OK)

I don’t like my son. Please understand, it’s not that I’m ticked off with him because we had a row this morning and later we’ll have cooled off and be OK again. I just don’t like him. Love him, yes. With an intensity and rawness that makes the not liking bit so much harder. But like him? Nope. Not for a long time.

Once, we had a running joke where he would count down the years until he finished school and leave home just to see my reaction. ‘Five years, Mum, and then I’m gone.’ He knew that it seemed unfathomable to me and that the thought tore at my heart. I’d play along with it but in reality, the idea of my complicated, funny, beautiful, mercurial, exhausting, clever, dangerous, vulnerable, scheming, lying, manipulative boy going it alone scared me. With an irony that’s not lost on me, that five years is down to nine months now. The fear is still there, for he’s as complex as ever, this man-child that spits rage and vitriol, anger and anxiety, but in truth, I can’t wait until he’s gone.

I need him to go so that’s what’s left of his siblings’ childhood is theirs to enjoy. I need him to go so that my marriage to his dad has a chance of survival. I need him to go so that my own physical and mental health can strengthen. Does this sound as if it’s all about me? I make no apologies for that. It is. From his first moment of life, it’s been all about him. Even when the other kids came along, it was still always all about him.

Driven by impulse, he was always in trouble – with us, his teachers, his soccer coach, his cub leader. No amount of talking, consequences or professional counselling have ever changed his behaviour one bit. For years I’ve carried around a hard lump of anxiety that sits in my stomach, waiting for the next call of complaint, the next lie to be discovered and the next pang of disappointment mixed with disbelief and anger to hit. Recently, when he went away on a school trip for a couple of weeks I realised that my shoulders instinctively hunched as I heard him swagger through the front door. That constant ache disappeared while he was gone, only to return within a day of his homecoming.

I’m a natural shouter but, for years, I’ve suppressed my urge to rant and rave at him because I know, (we all know, right?) that when the shouting starts, the listening stops. I wanted him to hear me, just as much as I wanted to hear him, desperate, as I was, to find a solution because that’s what mums do. We fix things. The dawning realisation that I can’t fix him or find a solution to make his life – our lives – calmer and happier has been a hard one to reach. In truth, I’m not sure I’m completely there yet.

One thing I do know is that I’m at the end of the road, on my knees, broken, exhausted. So, if I am to find a way forward for all of us, it has to be about me for a change — for if I break, I am no use to any of my children, least of all him. Which is why, if I can’t fix him, I have to try to fix me. I start sessions with a psychologist next week and fully expect (but dread) the ugly, noisy tears that I know are just waiting to be unleashed. It’ll be like lancing a boil that’s been festering for years and it sure as hell ain’t going to be pretty.

And that’s when I’ll reach for my talisman, as I always do when things seem particularly bleak. It’s the text he once sent after a jokey exchange on our mobiles which I kept and look at when I’m at my lowest and despairing of ever reaching him again.

‘That’s why I know I’ll never be like other kids who don’t want to hang out or talk to their parents. I’ll always want to be with you guys. Love you.’

I read it and know that it’s OK not to like him as long as I continue to love him.

‘He’ll come back to you when he’s older,’ wiser, older, friends with their own parenting scars tell me. But what does ‘older’ mean? Can we get an ETA on that? The rate at which his behaviour is tearing us apart means I need to know. Just to keep going. To cope. But there are no firm answers. Some say when he leaves home. Others by the age of 24. (No, I don’t know why 24 either). That seems as distant as the moon right now and equally unreachable. And so I wait, counting down the months, counting down the years and working on rebuilding myself so I can rebuild our family.

I will always, always love my son. I will never, ever walk away, throw in the towel, assign him to the ‘too hard basket’ and it comforts me to know that he knows that. But one day soon, I hope I like him too. And yes, that he likes me. Until then, I’ll hold him in my heart, if not in my arms, and wordlessly repeat.

Come back to me, my boy. Come back.

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Image: Mumtastic