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Eight year old son wants to ‘suicide himself’. How would you cope?

I feel trapped. But I’m not allowed to complain, am I? I should be happy to be travelling the world with my family for a year.

I wanted to get out and experience the world, but the children won’t let me.

They take forever to get up. So I sit with a cup of tea, my phone and whatever view I have waiting for them to wake and their squabbles to begin. Knowing that suggestions for the day will be met with disproportionate and angry griping. ‘Walk into the Old City?’ we suggest. ‘Can we get a taxi?’ they ask. It’s only 2.5km along a quiet road next to the Bay of Kotor. ‘But why do we have to walk? I HATE walking. Why do we always have to do what you want to do?’ they complain. That’s only a sample and that’s only the beginning.

At 10am, and after 45mins of cajoling, they’re ready to leave the apartment. And I’ve been up since 6.30am, waiting to be out in the world.

I’d love to climb the steps to the top of the hill behind Kotor Old Town before the heat of the day kicks in. The suggestion is met with ‘Why do we have to walk to the top? I HATE walking! What’s the point? Why do we always have to do what you want to do?’

Trapped.

They’re kids.

So I acquiesce, quite happily, and spend 5 hours watching them muck about on the water. The dinghy, water guns and tiny fish keep them amused, just like kids should be. Fraser is bored and suggests going to the Old Town. It’s met with ‘Why do we ALWAYS have to do what you want to do? You’re so SELFISH!!’ An argument ensues. I send Fraser off alone, knowing that dragging the kids from their water play will make everyone miserable.

Eight year old son wants to 'suicide himself'. How would you cope? by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Five hours of water play in Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Balancing everyone’s ideal activities

I feel for Fraser. I understand every point he’s made about balancing everyone’s ideal activities. But the kids were desperately trying to save ‘their’ time. I phone him, knowing it’s the only way to have a conversation without the kids butting in. We agree that somehow we need to encourage them to be more considerate. Seriously. Anyone got any ideas on how to do that? Seems fucking impossible.

Fraser and me are both horribly frustrated at the restrictions these kids create. We are doing our best between accommodating their wishes, understanding their limits, encouraging them to do it anyway, and just dragging them along.

What is wrong with our parenting?

Why are these boys not bouncing from one discovery (however small) to the next?

I’d love to go out for an evening stroll along the bay to watch the lights across the water and the sky change colour. But the kids had a shower after their water play and refused to get dressed. I can’t face the rigmarole of getting them ready. I can’t muster the energy to encourage them into going for a walk, again.

I go to bed early instead. A quote looms large in my head and makes me feel small. Useless. Heartbroken. ‘Live each day like it’s your last.’

I wish I could. I tried to make it happen. Really I did. But these kids won’t let me.


The following morning, on looking at a cloudy sky, we decided to climb the steep fortress steps above the Old Town of Kotor. Robert was not happy again and had yet another meltdown.

Shouting at him, cajoling him, enticing him with promises, distraction, rationale, even man-handling him, discipline and confiscation, does nothing to stop the frequency or duration of the tantrums. I truly cannot fathom how they’re triggered.

Today, he shut himself in the wardrobe

I sat by the door, just so he knew I was there. Every word I say is chosen with the utmost care, or he cranks it up another level. My approach is to say as little as possible so there’s less for him to argue with. He ‘hated himself’ and ‘hates being happy’. I responded with anguish, ‘I just want to go out’, I cried, ‘I just want to walk up a hill. Please, Robert, please.’

Eventually, he left the wardrobe. When he had one shoe on, I dared to think we were getting somewhere. When he asked me for paper and a pen, I got them. See what he wrote, below.

Eight year old son wants to 'suicide himself'. How would you cope? by Ruth McAllister Kemp
It says ‘dear ruth, im sorry to say that i hate you and you have lost your son for ever. im planing dying on my birthday. from robert’
It’s not the first time he’s talked about suicide

The last time, we were walking in Budapest (after another meltdown) when he asked me (and Fraser) about suicide. Why? How? When? I did my best not to overreact. Stayed calm. Gave information. I shared with him how two of my girlfriends felt alone when her dad and her mum committed suicide. ‘I don’t want you to leave us,’ I simply said.

I told him I loved him, no matter what he does or who he is.

He got the other shoe on. We got a taxi. We climbed the hill. It was hot. He moaned. But we did it. We saw goats, pomegranates growing on the trees and the bay stretched before us.

Eight year old son wants to 'suicide himself'. How would you cope? by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Thomas with a cruise ship in his grasp
Eight year old son wants to 'suicide himself'. How would you cope? by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Climbing the steps above Kotor Old Town, Montenegro
Robert-Kotor-Church
Robert in the doorway of a derelict church

On getting home, he crossed out his note from earlier and wrote ‘not true LIE’.


This evening we managed the walk along the bay. Robert held my hand. Thomas did too. I won two teddies on a grabber machine. Thomas chatted about school. Robert kissed me. We may be bobbing back to the top (again) after scraping rock bottom (again). I love these kids beyond beyondness and back, no matter the heartache they cause.

I would love to hear your stories of kiddie holiday despair and any tips you have for dealing with it. I know I’m not alone.

August 19, 2016
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10 comments

It’s so painful isn’t it? We have the same thing – well OK not the suicide conversations but certainly proper screaming and arguing over suggestions of leaving the house – here on holiday in France. It’s OK here in the place we’ve been coming to for the last 5 years but I’m dreading next week in a new place where by all accounts all there is to do is to visit pretty villages – what’s the point in that for a 10- and 9-year-old?! Sometimes we resort to bribes. Or pointing out that their favourite treats to eat wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for that hated shopping trip… I am working on a theory about how little in their lives they are in control of, and how fighting back is just a way of showing their dissatisfaction at being so rarely in charge. Goodness only knows…xx

This is a one of the most honest blogs I have read. Thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I have been having similar conversations about ‘feeling trapped’ and that kids don’t want to do anything and get excited about nothing unless it is exactly what they want to do. It seems like if it not delivered on a platter it is not worth having/doing. I certainly don’t remember behaving like this as a child. I do think however looking back at my childhood, my parents just let us play, swim and basically get on with what we wanted do to. I think we as parents put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have the perfect day out/holiday/cycle and we should put less pressure on ourselves. Travelling with the family must come with its own stresses and strains. Maybe have a ‘holiday’ within your holiday? Take off for a few hours on your own and hubby does the same. I’m afraid I can’t help you much on the mental state of your son other than to say I have a similar age son and they are somewhat tricky at the moment!

Dear Ruth, you need to remember that the children won’t be children forever and enjoy each other in every moment, good or not. You could try having a day or half day each choosing what to do in a bid to keep everyone happy. And hold on to the thought that you and Fraser can go off exploring again later in the future when the boys are occupied elsewhere. Keep the lines of communication open and I am sure you are doing a good job. Go out early in the mornings on your own if you need to. Love you. Sam x x x

Our day started today with ‘I’m staying here, visiting a castle is soooo boring!’. He eventually relented and joined us. We ignored the protests and just carried on with our plan (no choice involved and faced a barrage of ‘you can be such a horrible mummy’ to which I replied ‘I know!’. 2 hrs later we exited the castle. ‘How was that?’ I asked. ‘Really good!’ He replied. I didn’t go on about it but frequently we face the boredom comments. Afterwards we visited a vintage market. ‘Why are we going there?’ I replied ‘sometimes we do things that other people like doing!’. 30 mins later he had found a stash of beano comics, was bargaining with the shop to buy them and came out a happy boy! I don’t think we ever fully understand their young brains but I do think it’s about having some control. The castle had loads of activities on so captured his imagination and he could choose what to do, the market allowed him to spend his pocket money and again determine an outcome totally suited to him. You are not alone Ruth though and I can totally see how frustrating it is. I suppose when I travelled I had no one else to share my experiences with, except new friends. That could be uncomfortable. Your time may be frustrating together but I am sure as you find your rhythm it will get easier. I hope so. Big hugs xx

Oh Ruth, how difficult it must be for you all. Forgive me if I state the obvious, but at their age the boys can’t see far beyond the next few hours, there is no bigger picture for them. When we were children my brother and I were dragged around countless villages in the Yorkshire Dales, or castles, or cathedrals, because that’s what my parents wanted to do. I just wanted to play cricket or football on the beach or in the garden, or make a model aeroplane. There was no discussion, no debate. We just got in the car and went. And I’ve spent the rest of my life being considered the “awkward one” because of my reluctance to join in and my determination not to enjoy myself when I was young.

Your boys’ horizons are so much shorter than yours and they have no appreciation of the ability to look back afterwards and remember good times and wonderful places and opportunities. That will all come later.

You’re trying your hardest, doing your best and doing everything for the best of reasons, because as parents that’s what we do. But the boys don’t know that yet. All you can do is what you’re already doing. Be patient no matter what. Always show them that you love them, and that you want them to enjoy this voyage. Somehow, they have to understand that mum and dad need to enjoy the voyage too, and that all four of you are discovering new things and new experiences. So sometimes they have to do grown up things, and sometimes, you need to do routine growing up boy stuff.

I know you know all of this already, but when we can’t see the wood for the trees, sometimes we need to be reminded.

One day they’ll know they’ve had the most wonderful opportunity, and they’ll look back at all the good stuff and be grateful. And they’ll know that it was you and Fraser who gave them the opportunity to have a whole bunch of experiences that few of their friends will ever have, and that even fewer will share with their parents. So stick at it, no matter how hard it seems, because what you’re doing, what you’re giving your boys and yourselves, is (amongst many other things) both wonderful and worthwhile.

I remember being bored and frustrated in London once with Mum, Dad was working and we had gone on the train with him – and in Marks and Spencer’s I made a bit of scene. Mum grabbed me and whisked me out of the shop (embarrassing!) and told me how selfish I was being, and that didn’t she deserve some time too? Although I stayed silent and petulant for a while I do remember that it struck a chord with me, and I remember how ashamed I felt at my ungratefulness. Obviously I didn’t tell her any of that at the time! I was probably about 10.

I wish I had something constructive for you, but I really hope you all manage to learn how to balance your time X

Thank you for sharing the raw, unfiltered emotions in your heart, Ruth. I just watched my three young grandchildren today and they just never seem to be happy with what is put in front of them or with what they’re doing. Their attention spans are very short. They are not happy until they get their way. My thought is the screens they all look at, computer, tv, iPad, etc. Everything is so fast now that they are bored with “real” life. I think kids need to learn how to deal with boredom. Boredom can breed creativity, so let them be bored. We cater to our children way too much. This message is not about you and Fraser, it’s about a generation. Because we love them and we want them to be happy, we give into their every want and need. What happened to parents saying, “I’m the parent, you’re the child. This is not a democracy, this is what we’re doing. Period.” You’re right about not being alone. Also, I always heard if your child tells you they hate you, you’re doing something right. Okay, enough blathering. Here’s Tom’s two cents, he said to hire a nanny. You and Fraser can go out and about and enjoy yourselves! Hang in there love! Also, one more thing, I wouldn’t worry too much about him saying he wants to die. I wouldn’t discount it completely, but a lot of kids growing up will yell, “I just want to die!!” because they’re angry and not getting their way. My kids always wanted to run away. Be well, drink up! 🙂

Oh Ruth. Dont despair. I cannot offer any wise words or comparisons, other than to say, I think what you`re doing is amazing. It is surely no mean feat. Its early days and Im sure the boys miss everything they`ve ever known.But its early days. They will soon realise the balance of missing familiarity with the wonder and beauty of the world. Maybe its a case of investing in their future. They may not realise it now, but in a few years they will understand the value of the opportunity you afforded them with…Bless you….Love and hugs…Darren xxx

This strategy may or may not help. When we were touring around Canada I organised for 3 days in each place (except for a few dull travel days). Each time we got to a new place I showed the kids a list of the things that people tended to do there. We each (all four of us) have a coloured pen, and we all choose three things on the list that we like the idea of. I then tried to weave these into a plan for the days. The kids needed that security of knowing the future, and got a sense of control.

Also, what you as parents suffer now may not be what your kids remember. I remember being just as grumpy when, between the ages of 10 and 16, I was “made” each year to go to the Far East for a month with the family, when my dad worked the Christmas season there. I was so very horrid to my folks. These tales of the Far East are now the ones I think of with excitement and joy, and what make me crave travelling.

Keep onwards and upwards xx

Hi Ruth I’m sure it would be like this for most of us if we spent each day for a year with our kids!
In your first para you suggest walking to old town. Maybe not suggest but tell them that’s what you are going to do and also they get to choose one thing to do that day too.
That way they learn about democracy and working in a team! It’s like a power struggle, with our kids as they grow and find their own voices but personally I believe they like boundaries and plans.
Put yourself first at some stage each and every day, then maybe you’ll feel like a box has been ticked/happy which will make you feel happy to do what they want too.
I’m sure you’re doing great! Enjoy the trip! x

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