Elinor had her eighteenth birthday on Wednesday. She celebrated by going to college, attending her Psychology class and then going into the city with her friends. They went to McDonald’s and had something to eat. Elinor would have preferred to have gone somewhere else as she doesn’t like McDonald’s’ food but her friends all do, so she went where they wished to go. She bought some fries and offered to get her friends’ food for them but they declined her offer and bought her an enormous badge with ’18’ on it and insisted that she wear it. They gave her their gifts and then they all went to their favourite bookshop and browsed. They also visited a department store and the boys found the toy department and fooled around with the toy swords and guns. I collected her from college at 2.00 pm and we went home. She opened her presents from us and had a few cards from relatives in the post. My mother had baked her a chocolate cake. My brother came to stay for the night as he had a meeting to go to in the area early next morning. We all ate cottage pie for our evening meal as it is Elinor’s favourite. She was so tired she fell asleep during the evening.
This may sound a rather tame way to celebrate an eighteenth birthday but for the past few years her birthday has been spent at home with just her parents and her sister for company. Until she started at college last September, she had had no contact with people of her own age for a long time because of her chronic anxiety. She was a very lonely and depressed young woman.
Her first term at college was a very difficult one; as you know if you have been reading this blog. However, by Christmas she had fought very hard to over-come her fears and had attended every day for six weeks and had caught up with most of her work. This term has been very successful so far. Apart from a couple of days absence because of a bad cold she has been into college every day and has started to attend her Maths classes again. She has taken a test in Psychology and got 85% and completed a paper in Maths and got 79%. Her English is good and continues to improve and she is working very hard at her Art. Her Art teacher is very impressed indeed and believes she has a good chance of doing very well in her exams. She hopes to go on to do a Graphic Art course at the college. She is beginning to get some self-confidence and is enjoying quite a lot of her college work. She likes the feeling she gets when she does well in class. She is also learning how to control her anxiety and is starting to ask for help at college when she feels anxious.
Richard and I are feeling more relaxed about her than we have in years.
It is hard for parents to realise that their own (probably selfish) hopes for their children may not be realistic hopes. We know that Elinor is very intelligent and capable and we dreamt of her taking many exams, doing well and going off to university like her sister, her cousins, her old school friends. If she hadn’t become so anxious she could have done these things. We have had to put up with comments from other parents who accuse us of spoiling our daughter – giving in to her and letting her stay at home. These other parents implied that had Elinor been theirs she wouldn’t have got away with it. She would have been forced to go to school. I have no idea whether their method would have worked. We did try at first to ‘make her’ go to school but when your child is so terrified she vomits at the thought of school, and panics and then starts to shut themselves away from all contact with others, it becomes impossible to continue. We have seen so many therapists and they have all said that the worst we could do is to try to force her to do anything. We were left feeling helpless, impotent and guilty. We were avoided by almost all the people we used to know through the school. We fought and fought to get her the best help and to find some way for her to continue with her education. Once she left school eighteen months ago everything became easier. Elinor started to relax for one thing and then she completed a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A year ago we were contacted by the Education Department who asked if we would like some help. YES!
The key to being a happy parent is to rejoice in the wonder of being a parent. This child that you have created is a unique and wonderful creature, loved by God. It doesn’t matter whether they pass exams or not, are intelligent or not, are healthy or not – except you would rather they were healthy for their sakes. You love them. A parent has a duty to make sure that their child grows up knowing they are loved for who and what they are and not for what they can do. There are always opportunities these days to take exams, get qualifications, go to college at any time and at any age. We do not have to fit in with everyone else. Of course, a parent must teach their children the difference between right and wrong, respect for others and that life isn’t easy most of the time. But – the important thing is to help your child to grow and blossom and become the person they were intended to be and what they want to be. This isn’t spoiling them, this is the opposite of spoiling.