Parenting…

I ducked out of something yesterday, something I usually enjoy, because I wasn’t sure that, on the spur of the moment, I could come up with the right form of words. Today, I have time to compose the words.

Coincidentally, on Tuesday, I was also chatting to a local guy about some unruly kids. He started along an “I blame the parents” tack, I just rolled my eyes.

My mum died when my daughter was twelve. If there is a start to this story, it is probably then, that’s certainly when we ramped up a gear or two. We (my wife and I) had had our share of ups and downs with my daughter, who’d been diagnosed with ADHD as a youngster. From the moment she mixed with other children, we could see that she was different, although it took several more years for an “official” diagnosis – school funding issues, money, of all things, get in the way.

My mum was very close to my daughter, who could do no wrong in Grandma’s eyes. It’s wonderful to have this kind of unconditional support, although it could be unhelpful sometimes, for example when we had to chastise my child. I remember on one occasion, she couldn’t be bothered locking her bike up, which of course subsequently got stolen. I was very “well, you have no bike now”, trying to convey that there were consequences to her carelessness. My mother just said, “There, there, I’ll buy you a new bike”. So, sometimes my mum could be counter-productive, but there was no doubt that she came from the right place.

It was quite a shock to my wife and I, who are both university graduates, to have a daughter who had issues. Indeed, because we’ve done quite well, we made sure daughter had all the opportunities that we’d never had as children. Brownies (we were asked not to take her back again as she was too disruptive), musical instruments, choir, ballet, etc. Everything went sour. It was worrying when my daughter asked if I could drop her off at primary school, because I had a “posh” car (at the time, I drove a Porsche 911), and it was clear that her intention was to lord it over the other kids.

Things became worse after my mother died. At a time when my daughter was becoming a teenager, so going through lots of changes in any case. We had always had problems with general tidiness. When we attempted to bribe her, that her pocket money was dependent on keeping her room tidy, she decided she could do without pocket money anyway.

Bed-wetting was a particular issue. At that age, it happens, you accept it and try to move past it. What wasn’t really acceptable was leaving it, not telling anybody, until the smell permeated to the rest of the house a few days later. You can imagine how much bedding and how many matresses we went through – and how many mattress protectors, which she ripped off! We witnessed this withdrawal, and even had to wait until she was out of the house before going into her room to tidy, because any attempt to enter while she was there would be result in screaming. If I tell you, that even in this candid account, I have deliberately omitted some of the worst details, then perhaps that gives a clue as to how bad it was?

On top of that, there were external influences. She made friends with bad people. We warned her off them but were ignored. Especially as a child becomes older, there are definite limits to parental influence, in fact we thought she would often just do the opposite of what we suggested. She found out the hard way about her “friends” in the end. A girl at school committed suicide – according to my daughter they were best friends, although we had never heard her name mentioned before. There was arm-cutting and first-hand suicide attempts. Or at least suspected suicide attempts – her favourite was telling people she had taken pills, whether she did or not I never found out, but it doesn’t really make a difference. For somebody just to say that indicates a problem.

To anybody who says you keep pills out of reach of a fourteen-year-old, I say good luck with that! And, even if you can manage that in an unsecure house, they just go to the shops.

Mixed in with this was involvement with the police. Petty crime, graffiti. Also times when she was complaining about someone else. A few times, she called them because she thought I had treated her too harshly. And, as soon as either police or suicide comes into play, Social Services become involved. So, she (we) began to be “known” to the authorities. On a couple of occasions, my wife and I even had to contact the police ourselves, after she failed to return home – she was still a child, after all.

In all, life was pretty unbearable. Literally. With hindsight, I’m not sure how we did bear it. It came to a head when she was fifteen. She made some complaint against me, to this day, I have no idea what that complaint was, as I hadn’t even seen her for the previous 24 hours. The policeman who came around, she convinced him that she was “at-risk”, and she was taken away. Respite!

At that point began the legal battle. Social Services were, of course, well and truly involved by now. There were allegations against both me and my wife – that I had done all manner of nasty things, that my wife had stood by and watched.

I was in shock when the allegations were first disclosed to me. It was such a sense of disbelief, things like that just didn’t happen to nice people like us! It probably took a day before I could read that letter, but in that time I realised that I was going to have to defend myself.

As it happens, that part of the exercise was easy – as I went through the letter word for word, and in the process I realised that there was absolutely no substance behind any of the allegations. Indeed, as I later discovered, their office was filled with fresh graduates – lots of certificates but not a lot of common sense. Social Services suggested a meeting, and I used this as the opportunity to knock their points down, one by one. My attitude became bullish – if they really wanted to take me to court, let them go for it!

My shakiest claim legally was when I said that I would not allow my daughter to come back into the house. I had had enough. My wife agreed, we’d both had enough. That’s shaky ground, legally in the UK, because as soon as a parent refuses to look after their child, they are committing an offence. As it happened, my daughter was refusing all contact with her mental health services, so I said, given her proven record of self-harming, that it was for her own safety, that she would not be secure in our house.

The legal impasse bubbled during the summer of 2015. I had no contact with my daughter, but neither did I want any, with this hanging over me. I am still not at the stage where I can let bygones be bygones.

In some ways, my daughter resolved the situation for us. She had been staying with a foster carer, somebody who had a clear and trusted track record as a foster carer. I met her once and she was lovely. However, something happened (I neither know nor care), and my daughter made allegations of assault against this woman, just as she had against me. This time around, the foster carer was believed. In fact, it was to happen two or three times more, before my daughter eventually quit the council’s care to live out on her own, still funded by them but in private (sole) accommodation.

We were never formally told that we were off the hook, although it was acknowledged informally by a social worker. In the end, they proposed joint custody, which we accepted – in fact, I’d have preferred zero custody, but “joint” was good enough. It meant that legally, I could claim that something was just as much Social Service’s responsibility as it was mine, so in practise I could remain hands-off. Fortunately, custody never croppped up as an issue.

There, the story doesn’t really end. Instead, we just fast-forward to today. Daughter lives in a rented bedsit, a safe two hours away. She is now 20, so is purely her own responsibility. There are still lots of issues – my wife fields calls daily, there is still a relationship between them but it seems very “dependent”, as far as I can tell. But mostly, I am not part of it. After all that has happened, I don’t really want a relationship with her, not at this moment. I might like one when she has grown-up a bit, but that seems a long way off and I realise that, by then, she might have lost interest. That’s a risk I have to take.

Now, shall I talk about the stroke that I had six months after all this? Maybe another time…