So, family… I have been processing some family/me stuff. My son had some personal/life problems recently and called up my husband who went and supported him. When I got home from work my husband told me all about it and said, you just need to phone him up and tell him you love him and that you are proud of him. So I did (when I am out of my depth and don’t know what to do my husband gives good advice).
Then on Saturday we went to see a show that my son had curated and exhibited in. All the artists have mental health problems. My husband is at ease at these events, talking to the people from Rethink who sponsored the event and knowing just the right thing to say about my son’s work. I think the work is good and I say so. I know he has worked hard and that he’s come a long way and I recognise his achievements.
But I feel like I am expected to say more and that whatever I say isn’t enough. I dislike the feeling of pressure on me, the fact that what I say is so weighted, so that my words seem to sound awkward. I am not good at dealing with this stuff. Why does it matter so much what I think, I’m just a human being, I don’t mean anything. That’s not for you to say, you are his mother. It’s for the child to come to that realisation themselves. In the meantime, just be a parent, act the role, do what’s needed. Sometimes you just have to give people what they need, and he just needs praise off his mum. Why is it so hard to do that? I noticed my mum was much less forthcoming than me; I was chatty, I gave out praise, even though I wasn’t as at ease as my husband. On the way home we talked and talked until I worked out why I feel uncomfortable at these events.
The people from Rethink might judge me as a bad mother because my son has mental health problems. He might even have spoken about the tumultuous teenage years and said critical things about me. But mainly it’s this:
The whole event revolves around having mental health problems. Everyone’s talking about it, it’s right there. And there on the wall is a series of three of my son’s paintings. Yes they are very good. As my husband said you could see them in a gallery and you wouldn’t think they were out of place.
But they are unsettling/distressing. The paragraph of text beside them explains that they are all about living with a mental health problem and what that feels like. That’s fine when it is someone else. But when it is your own child you are looking at something no parent wants to see.
Yes of course the exhibition is a great achievement, as are the paintings, but it means coming face to face with my child’s suffering. I think this is even worse for my mum, because I think in some ways grandparents can get even more upset. I noticed she didn’t even read the text. I read it, to be polite and supportive, but it was sad. And as the artist’s mother, it was really sad.
This post isn’t about self pity, it’s about playing detective. So that’s why it’s hard, because it’s upsetting. I am expected to give praise and be happy about his achievements, which I do and I am, whilst experiencing distress from having to literally look at his mental suffering.
So that all makes sense now.
That’s why it was so nice going round to his place the week before the exhibition. He answered the door in a paint splattered t-shirt and a lungi, and showed me into the sitting room. He and his girlfriend were working on several huge canvasses, sheets spread over the carpet, creating a makeshift studio. It reminded me of the places I lived in during the late 80s. For a moment, everything just looked exactly the way I would have wanted.
I am very pleased and amazed he got into art school, with no prior qualifications, it is a towering achievement. But what I am most pleased about, even though it hasn’t been easy for him or us, is that he has followed his path. Despite pressure from everyone, including me in the past, he has resolutely devoted himself to being an artist.
Thank you for reading.
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