It’s amazing the things you notice when something happens in your life to make you rethink everything. I’ve worked with children, in some capacity or other, for over half of my life and only now that it looks like I’m walking away from it for a while am I realising things that I never quite understood before. I’ve spent so much of my time watching children grow up and develop into so many different types of adults that I’ve always been fascinated by the nature vs nurture argument. Without being there 24/7 I never could know for sure how much actually was down to nurture but I do realise that, no matter how equally you try to treat two children, you will always treat them slightly differently based on the needs of their individual personalities.
Although I’ve never been lucky enough to have any children of my own, I have been very fortunate to have been put in the position of raising some children as if they were mine. I was given the freedom to love them, hug them, kiss them, discipline them and follow the boring daily routine as if we were a family. There were always very distinctive favourites within the family dynamic and witnessing the damage that can do first hand was a fantastic learning curve for me. Thankfully over the 12 years that they have been my world they have grown into 2 incredibly beautiful, intelligent, empathetic, level headed individuals who are very different from each other. They are natural stress heads but channel that into succeeding as best they can academically.
Before I came along, they were passed from pillar to post with carers. Different people were there to stay with them during overnights that their mother had to work away and, by the time I started looking after them, the youngest wouldn’t even talk. Their father had suffered a stroke a few years previously, which had changed his entire personality, and left the only option to be for the family to separate. The eldest was a daddy’s girl and the youngest a very obvious mummy’s girl. Although this is an entirely common situation, when one parent is left caring for both children, the one whose parent of choice no longer is there has to suffer. It was a conscious decision that I made, at a time that it was mutually beneficial, that I would dedicate myself to them. They deserved that stability and it was the one thing that I felt I could offer them. Their mum lived her life for the longest time genuinely believing that she was doing it all. Mum was working full time (actually, the equivalent of 2 full time jobs) and still raising 2 amazing kids perfectly. They were an asset to her and she felt proud, she had a right to feel proud, but it took her many years to realise that she wasn’t doing it all herself. I was happy to step back into the shadows the second their mum was home because that was what was right for them all and it was for that reason that she never realised how little she did during the week. The kids were always fed, bathed, homework done, chilling out or in bed by the time she got home and she had started to forget that there was a routine involved. I was happy for her to forget that because the only thing that mattered was the kids. It was only when one day I happened to be on the floor cutting the youngest’s toenails that she was taken aback at what I did. She said “Oh you don’t have to do that” to which I responded “I always do this, I’ve been doing this for years” with a smile on my face and a mirrored expression from the youngest. It was as if at that moment she was able to count up all of the little things that she’s just not had to think about over all of those years and realised just who i was to her children. There had often been little jealous looks if she had walked home and seen us snuggled up on the couch or sprawled on the floor, laughing at something we’d said or something on the television. But it was at that precise moment that she realised the times she got home from work was when the challenging stuff had already happened for us to be able to enjoy each other’s company. You just need to look at their school photos growing up to see just how many mornings I had been there to make them pretty for that day. I don’t think there is one school photo in existence from primary school that they haven’t had their hair done by me.
Due to their history of getting close to people and then them leaving, it took many years (and a few very blunt and serious conversations) for them to realise that I was never going to abandon them. Once that hit home then everything became easier and so much more relaxed. We were close, we had fun, we were affectionate but there had always been this little unspoken barrier of slight anxiety. This anxiety is something that has never truly left either of them but now just gets channelled into different outlets and they are able to talk about it all with me. It was around the time of the penny dropping for the kids that I wasn’t going anywhere that their mum’s penny also dropped that I was their other parent. I was included in life decisions, became their legal guardian if she was away on business, was the school’s first point of contact if something was wrong and all of a sudden given complete respect. I was introduced to people as “the person I couldn’t function without” and I was made to feel truly cherished.
Having this advantage always helped me understand children’s triggers when they would kick off or if they were showing any kind of inappropriate behaviour but it’s only now that I can see with fresh eyes the little things that can do the most damage. That little bit of attention that’s craved which isn’t given at the right time, that dismissive comment when praise is required, being too distracted to see the amazing things around you, the discipline lacking when all they want are boundaries. I could go on for hours listing little things that damage these fragile minds but it’s way easier than you’d ever think to cause irreparable damage without ever meaning to.
At work we have these little development plans that we ask the children to fill in and part of it asks them to say who they like to go to if they are feeling sad. It’s been fascinating to see the children who choose specific staff to go to and to work out why. The common theme with the majority of the children who have put my name down as their favoured member of staff are the ones that I’ve had to have the harshest conversations with regarding their behaviour. If that isn’t proof that children crave boundaries and discipline then I’ve no idea what is. Having the chance to take a step back and appreciate the tiniest things is the most heart warming thing I have had the privilege to experience and i only hope that more people take the time to do just that.