Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: Since the St Patrick's Day tragedy that took three young lives, all parents of teenagers have been hugging them extra tightly

Three young people lost their lives at the Co Tyrone venue
Three young people lost their lives at the Co Tyrone venue

By Kerry McLean

I've been dreading the week ahead for such a long time. Many months ago my son, who's in the last year of primary school, came and asked me if he could go on a school trip to London. At the time I remember thinking that it would be great to give him something to look forward to, a light at the end of the horrible transfer test tunnel and a special experience to share with the people in his class before he and his mates head their separate ways in September when they start big school.

So, I said yes, signed the permission slip and handed over almost enough money to pay for a family holiday to Spain. And I have regretted it ever since.

It's not the money involved that has given me second thoughts, although I confess I thought I was seeing double when so many digits appeared in the 'total cost' box. It's that I can't bear the thought of my boy travelling so far away from me that I'd have to catch a plane to reach him.

My children have travelled to far-flung countries without me before but never without a family member to watch over them.

My mum regularly springs the eldest two from the boring confines of life at home to take them with her to the Canary Islands during the half-term holidays. I know that she lets them eat chocolate and crisps for breakfast, lunch and dinner and that they're allowed to stay up as late as they want to but I also know that she would give Rambo a run for his money if anyone, or indeed anything, was to threaten their safety.

It's a big leap of faith to hand your child, the walking, talking beat of your heart into the hands of adults outside your family circle and trust that they'll be taken care of and protected in the way you would.

Don't get me wrong, my son's school is superb. It has a wonderful, caring headmaster, the teachers are fantastic and they all go above and beyond on a daily basis. I know they'll do a superb job of watching over him but it's just hard to turn off that maternal instinct to protect my babies and, instead, to let them step out into the world, literally in this case, without being by their side to catch them if they fall.

It's something all parents know we need to do, to let our children do their own thing and encourage independence along the way, but that doesn't make it any easier.

When I was just 15, not much older than my son is now, I headed off to work in France for a few weeks. My parents let me go there, having taken every precaution they could think of to make sure I was secure that summer.

My dad had accompanied me over to France, they had checked out the family I went to work for, given me an emergency pot of money to dip into if needed and, while I was there, phoned every night to check that I was safe and happy. They had done everything they could to ensure my safety but still allow me to spread my wings at the same time.

Achieving that outcome is such a tricky balancing act but it's one that all parents of teenagers attempt. I'm sure many thought they had successfully managed it last weekend when their youngsters went out to the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown.

Before leaving for that St Patrick's Day party, I've no doubt that dozens of families had the same question and answer session along the lines of, who are you going with, how are you getting there, how are you getting home and what time will you be back? Questions that you think would provide you with enough information to keep your children safe.

Sadly, after the terrible tragedy that took three young lives, we now know that not to be the case. I can't start to imagine how those parents are feeling. I only know that the whole country is heartbroken for them and that those of us with teenagers have been hugging them extra tightly since last Sunday night...

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