We’re not a family that talks about love much. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel it – not at all – just that declarations of love can seem a bit insincere to our oh-so-British ears. This is particularly so when the word ‘love’ is flung about a lot in a relationship. To us it has impact only when used sparingly; anything else smacks of insecurity to our cynical ears.
So when son 2 was born and turned out to be a little package of enthusiastic and unabashed love it was a bit of a revelation; we were used to our more reserved toddler who really only wanted cuddles when he was sad or ill, and even then accepted them graciously rather than actively engaging with them like son 2 did. It has always been very easy to give love to our second son because he was born with a nature that invited it. It is harder to be sure that son 1 knows he is loved because he has become more and more detached from us as he has grown up.
Son 1 had a more difficult time growing up than son 2. When he was born we lived in a caravan on a traveller’s site with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation and drunk people all around. I was too immature of mind to deal well with my new responsibility and knew little or nothing of the psychology of children. I became post-natally depressed and if it wasn’t for my spouse, things could have been a disaster. He faced responsibility with determination, compassion and even a little joy. He got up and did the night feeds and woke me up for the morning feeds by singing along to cheerful songs on the radio and handing me a cup of tea.
We loved son 1 tremendously, but we weren’t the finest of all parents. We were very poor, we didn’t know what we were doing and we were tired and stressed much of the time. It wasn’t the best start for a sensitive young boy, regardless of how much we adored him. We made a lot of mistakes. When we moved into a house and son 1 went to playgroup and then primary school, he was only too aware of our difference from other parents. We were still big-booted, pierced and grubby and we didn’t have fitted kitchens or smart cars. He felt this acutely, but rarely said anything about it; he instead spent his time with other families who were more securely rooted in the ‘conventional’ lifestyle that he preferred.
Our son is now 21 and at university. He is independent, clever, witty and stylish and we are incredibly proud of him. When I think of him, however, I am always a little sad because he remains quite detached. It’s nothing serious or terrible, but he wouldn’t choose to spend time with us; he doesn’t really know what to talk to us about and he resists engaging with our interests and humour. Having son 2 has shown me what a parent/child relationship can be and at the moment I don’t have this with my firstborn. It saddens me to my stomach that he was the one who had to suffer the brunt of my parenting mistakes and that son 2 received all the benefits of what we learned from them.
But, son 1 does phone us when he has a problem and he did turn to me when he had his heart broken. I take solace from this and have a secret fantasy that one day, when he has children of his own, he might understand. In my fantasy, he is a famous fashion designer or journalist or publicist or something, and he’s on Desert Island Discs. He chooses a record that has something to do with his childhood and he says, ‘I was a very different person from my parents, but I realise now how much they loved me.’