When I was younger, I struggled with change; perhaps it was my dyspraxia, maybe it was just my personality. Whatever the cause, I always felt very anxious around big changes (and many small ones as well); as I got older, I was able to find ways of coping with change. I still felt anxious, but I had coping mechanisms that helped me get through it.
Most children experience those anxiety-filled moments, to lesser or greater degrees. Some people are naturally more prone to anxiety than others, and anyone who says that they never feel anxious perhaps don’t understand what anxiety is. It’s certainly part of the human condition.
My son has been on – if you’ll pardon the cliched expression – a journey, both figuratively and literally. He travelled a long way to move to his new home, away from the first experience of domestic stability he’d ever had in his foster home, and away from his adored siblings and a school setting he had enjoyed. He and his siblings had experienced more years than he deserved of bad home life (for the exclusion of doubt, they deserved none), and it is a privilege to give him a secure, hopefully happy life.
But he’s bound to experience anxieties at different times in his life. He’s a human being, so he’s no different than any of us. But what will his anxieties be about? Will he worry about school, romantic partners, his future career, how his siblings are doing, what presents he’s going to get for Christmas?
Well, yes, all of that and more, undoubtedly. As his dad, I want to see that he’s happy and well, and when he’s not, I want him to know that I’ll be here to help him. I go back to work very soon – work outside the home – after nearly eight months at home with him. He has got used to me being the sole parent taking him to school, picking him up, and being his primary caregiver. One of the reasons I went into the office for “keeping in touch” days during my paternity leave was so that I could give him a taste of what the routine would look like when I went back to work permanently.
And, of course, he does now appreciate what it will look like. But I’m very conscious that it’s another change in a life which is already replete with changes; he is going from a single person (for the most part) taking him to and from school, to a small team doing the task. Fortunately, the people who are doing this for him when I’m at work are people he very clearly loves and cares for; his nan and granddad are doing the pick-ups, and his aunt is dropping him off, and we’ve all worked very hard over the past eight months to make him feel a secure, integral part of the family.
But it’s something different to what he’s currently used to; three days a week, I will be dropping him off at his aunt’s, and his nan and granddad will be welcoming him into their open arms after school – and two days a week, I retain the pleasure of taking him to school myself (one I will jealously guard for as long as I possibly can – at least until he gets old enough to go with his friends; he may want to go with his friends before then, but I need to judge that he’s safe first).
I’ve learnt to read him pretty well over the time he’s been my son (and I’m sure he is doing the same to me). I can see that he is anxious about next week; the fact that I will miss his swimming practice for a couple of weeks until I can change his lesson is clearly on his mind – he’s mentioned it a couple of times just over the past weekend. He’s also aware that, on my first week back at work, I’ll be working all five days rather than my new normal of three – that, I suspect, is unsettling him too.
But he is resilient. He is asking for love in a hundred ways other than the vocal, and I’m happy to give it to him; that will never be rationed in our home. He will get as much reassurance as I am able to give him, and he will know that I’ll continue to be there for him, just in different ways.
Fortunately for both of us, his grandparents and his aunt are wonderful people who very clearly love him, and he will be enveloped in that when he is with him. That is a blessing, and when he experiences that as part of his new routine, I am absolutely confident that he will love and appreciate it.
A flourishing life is based on love, stability, and a secure foundation; my son will experience all of that even when a change happens in our life, and the anxieties will pass with consistency. Now I just need to convince myself of that.