Underneath the window on a hot July day sat my son. His mother had just beckoned him into the front room, taking him away from his toy cars. Sunlight poured into the room from outside, with dust dancing in its rays, putting my son underneath a spotlight. The scene was set. And then she told him.
‘I’m going to play in my room now,’ he said, computing the devastating revelation he had just heard, before running upstairs.
‘I thought he took that quite well,’ said the ex before I ushered her out the house. I knew differently.
Rushing up to his room, I found him underneath his covers, quietly sobbing, trying to make sense of it all. I held him in my arms, not saying anything as I too was trying to make sense of it all. Both our worlds had changed immeasurably in the last few hours but my overwhelming concern was for my children. My overwhelming concern was to support my son after his mother announced she was leaving the family home and breaking up our family.
In the immediate aftermath of his mother leaving, it is fair to say my boy struggled. He was angry, confused and sad. And as a result he wasn’t a particularly pleasant young man.
He was seven when his mum left the family home; his sister was three. In many ways, my girl had it a little easier as she wasn’t able to comprehend exactly what was happening, although there were tears at bedtime occasionally.
But my son knew exactly what was going on. He felt abandoned. He felt lost. He felt vulnerable.
The first thing he demanded was that a schedule be made up. He wanted it in writing when he would see his mother and when he would see me, his dad. This schedule gave him reassurance that both his parents would be there for him. He stuck it on his bedroom door.
Socially, he suddenly became very challenging. To take our minds off the break-up of our family, I took my two to Greece for a family holiday with my mum and sister. It was, in short, a bit of a disaster.
My mum was struggling. That year my dad had major surgery, following a diagnosis of cancer and was recovering at home. There was no way he could have joined us. Now, my dad is my mum’s world. They are literally the most adorable partnership but take my dad away from my mum and she finds it hard to cope. She gets anxious. And the fact he was recovering at home made her feel guilty that she was with us, enjoying the Greek sunshine. We thought taking her away would be a good idea. It wasn’t. She was a tearful and anxious mess much of the time and just wanted to look after her husband back in the UK.
My boy was a pissed off seven-year-old who quite frankly wasn’t very nice. The food in every restaurant was ‘disgusting’, swimming was ‘boring’, the beach was ‘too sandy’, his little sister was ‘annoying’ and life in general sucked. You only have to read Mom of Two Little Girls’ blog about kids aged seven to know it is a tough age regardless, let alone when the child concerned has had to deal with a bombshell in his life. It meant he and my mum fell out quite often and my sister and I were trapped trying to lighten a tense atmosphere.
September and returning to school couldn’t come quickly enough. My boy was crying out for routine and for something to distract him from home life. I was hoping school would provide this.
However, he was still very angry. I informed his teachers about what had happened at home and they promised to look out for him. Unfortunately, three fights in the playground confirmed my fears that my son was still struggling to come to terms with the family break-up. From being a boy who wouldn’t say boo to a goose 6 months earlier, he was now going all “UFC” if someone upset him. As his dad, I had to come down hard on him as a result, which wasn’t nice. He is my son. I love him. I knew he was hurting but he couldn’t use that as an excuse for violence against others.
As time went on he did start to soften though and it is no coincidence to point out that this coincided with me introducing my new partner to him. He saw his dad happy and was surrounded by laughter. He witnessed love and affection between two adults. More importantly, he saw that despite a new person being in my life I still loved and cared for him with all my heart. In other words, he began to notice that change in a family doesn’t mean his relationship with his parents was under threat.
He further softened when Soon-To-Be moved in. He liked her being around. It brought comfort to him. He’s emotionally aware and said to me once that he didn’t want me to be lonely. For him, seeing me with a woman who clearly loved his dad but also a woman who he is fond of too gave him immense security. Time also helped. At the start, spending 50% of time at his mum’s and the rest at mine left him unsettled. Now however, routines are firmly in place, leaving my boy far more content and a lot less anxious.
Don’t get me wrong, there were and still are challenging times. One night he was particularly shitty, resulting in me giving him the mother of all bollockings and sending him to bed. Soon-To-Be was magnificent. She went upstairs, talked to him, reassured him, held him and before I knew it my little boy came back downstairs, apologised and hugged me. Not any old hug either. The type of hug that physically stated ‘I love you dad’.
The extent to which he has softened in the last year or so has been commented on by my folks. They see a kind, young, loving boy now, opposed to the confused, angry one after his mother left. I see it too. He is quick to say nice things. He is kind to his sister (not always though, he’s a big brother after all), he is funny, he’s doing well at school and he is settled. At bed time, he demands a cuddle off his dad and his future step-mum. He’s over the worst, he’s content, he’s…happy.