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Parenting a teenager

Nicola Batty, a mother with Friedreich's ataxia from Manchester, UK, describes how her experience of parenthood has changed since her son Jack became a teenager.

Nicola with husband, Andy, and son, Jack

It’s difficult for me now to remember my son Jack as the tiny, scrawny thing I gave birth to 17 years ago! Not only has Jack himself changed much over the years, but also much of my lifestyle has had to be changed to accommodate my loss of sight. I have Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), which is a progressive condition affecting the nervous system, and since the time of Jack’s birth my sight began to deteriorate gradually so that now I can see very little apart from light. My hearing has also become impaired by my FA. So you will understand that things are very changed.

Parental pride

It’s been a long, uphill struggle coming to terms with these things, and trying all the time to remain in contact with Jack, and also with Andy, who is my partner and Jack’s dad. Although I can't actually see Jack nowadays, I’m assured by others that he’s a good looking young chap. I can see myself in parts of Jack’s character, particularly in the determined streak he has. Over the past few years he’s developed a passion for music; he plays the drums with a band, and is considering a career in music production, which he’ll no doubt succeed in. Both Andy and I are very proud of all his achievements within the creative vein, which hopefully we’ll encourage him to pursue.

Constant involvement

When I gave birth to Jack in 1993, my sight had only just begun to be affected. I can still vividly remember Jack as a baby, right up until about the age of six or seven, though my memories of him begin to get a little hazy around this time! However, I remember clearly the incredible struggles I had with trying to remain in my chosen role as Jack’s mother – not to be pushed aside while someone else took over all those physical aspects of the job that I couldn’t manage. After a few years Andy gave up his job in order to stay with me and Jack. And so we three kept together as a family all through Jack’s childhood. That’s how it’s been for the most part – Andy doing most of the physical side of looking after Jack, but me being there constantly, being involved all the way.

A particularly memorable incident occurred when Jack was about nine – we were on holiday in Brittany. Jack fell off a climbing frame and broke both of his arms. This would have been scary enough for any mother, but it was especially so for me as my sight was pretty much impaired by that stage. Jack himself was a great help to me as he always had been in such stressful situations; he simply explained to me calmly exactly what was going on. I was very thankful for Jack’s coolness, especially as neither Andy or I felt even remotely in control of anything at the time! We brought Jack back home with both arms in plaster and he had to remain at home for all of that summer, but since then he’s had no more major catastrophes such as that one.

Lending a hand

As Jack became a teenager, we began quite naturally to be more involved with our separate lives, which I’m still finding difficult to accept. I was always very interested in Jack’s school work but found the parents’ evenings very difficult to keep up with because of communication difficulties. The teachers were very sympathetic and tried their best to accommodate me with Jack and Andy in a quieter room … but still, there was no simple solution to the problem of staying in contact. Over the past few years I’ve been to the school several times with Jack and Andy to see Jack playing his drums, and the school has never created a fuss or hassle about me and my wheelchair, and I would say that the same attitude can be seen in teenagers generally … or at least in Jack’s friends. They’re all quite friendly towards me – although communication is always a bit tricky! I’ve been to various clubs around Manchester to see Jack’s band play, and have always been impressed by the complete lack of fuss made about me getting into such places. On some of these occasions I’ve been helped up and down the stairs by Jack himself and other members of the band … I hope this attitude is general of all teenagers these days, simply being willing to lend a hand without causing a major dilemma.

Developing separate interests

Although it’s quite natural that as a teenager Jack should become more independent of me and for us to spend less time together, this is something that I’ve had particular trouble coming to terms with and accepting, particularly in the light of my increasing communication problems. I still miss very much that feeling of close contact we used to enjoy. It’s easy for me to blame the loss of this intimacy between Jack and me on both my loss of sight and hearing difficulties, but everyone else reassures me constantly that this is simply an inevitable part of bringing up a teenager.

Since beginning his music production course at college, Jack has changed his lifestyle somewhat, so that he and I seem to be growing even further apart. Added to this is the fact that Jack seems to have constant company these days, or else to be out with various friends. Gone are the days when Jack and I used to spend a few hours together alone … yet at the same time it’s led to Andy and me spending more time together. I’ve also been able to spend more time concentrating on my writing; I’ve been working on a couple more novels, and also a collection of autobiographical short stories, The Ziggy Collection (Ziggy being the name of my wheelchair) – which includes one entitled ‘Jack’, about my experience of giving birth to him and the far more traumatic aftermath! Also, I continue to write my newsletter Raw Meat every month, with a little bit of help from Andy!

Stories and newsletter

More information on Nicola’s autobiographical stories, The Ziggy Collection, and her newsletter can be found via her website at www.nicolabatty.co.uk

First published DPPI Journal, Issue 72: Spring 2011

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