“Didn’t I” is the title of a recent song by Rod Stewart; a poignant song, one might even say a father’s lament about how his daughter didn’t listen to his loving advice and ended up “fighting for her life”. It tells a sad story every parent relates to, no matter what. Even if our children are well and happy today, there was always a time when we feared they would not make it for some reason, namely during their rebellious years.
When asked about the most difficult moments of motherhood I usually name two: the first month of my sons’ lives, due to lack of sleep; and their teens. Even if I vividly remembered my own and how rebellious I was – living with strict, old fashioned grandparents there was no other possible way – nothing had prepared me for the shock of seeing someone you love so deeply and wholeheartedly, someone who until recently thought the world of you, suddenly look at you in a condescending way, as if you were the stupidest person in the world; fighting each word that comes out of your mouth, every decision, every suggestion. You look at those beloved faces you have so often caressed and behold those beautiful eyes that used to light up at the sight of you and they seem hard, unsympathetic, and your heart aches all over because you cannot begin to understand how things have changed so drastically from one day to another.
Then it’s the clash of wills: they are fighting for freedom, as you once fought; for their own space, for their place in the world; you see yourself as open minded, and you think they have to be free, but of course there must be some limits, they’re still very young…and that’s where they don’t agree, and there they go again, accusing you of not understanding, saying their friends do so much more things than they do; and there you go again, recalling your own experience and not wanting them to go through what you did! Then again, trying to figure out what is the reasonable thing to do, something in the middle…you talk to other parents, you do your best, but still it’s not enough, never enough. And then they won’t study, results are coming down, and when you try to remonstrate you have the feeling that your words make absolutely no difference because they look aloof, their mind is somewhere else, in a place you’re not invited to; they are shutting themselves away from you and you are neither wanted nor welcome in their world anymore.
You fear for your children; you are in terror of drugs, accidents, bad influence…and you fight to survive each day, each new quarrel, each new confrontation, and you live for the rare moments when they talk to you as they used to before, the rare moments when they are not angry at you and you are not shouting at them – as much as you hate doing it, and you promised yourself next time you won’t, you can’t help it!
When you tiptoe into their room in the morning and you see them sleeping so peacefully, that’s when you find traces of your baby boys, the children you have nurtured with so much love, the children you want to make men out of, if only they will let you.
You hurt, and you cry, and you learn how to cope with it all, a little better each day. And then one day, it stops. Miraculously, you look into their eyes and you recognise your sons, the ones from long ago – they are back, only now they are big, so much taller than you. No longer teenagers – they have become men.
Like the father in Rod Stewart’s song, I did all I could to guide my sons during their rebellious, confrontational years. They hated me at times for being such a pain, for insisting that they study, for keeping some discipline, for never renouncing the values I believe in. Later, they understood I was not doing that just to tease them or make their life difficult, but only because as their mother it was my mission, my duty, to raise them to become the responsible adults they are today.
I am much luckier that the father in the song, though; I don’t have to look at them and say, “Didn’t I tell you to…”, because they have listened to me and done it, even if sometimes much against their will. One day they finally realised that all their father and I were trying to do was for their good. I won’t say they were not right sometimes, because I am human and as a human being I also made mistakes. So sometimes it was my turn to change course and trust them more, give them more freedom, and that’s how we moved on. Learning from each other – I have no doubt they have learned things from me, but they have also taught me the most incredible lessons for which I am truly grateful.
These days I am a happy, proud mother of two grown up sons. Their teens are long gone, thank God. Now they tell me “You were right to scold us, Mom” and “Thank you for insisting”. I laugh and say it would never ever cross my mind to give up on them.
When I look at them and see two grown men, with great principles; honest, hardworking, disciplined, caring, loving and loyal, I believe I have fulfilled my mission, along with their father. When I think of Rod Stewart’s song and the sad story behind it, I feel so grateful that, of all the things I want to say to my boys, one of them is definitely not “Didn’t I”.