My eldest has gone back to school this week.
The 11-year-old is the only one leaving the house to go to a place where people gather to work. Weird doesn’t do it justice. His brother’s left at home with two parents, both working, and no sight of school starting up for months.
We had a big cuddle today, as I put him to bed, we talked about tomorrow. I told him it’s a Thursday (my day for BeingDads writing, web stuff and dad workshops/webinar), so I’m more available. He asked whether I’d be free to spend time with him, in the morning or afternoon. There was something in his tone as he said it that niggled though. After we’d agreed how tomorrow would work and said good night, I went downstairs, untangling that niggle with each step.
Then it unraveled.
It was his tone.
Meek. Like he was treading carefully, keeping his head down and eyes on the ground.
It’s the first time I’ve heard that tone in his voice. He didn’t want to burden me. Not wanting to impose on anyone seems to be a male trait. I’ve read about a few family’s experience of their children dying by suicide. Their boys, because so often they are boys, left them messages saying they didn’t want to be a burden.
I know I am talking about extremes here — but it helps me to see things more clearly, like how important it is to unpick this idea of not wanting to be a burden. Something you might otherwise dismiss, or just not notice as you crash through lockdown trying to hold onto a job, a fragment of home schooling structure and your sanity. It’s an important thing to deal with for the long term, but it’s important to deal with in the short term too.
Our kids might not want to burden us with their suffering as they struggle through friendship problems, bullying, breakups or struggles with school work. They might not want to burden us with a request for advice, so they miss out on an opportunity or a better path. They might not want to burden us with their excitement of their great day, the goal they scored, the amazing story they’ve written, the picture they’ve drawn, the new tune they’ve learned or the new friend they’ve made. If we scale it back from examples of children taking their own lives, it becomes clear that creating this impression of being a burden, because we’re too busy, means everyone misses out on the kind of experiences — the connections in good times and bad — that make life worth living.
Before I got to the bottom of the stairs, I’d decided to write as much of this newsletter as I could that night, so I could spend more time with my son in the day. Now I’ve just got to get through to the end of the day without my short sleep turning into a short temper. Thankfully I’ve had plenty of practice at that.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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