My son is not my clone. I don’t want my son to be another me. I want him to be him. He deserves to have his own point of view and be heard. He also needs to have that independence of thought channelled so that he knows how to speak up and both give and receive respect.
It’s hard, isn’t it, raising a child? You want your child or children to be the best they can be, whilst also knowing how to treat people and how to expect to be treated back. As a parent, you’re a primary role model; you have to show them the right way to act, even when you get things wrong yourself.
I am passionate about talking to each other; treating my son as a human being, because that’s what he is. He’s not my follower who will do and like what I do and like all the time; he needs to learn how to be truthful, courteous, and be respectful. He also needs to learn how to deserve respect, ask for fair treatment, and be listened to – and as his parent, that’s down to me to guide him.
One thing I’m very passionate about is that he needs a range of role models, some of whom disagree with me to a lesser or greater degree. I want him to see my values and why I think they are important; the people I trust to be in our lives will share our values, but might do some things in different ways. That is an important lesson to learn; how to speak so that he is heard in a way that is comfortable for him might come from a lesson he learns from me, his grandparents, or one of my friends – or from many of us.
Bryan comes home from school sometimes, and I can see that he is testing out a phrase or an idea he has learnt from his teachers or his friends. That teaches me a lesson as well; what do I think about this or that? How should I react to a particular idea? Sometimes, I don’t know until I’ve heard it and maybe asked a few questions. I’ve probably not always got it right, but I try and revisit it when I haven’t.
There are always going to be challenges around technology; Bryan doesn’t have a games console at the moment, and during a lesson around Online Safety at school, we found out that he is the only person in his class without one. I don’t mind him playing games – he has a tablet and can download certain games from the Play Store, and he came from foster care with a Nintendo DS, but has barely touched it – but not games like Fortnite. Other kids have access to them, and that’s down to their families; I always say to Bryan that I only think about what’s right for us as a family, not about what’s right for families I’m not parenting. He’s not bothered, to be fair, and he surprised me when he went to a couple of birthday parties recently where there was some gaming; I thought he might come away desperate for a console (I was prepared for the discussion), but he didn’t seem tremendously fussed. He agreed that he might like multi-player games, but we also discussed how safe they were and how much time he would get on them – and he decided that it wasn’t high on his list of priorities right now.
Being confident means finding out things that interest you, not that interest other people. I didn’t want Bryan to choose gaming as a hobby just because his mates liked it – and, so far, he is content to play with his friends, but it doesn’t seem to be something that he is desperate for when he’s home. So I prefer to encourage that perspective, because it’s an important lesson to learn; he enjoys dance and swimming, science-fiction (I’m secretly delighted about that one, as I was hoping we could share that interest), and sports. All good stuff, and I will happily invest my times to give him those opportunities; if his interests change, then we’ll talk about it. One option I’m giving him is what he wants to do when he finishes all the levels in his swimming class; does he want to move on to a swimming club or fun lesson, swap to an extra dance class, or try an entirely new hobby instead? Within reason, I’m giving him the choice to make for himself; it shows him that I respect his point of view and want to give him opportunities in life.
Being a single parent means that I have to balance being the disciplinarian and being the encourager, sometimes within the space of five minutes. That can be difficult, as I sometimes struggle to shift perspectives very quickly and need a bit of time to think about things before I react. But I’ve also learnt how to manage my own emotions somewhat better; I recognise my triggers more so, and I try to take a moment to think about how I’m going to react before I actually do – and, when it’s done, move on. I am someone who can hold onto memories too much, and I have to learn when my lad needs to move one for both our sakes – and when he needs to learn a lesson.
Teaching your children the essential skills of life means that they get to be happy and well-adjusted when they’re older, if you get it right; I’ve never been a parent befre, so I will get it wrong from time to time. I look back at the moment my son first came home, two years ago, and I look at this moment now – I have learnt a lot and, I hope, become a better parent as a result. I went into parenting knowing certain things I had A View on – bedtimes, technology, pocket money, etc. But being a parent also means that I have to accept that I will learn what My Views are on a multitude of subjects as I go along, and they might change within the space of six months. That helps children learn as well; they see that adults don’t have all the answers to life straight away, and that curiosity isn’t something that stops when you’re an adult.
I’m also passionate about teaching my son how to disagree respectfully; how we can have a conversation about a subject where we don’t agree and not expect the other one to change their mind or do what I want just because we disagree. I want him to learn the art of compromise and conversation, rather than snappishness and ignoring a topic just because it’s hard. He’ll have healthier relationships when he’s older as a result.
I hope my son is a confident adult; confident to try new things, confident to admit when he doesn’t know something, and confident to assert his own opinions even if they don’t gel with someone else’s views. As his parent, I hope I’m receptive to that.