I think a lot about how not to fuck Theo up. It’s inevitable, according to Philip Larkin (“they fuck you up, your mum and dad, they may not mean to but they do.”) Nevertheless, I’m a perfectionist. I also have a long history of depression, anxiety, food issues and self-confidence issues, so I really, really want not to fuck him up. I’m afraid all this might mean I have even worse odds than the average parent and, if I do pass my challenges on, I know from experience how painful they can be. I can’t cause him this kind of pain. I might not be able to beat it in myself but I’ll be damned if I’ll pass it on to him.
Ultimately, I can’t control who Theo is or will become. You feel like you can, because you made them, but you can’t. And even if I could control his future, who’s to say he’d end up any happier? My own life is often a mystery to me, so why think I’d be any better at crafting his?
Still, I want him to be a good person and a happy person, or, at least, a person who searches for and finds happiness. So I think a lot about how to make him good and happy, about what I can do to increase his chances and beat the slightly tricky odds I’ve given him as his complicated mum.
Here are my thoughts.
1. Trying to steer the ship too firmly is to be avoided. I must allow him space to grow in his own direction and this will involve letting him make mistakes and do things I don’t agree with. I can guide him and challenge him. I can be honest about what I believe and tell him what I think I know. But I can’t control what he does with that.
2. I must try not to let my love become needy. He will grow up and away from me, every month depending on me less than the month before. Physical contact will decrease. He started out inside me, stayed virtually attached to me for the first few weeks of life, is carried everywhere he goes by me now. He’ll keep having bedtime cuddles for years, I hope. But then they’ll get fewer and fewer, and one day he’ll move out, find a girl or boy, settle down. I mustn’t cling on.
Instead I try to prepare myself by storing the memories. I look down at him in my arms when he falls asleep after a night time feed and I try to drink it in, fixing in my mind the pursed lip and the wedge of eyelashes, the warm weight, the love.
3. I think I must talk to him about mental health as he gets old enough to understand. My own challenges are not, and never will be, his problem. But I don’t want him to be scared when I’m down, think I’m angry when I’m just anxious, or believe the difficult things I feel are his fault.
If I help him understand what so many millions of us go through at times, it will, I hope, give him the tools to tackle his own sadnesses and fears and doubts, because they will inevitably come. They come to all of us. It might also give him compassion for those struggling with their own issues who might be less transparent and easy to understand.
4. Finally, I should feel joy. There are times when the practical jobs of looking after him and the anxieties and stresses all pause for a bit, and I just delight in his Theo-ness. Right now, right now, he’s woken up and is singing out ‘da-da’ on the baby monitor. This is such joy. His faces squidges up into the widest smile sometimes and he laughs, cackles from his belly as I blow air at him. Joy.
Surely the best thing I can do for him is feel that joy and show it. That’s the clearest, simplest love. It takes nothing from the recipient and says: you and the things you do make me happy. If he can see how delighted I am with him, if I laugh at him and make him laugh, if I love hugging and kissing him, I hope that will be the foundation for him to love himself.