Why staying in Northern Ireland was the right decision
I’ve been writing columns in the Belfast Telegraph for almost a decade. They began in 2006 with a fraction of space at the bottom of a page on Saturday, in a column entitled Mum Alone.
As the title suggests it was a kind of weekly diary, detailing the trials and tribulations of bringing up kids as a single mum after a divorce. I’d just gone through the whole separation and divorce process myself after having been a stay-at-home full-time mum for ten years. Writing that was my first step back onto the career ladder after a very long absence. It was experimental, but I found it cathartic; a bit like talking to a shrink, except that instead of lying on a couch looking at a ceiling I was sitting at a desk staring at a screen. Meanwhile my editor (to whom I will be eternally grateful) kept me on because he believed that I would strike a chord with all the other mothers out there in the same boat.
In retrospect, as I look back over those earlier musings I realise what a significant moment in my life that actually was. Nothing was certain except that I had no clue how I was going to cope. I was here in Northern Ireland with two sons to bring up, while all my family was over in England. My mum had just been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was pretty terrible. I was fortysomething, I had no boyfriend, no job and one monumental decision to make. Should I sell up, lock, stock and barrel after sixteen years in NI and return to the bosom of my family in England? Or should I stay put and brazen it out as best I could? I couldn’t decide on my own, it was too big a decision to make alone. So I asked the boys.
“Would you like to live in England, near grandma and grandad and all the aunties, uncles and cousins?” I asked one day, trying to make it sound as nonchalant as possible so as not to raise suspicion or cause any more unrest.
“No mummy. We can see them at holidays, but we live here,” said one. “No. This is our home,” said the other.
And that was that! At least that’s one less problem to solve. Only ninety nine left to go.
So we stayed here and brazened it out on our own, against all odds. Mum died, but on her deathbed she told me to look after the boys as best I could, because children are the most important thing to a mother. I hoped then that I’d made the right decision.
Although leaving everything behind and starting afresh would have been the simplest option to choose, the only person to benefit from that would have been me. The boys would have had to leave everything behind that they had ever known. They’d have to leave every single friend. Their dad would become a stranger. New house, new school, new town, new accents, new life, new everything. Up until then, they’d had a blissfully happy and settled childhood. If I had insisted on moving away back to my comfort zone, all that would have just become a distant memory for them.
Ten years and a lot of heartache later, I now know for certain that I’d made the right decision back then. My younger son is now an adult and all three of us survived the tricky teenage years unscathed. School’s out forever as he’s just finished his A levels and thinks he’s done well (fingers and toes crossed). He’s recently started a new summer job which he loves, while his plans to become Northern Ireland’s next Liam Neeson are on schedule with assorted acting roles lining up in quick succession. Meanwhile his elder brother has just completed his course at Queen Mary University London with flying colours, gaining a first class honours degree in English Literature. The world would now appear to be his oyster as a scholarship to study for his Masters in San Francisco is now in the offing.
As for me, I’m now fiftysomething; I’m still climbing the career ladder; I still haven’t quite settled down and the family home is falling apart at the seams as I prepare for the empty nest syndrome. But like my mum always did, I measure personal success in terms of my kids. And right now I’m the proudest mum in the world.