Today’s theme is sharing a deeply personal experience, so I’d like to share with you what it was like for me to raise a challenging, hyperactive child.
When my first son Leon was born in July 1982, I had previously had no experience of looking after babies or small children. I am an only child myself, and hadn’t even gone babysitting much as a teenager. Therefore motherhood was totally new and alien to me, and I didn’t know what to expect.
From day one it was quite obvious that Leon was not keen on sleeping much. If he did sleep it was only for about half an hour at a time. By the time he was three months old we were on our knees with tiredness, and after six months we started taking it in turns to sleep at night. This worked out quite well for us, because then at least we knew that we could fall into bed every other night and stay there (in fact it was four long years before Leon slept all night!). Strangely enough none of the family ever wanted to look after him overnight, and so we never went out much apart from going to children’s playgrounds.
When he started toddling about at 14 months he was into everything and had a special fascination for plugs. We had to cover every socket. We also had to put all of our breakables up on high shelves, even the rubbish bin had to go up on a shelf otherwise he would have upended it quick as a flash. There was no point putting up a Christmas tree. When he started to climb I often caught him trying to haul himself up my floor-length curtains. He was wilful and disobedient, would throw food or throw his plate on the floor, and seemed to have no understanding of the word ‘no’. His behaviour pushed me to the limits of my endurance and beyond. In my darkest hour I even began to wonder if I had come home from hospital with the wrong baby. In the garden he had no fear and was straight up a wall or up a tree. His energy was boundless, and until I became pregnant with my second son (who was the most laid-back baby and child you could imagine) I would take him out running every day, trying to wear him out.
The only way I could get Leon to sit still was to cuddle him and read him a story (he couldn’t even sit on a chair without wriggling about and falling off). He loved books, and I had taught him to read and to write simple words by the time he started school. However, the teachers had trouble with him almost from day one. Apparently he was a ‘silly little boy, distracted and distracting’, although one teacher told me he would either become a genius or a dropout (she couldn’t quite work out which). I would have to go into the classroom every afternoon so that his teachers could let me know if his behaviour had improved any from the previous day. Most times it hadn’t. He was suspended for a week at the age of 10 for cutting a girl’s ponytail off who had spat in his face and teased him that he’d never amount to anything and would never pass any exam.
We were at our wits’ end. By the time he was 15 we’d had the police around to give him a caution. Leon and his friends had been caught with an air rifle, shooting a hole in somebody’s front door. Leon told me it was the village flasher’s door, and so according to him it didn’t matter! Apparently the flasher had exposed himself to the mother of one of Leon’s friends, and got what he deserved. We grounded him for 3 months. His friends stopped coming to knock for him, and Leon was constantly moody and sullen.
It all changed for the better in the July of 1998. Through attending a youth club Leon got in with a different crowd of friends who were slightly older than himself, and they met at a pub just outside our village. The landlord there let him play snooker and darts, as long as he only had soft drinks. He wanted to leave school, but didn’t want to go to university. I asked him what he was going to do with his life, and he told me he preferred to sit at home and play computer games all day. I informed him that this was not an option. I managed to find him two apprenticeships, one with a BMW garage and one with an air-conditioning company. Surprisingly both of them wanted to take him on, and I let him choose. He started work as an apprentice air conditioning engineer a couple of weeks before his 16th birthday, working with men older than himself. Suddenly he wasn’t a silly little boy any longer. He loved working with the men and thought he was rich, earning £57.60 every week to start with, and his salary increased with age and experience. The company paid for him to attend college on a day release basis, and he passed all his electrician’s exams with flying colours. The engineers started him off sweeping the floors and sawing wood to build up his muscles, and by the time he was 18 he had his own van and was driving off to simple local jobs. He met his wife-to-be when he was 19, and they obtained a mortgage on their first property.
I was amazed and close to tears when Leon phoned me one day from his new flat to thank me for everything I’d done for him, and especially for getting him the apprenticeship, which had enabled him to become financially independent ahead of his peers, who were either in menial jobs or still at university with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Nowadays he is 34 and on the first rung of the management ladder in a national company. We’ve found out that he is a born leader, and seems to have a flair for giving orders and organising his large team of air-conditioning engineers. He and Kelly are still married, and they have two delightful little girls. If I’d let him stay at home all day and play computer games, goodness knows what he’d be like now. So mothers of ‘challenging’ sons, hang on in there … there’s light at the end of the tunnel!
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