Belfast Telegraph

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Special mother and son close bond

Many boys today grow up with mums who have high-powered jobs, so how does that impact upon their relationship? Karen Ireland talks to three successful Northern Ireland women about family life

As new generations of women have become more empowered in the workplace, filling top jobs, their sons have grown up with a very different kind of female role model. For many, the day involves juggling their career with bringing up a family. Are their sons inspired by these go-getting mums? Or do they feel they'd like to spend more time with them? We talk to three female personalities who have sons and discuss how their careers and attitudes have shaped these young men.

‘We talk for hours and I know about their lives and friends’

Ashley Bradley (48) runs a printing business for her 50-year-old artist husband Terry Bradley's work. The couple live just outside Cloughy and have three children, Zak (16), Hal (14) and Ella (12). She says:

I definitely have a close mother/son bond with my two boys. They talk to me all the time and I think boys do need their mums in a different way from girls.

Zak has already left school and is doing electrical engineering at tech.

Because my husband Terry spends so much time working in the studio, it is very often just the kids and I.

While we are all close, the boys are different - they are very loving and affectionate towards me.

The boys and I tend to do most of our talking in the car as I ferry them to school and sporting activities. They seem happy to talk to me about anything. Maybe I'm just a nosey mum - but we talk for hours and I know all about their friends and what is going on in their lives.

Zak is very practical and I rely on him a lot in the business. He helps out with IT - computers, printers and anything technical.

Hal is more academic and we talk about books and literature. He hopes to go on to study law.

While we are open with each other, though, they know I am the boss in our house. Unless they get a yes from me it isn't happening and they are aware of that. So they've definitely grown up with a strong female role model.

From watching Terry and I, the boys know that you have to work hard to succeed in life. I've taught them to be independent and make sure they do housework like vacuum cleaning, keeping their rooms tidy and bringing in coal for the fire.

I don't have the time to do everything and I wouldn't be doing them any favours if I did.

Both Zak and Hal have been taught to be respectful of women. They see this attitude in their father, Terry, who admires strong women.

While Terry is a well-known and successful artist, the boys have watched me build my side of the business, which is very much my thing. I wanted something for me and work hard at making it a success - and they see that.

They know I used to be a medical photographer and have always worked.

We both want them to find careers which they will enjoy, as they could be doing it for a long time.

They have seen Terry and I work hard at our marriage and stay together through thick and thin, even though we are not a conventional couple all the time. We often live in different houses, so we've spent time together and apart - but it works for us. Terry and I have been together for 30 years, so something is working."

‘When life was bad, Ben was why I got up in the mornings’

Lisa Flavelle (43) is a presenter and director with the new station 89FM. She lives in Belfast with her son Ben (18) and daughter Rosa (8) from her first marriage. She has a long-term partner Lyndon Stephens, owner of Quiet Arch Media. She says:

W hen my daughter Rosa was just one-year-old, I separated from my ex-husband. At the time, my mum had just died and I had lost my job, so it was an extremely difficult period of my life.

My son Ben, though, was my saving grace. He was the reason I got up in the morning. While he didn't become the man of the house - he was only 10 at the time - he did become the centre of my world.

Having Ben helped me turn life around for all of us. Before I had him I had been very focused on my career, working as head of programming in Citybeat and then in Downtown Radio as a presenter.

But circumstances forced me to take a step back and my children became my priority. Because I was on my own with them, it was up to me to keep them safe, content and provided for.

I went back to work as a lecturer at Belfast Met and the flexibility allowed me to be at home more often.

Ben and I became very close during this time - he was a very laid back child and was never difficult.

I think, as a son, he just wanted to please me and ensure I was happy.

We would talk a lot and he came to me and talked about his friends and what was going on his life.

Probably not surprisingly, we have a shared passion for music and he loved being around the studio. He got his first drum kit when he was two and is now studying an extended music diploma and wants to become a musician.

Even though he's an adult now, Ben is still very affectionate and throws his arms around me and tells me he loves me all the time.

He was very proud of me when we got 89FM up and running because he sent me a note to say so.

As a mum, it is difficult to see your wee boy growing up into a young man. I have to admit it is a big shock when your son brings home a girl for the first time - suddenly there is another woman in his life who is the centre of his attention and affection. It's something which takes a while to get used to.

Ben was obsessed with music for so long, it took him a while to see past his guitar and notice girls, but he does have a girlfriend now.

Now I have a serious partner, but introducing Lyndon to the children was a slow process.

I wanted to make sure they were ready to see me with someone else. Ben and Lyndon have so much in common, though, as he is a music producer and manager, so they have plenty to talk about.

They are friends which is lovely for me and I think, ultimately, Ben was just glad to see me happy.

Ben wants to travel the world and work as a musician and I have to prepare myself for letting him go. Wherever he ends up in the world, though, we will still be close and our bond is unbreakable."

'It's strange when your boy starts to bring girls home'

Jacqui Berkeley (59), researcher and programme developer with BBC, lives in Belfast with her husband, David Thompson (60), a business consultant. They have four children, Jess (32), John (30), James (27) and William (22). She says:

Growing up I was one of three girls and then I had my first child - it was a girl - so all I knew was girls and a pink world.

When I had my son John, I was in complete shock. I thought, 'I'll never know what to do with a boy. This is all alien to me'.

But I was also surprised at how proud I felt to be mother to my own wee boy. I was bursting with pride and love - it was overwhelming.

John seemed to get away with more growing up - as did the other boys. Poor Jess had to toe the line and be good all the time, but when the boys were messing around, they were 'cute' and 'cheeky' and it was all part of their characters.

It sounds cliched as all children are different, but the bond you feel with a son is different to that with a daughter.

I am extremely close to all my children. Jess and I spend a lot of time together, she is my world and she has a two-year-old son, Arthur, and another on the way in a couple of weeks, and I love being a granny.

When it comes to my boys, though, I do have a different relationship as they have always looked out for me. They are protective of me and seem to be able to read my mood and respond to that. While the children are all scattered across the UK, the boys definitely check in and ring me more often for long chats.

Growing up, I know the boys wanted to please me. If they did well at sport or school, they couldn't wait to get home and tell me all about it.

Jess was, and still is, a real daddy's girl, while my boys are the ones who tell me I am wonderful and how much they love me.

The strangest thing is when your 'wee son' starts to bring girls home and show an interest in another woman other than their mum.

That is a weird situation at the start and yes, you do feel pushed out a bit, even though all you want is them to settle down, meet someone and be happy.

David and I have been married for 33 years and I want long, happy marriages for all my children.

When it actually happens with the boys, I couldn't help feeling, 'I thought I was the only woman in his life'? Now, of course, I love my sons' other halves and they are part of our family.

Years ago, it used to be about their friends, sport and their interests, now we talk about TV programmes they think I should watch and books they think I should read. They are my guide to what is cool.

If Jess has a daughter in a few weeks, she will be the first girl David and I have had in our lives since she was born 32 years ago. So that will be wonderful, too, after so many boys."

'Since the split, they've kept me going'

Writer Karen Ireland, (44), who lives in Donaghcloney, is mum to three boys, Jesse (16), Korey (14 and Teo (11). She says:

As a mum of three boys - Jesse, Korey and Teo, the one thing I always thought was missing from my life, just like Victoria Beckham until she had Harper, was a daughter.

Don't get me wrong, I love each of my boys with all of my heart and wouldn't change them for the world, but my mum died was I was young and she was my best friend.

I wanted to replicate that relationship and have someone to go shopping with and have girlie giggles, lunches and days out.

However, as my sons reach certain stages in life and I look from the sidelines at friends who have daughters the same age, I'm now pretty content with my lot. I'm not sure I could cope with a girl.

Boys are definitely less complicated. What you see is very much what you get.

There is no hidden agenda, sneakiness or secretiveness. They tell it like it is.

I love my life surrounded by my three boys. They are like one huge security blanket which wraps around me and keeps me safe and sane. Over the past 18 months they have been my lifeline. Since their father and I separated after almost 20 years of marriage, they have been the ones who have kept me going.

Suddenly, after being part of a couple for 21-plus years, I was on my own.

Except I wasn't. My boys pulled me through and rooted for me every step of the way.

From finding a new place to live, to facing the world and finding an identity as a single person again, they were there.

My strength on days when I just wanted to crawl back into bed and see no one, do nothing, came from them. They were the reason I got up each morning.

Jesse did take on a new role as the man of the house and I found myself talking to him on a new level.

While I had a lot of support from good friends and family, for the most part it was just me and the boys. So I would talk to them about stuff.

Every decision, from the home we would live in to bed linen for their rooms, was made together and along the way special and unique bonds developed with each of them.

Jesse took on a mature role, becoming my sounding board. Meanwhile, Korey was ever the peace maker, keeping everyone calm during some difficult times.

Teo, who was still too young to take it all in, was there to make us all laugh.

Would things have been different if I had a daughter to talk to? I really don't think so.

I had and have all I need in my boys.

When slowly I returned to being a human being again and even dipped my toe in the scary waters of the dating pool with a few dates, it was Jesse I went to for advice and he who humorously berated me when I came in too late from several of said dates.

My boys are my life and I get all the love and affection I need from them.

I think the bond between mother and son is a unique one.

We laugh a lot together now and try to have family time when we all sit down together to have dinner or watch a movie.

And yes, from time to time, I can drag them out and they will go shopping with me.

As teenagers, the older two have been known to disappear into their "man caves" and only appear when it is time to eat or go to school.

But we have still managed to check in on each other and make sure everyone is okay.

The odd grunt or "I love you mum" going out the door is good enough for me.

The boys know I have a strong faith and that has kept me going too, and I do think they are proud of me and know that I work hard to provide for them, and will always put them first.

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