I sit under a tree, working hard on my tan in the yard where fifty years ago, my mother and her siblings used to climb inside a big vat to squash grape with their bare feet. Like many a self-respecting Frenchman, my grand-father was a wine-maker.
Meanwhile, my children are playing in the gravel, lost in a flock of my cousins’ children.
Now that I feel mildly less rubbish all the time, I have more brain power left to worry about them. And since I have no experience of parental separation, I wonder how they may be affected now, and in the future. How do they cope with the latent conflict between T and me? What do they need to know? What can I or can’t I tell them? What are the effects of having a mum who has so far spent a significant proportion of 2011 feeling down/angry/confused/sad?
This week, I saw a children’s psychiatrist to discuss my
paralysing guilt concerns for my fast approaching eight years old son, and his fast approaching two years old sister.
I cried my way through some tortuous explanation of how I thought I was failing my children because I was stretched so thin at times, that I had no affection to give them, no pleasure in being with them, and nothing left to give.
To this, the psychiatrist replied that despite feeling like I was an inch away from breaking, and however much I had fantasized about getting on a one-way flight to the Coconut Islands, I had not actually ran away. I get up in the mornings, make sure the children are clothed, fed, mostly clean, and even if that did not sound like much, it was good enough really, under the circumstance.
I came away with two additional messages. Firstly, seeing me sad, angry, even desperate is a lesson for my children about how such emotions are generally part of life, and specifically how heartbreak can happen and really smarts when it does. The key to helping the children was to keep talking about how I feel, and the fact that it has nothing to do with them if I end up screaming like a banshee, or crying on the morning drive, because it’s not their fault I’m angry or sad. And they can pretty much be told anything about what I think and why, as long as they’re aware that other people may think differently.
The second message addressed my long-term worry that my children may be scarred for life by the break-up of their family, and turn into glue-sniffing, commitment-phobic, hedge-fund bankers. To this, the psychiatrist replied that I could pass on my values about how love was worth the adventure even though it sometimes hurt, how commitment and relationships required work and selflessness… But at the end of the day, I had to trust them, and their ability to find their own way through this.
I came out feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Here’s a beautiful song about loving your kids, enjoy!
Francis Cabrel – Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai