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Make me a promise, son

My eldest son is twelve years old and he in his first year of high school this year. While his childhood has been predominantly happy and full of love, he has not been without some tough times either.

He was a victim of bullying in his later primary school years, and has dealt with his fair share of change from moving house and schools several times. He has experienced some challenges, including adjusting to having his Dad living interstate and only seeing him a couple of times a year, and losing one of the closest men in his life; his great grandfather, when he was eight. He has also experienced the reality of the effects of mental health issues with watching his Mum suffer and overcome anxiety and depression, as well adapting to life with his stepdad who has lived with PTSD and depression for ten years.

In spite of all of this however, his resilience never ceases to amaze me. He is a sensitive young man who never shys away from expressing his emotions, and I am often in awe of his very kind heart.

So, to all you young men who may be struggling with understanding who you are or why you've been faced with challenges so early in life, please know you're not alone.

To all you boys who aren't afraid to show your feelings, good on you! You may get told you're acting like a 'girl' or a 'sook', or that you shouldn't be so emotional; don't listen to it because that's rubbish. Emotions are a natural and necessary part of being human. You're much better off talking about your feelings than bottling them up; that's how you keep your mind healthy.

Anyway, my hope is that you might take something away from this letter, just as I hope my own son does.

Make me a promise son; a promise to always be you.

You may have had your tough times throughout life so far, but you are such a strong person already because of your experiences.

Because you've been a victim of bullying, you can put yourself in others' shoes who might be experiencing the same thing. You can truly empathise with them and support someone in need. You never judge others based on their appearance, race, abilities or sex. You embrace everyone for who they are. This is a beautiful trait to have, and this makes me extremely proud.

Through your experience of not having your Dad around all the time, while I know it's been hard, you've learnt to truly appreciate the time that you do get to spend with him. You aren't concerned at all about what he can buy you, the places he could take you, and all the materialistic things; you simply enjoy being with your Dad and the relationship you have with him. This experience has also helped you to form closer and more meaningful relationships with the family members who are close by. I know what it's like not to have my Dad in my life, as you know, and the fact that you cherish that very special relationship with your father warms my heart.

When Pa passed away, I know it was hard on you, and that you still miss him terribly. You are very lucky however, that you were able to spend eight wonderful years getting to know such a special man, as many children don't ever get to meet their great grandparents. I know you appreciate having him in your life, even if it wasn't for a very long time, but always remember just how much he loved you and how he adored his first born great grandchild. Experiencing loss and grief through losing such a close loved one for the first time in your life allowed you to broaden your awareness of what really happens after our physical body dies, and has also helped you to embrace your spirituality.

Living with two parents who have suffered from mental illness hasn't been easy, I know. Our little family has had our fair share of challenges, to say the least, and I appreciate just how much of an effect it has had on you over the years. Even though at times, this has placed you in a position where things are unfair or upsetting for you, you still manage to have such compassion and understanding, that it overwhelms me. Your patience and resilience is astounding, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that. I have no doubt that you have learned an entire lifetime of lessons from this, and that you not only support and ground me, your mother, but you'll likely do the very same for many more people in future (whether you do so intentionally or not).

Let me tell you that we need more young men in the world that are just like you. Men who treat women with the utmost respect and aren't afraid to show affection. Men who openly talk about their feelings and cry when they feel the need to. Real men who don't feel the need to be violent towards others in order to let out their feelings, because they can do it so much better with words. That is a true sign of strength.

You are an amazing young man, and I am truly honoured to be your Mum. Never feel the need to change who you are, or apologise for being yourself, because that's what makes you so special. Always live your truth and do so with the utmost confidence. I love you and I will always be right there to support you. All I ask of you is one thing:

Make me a promise son; a promise to always be you.

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