This is probably the hardest blog post I’ll write.
The reason I’m doing this blog is because I want to write. I have always wanted to be a writer. I have always loved books. I have read books that have literally changed my life and the books I read as a child and then a young adult shaped my world and the way I viewed the world. To be able to write a book and send it into the world and have someone read it and be moved by it would be the ultimate accomplishment. To be able to write something that touches someone’s heart and makes an impact on them even if it is only one person, that would be enough.
So that brings me back to this.
I have read a lot about writing over the years and the one thing that really stuck with me was that you have to write what you know. What I know is my childhood and my life. Then the difficult bit. How honest to be. How far to put myself out there. I have wanted to write about my childhood for nearly 20 years but have always been too afraid.
I’m going to be forty this year. If ever there was a time to be brave its now surely?
Our parenting style is heavily influenced by the way we are brought up. We either swear to do it completely differently to the way our parents did it or we want to be the parents for our children that ours were for us. I’m in the first camp. My parents were so messed up. I couldn’t think of two less suitable people to put in charge of children. Like asking two toddlers to organise a school trip. Reader, that may sound harsh but read on.
When I was nine years old I read a book called “It’s Not the End of the World” by Judy Blume. The book was about a young girls parents who were getting divorced. I didn’t really understand what divorce was just that it was a terrible thing and the girl in the book clearly did think it was the end of the world. Sometime later my mummy asked me to go shopping with her into the city. I was still nine years old, the same age my daughter is now. This was the day that changed my whole life. My mummy sat me down on a bench in the shopping precinct, burst into tears and asked me if was okay if she left my Daddy. I was terrified. The girl in the books world had ended when her parents split up. I loved my Mummy and my Daddy. I didn’t want to have to choose who to live with. I was frightened. I burst into tears and told my Mummy that I didn’t want my parents to split up.
They didn’t split up, then.
Every day that followed that day at the shopping precinct and everything that happened therafther was my fault. When my mother became so depressed that she attempted suicide that was my fault “because you didn’t let me leave your father when I wanted to”. Anything that didn’t go right was my fault because I did not give her permission that day to end her marriage . I made a decision that I was not emotionally or mentally mature enough or prepared for. It’s not for children to worry about adult matters.
I understand mental health, I’ve had mental health issues but there is a difference between illness and responsibility. I have been ill in the past. Mental illness and relinquishing all responsibility for your behaviour are different. Don’t misunderstand me, if you don’t have capacity to make your own decisions I’m not condemning you.
What my 39 year-old self is able to rationalise is that this wasn’t personal. This and other things that happened was the behaviour of someone who was a damaged child who happened to grow up and have children of their own.
I can’t take it personally. I won’t take it personally. Not anymore. There it is. It’s out there.
I started writing my story about fifteen years ago and I showed it to a friend, her response “it’s a bit bleak”. It crippled my confidence and I stopped writing. She was right though, it was bleak but all these years later I’ve come to realise that some stories are just bleak. Some times stories just are awful and there is no twist or one liner that comes at the end to save everyone from awkwardness, that satisfies everyone and makes everyone feel okay.
Most of the time when I’m sharing one of the many awful things that have happened to me I’m able to use my dark humour to make sure everyone is able to laugh at the end. It’s not because I think it’s funny or because I’m okay with what happened to me. Mostly it’s to make sure everyone is okay with what they heard and a bit less uncomfortable. Mostly because I’m afraid of judgement. Bring perceived as weak or as a victim.
Uncomfortable things happen all the time. I think trying to be comfortable all the time is a big mistake. Comfortable means you don’t try and change anything, you don’t take action against injustice. Comfortable means you don’t develop as a person. You get stuck. I think we need to face it down. To look uncomfortable in the eye and say “I feel you”.
Don’t get me wrong my sense of humour has been my most used weapon and defence in my mental and emotional arsenal. I’m a huge believer in laughter is the best medicine and all that. My sense of humour has powered me through many a dark day. What I am going to do now though is tell my story honestly and unapologetically. Parts of it will make for deeply uncomfortable reading but its my story and to try and cover it with a nice sheen would be dishonest and misleading. To quote the fabulous Albin Mougette “I am What I am”
Bringing up kids on your own is like trying to herd cats whilst wearing a blindfold after someone has spun you around a few times.
One of the hardest things about being a single mum to a boy in adolescence was the stage where he was bigger than me physically and began to try and dominate me. Not physically dominate but wanting to have the last word and tell me how it was going to be. It was a tough time for both of us from about 14 onwards. He was a boy (not yet a man, im singing Britney in my head) pushing the boundaries as all kids do and trying to be the man of the house. Kids take the piss, but only if you let them. There was a constant power struggle and it was absolutely exhausting. I couldn’t physically dominate him. Long gone were the days I could catch him to give him a swift slap. I thought, this is the crossroads. This is the bit where I either do battle every day to maintain my position or I give in.
I’ve always the thought that it was important to let kids be kids and if you let them be adults before they’re ready that’s when it can all go tits up. If I let him ride rough shod all over me I’ve lost it. I’ve lost him, I’ve lost his respect and I’ve lost any chance of keeping him on the straight and narrow when he needs it the most. So we duelled. Daily. He had to know that I was in charge and it was safe for him to be the kid.
This also meant I had come up with new punishments. They reach an age where they aren’t afraid you of so you have to make them afraid of the sanction. Parenting on your own means you always have to think on your feet and become more ingenious and creative.
Obviously any parent these days will know that he who pays the WiFi bill is King. Revoking internet rights was my go to punishment for a long time. My son however, is to arguing what an ultra runner is to marathons. He has stamina, energy and a determination to continue a row to the death if needs be. I would end up going from threatening to turn off the WiFi for a day, to two days to a week to a month in the space of five sentences, he would counter with “I don’t even care” to which I would scream “FINE, TWO MONTHS THEN!!!” and the row would end with us sweating and red faced like two ancient gladiators.
However he got so used to not having WiFi and as with any overused punishment it began to lose its effect. Forced to be creative and also not one willing to concede a fight, I battled on.
I breastfed all my kids and the one threat that served me well for many years was “you do that again and I’m going to tell all your friends that you used to suck my tits”
My son hit his 18th birthday a few weeks ago .Excitement for him . Relief for me. Me and his father split when I was pregnant with him and I was 21 . I can’t in all honesty say I raised him on my own. I have very good friends who had a hand in his upbringing and his Dad was there at the end of the phone to rant at. However, I did the majority of the parenting, a lot of it badly.
At 21 I felt mature enough and ready to be a mum . I didn’t have a clue. The mistakes I’ve made over the last 18 years still make me cringe when I think about them now. My son, now 18 is the product of years of unconditional love, tears, frustration, moments of heart bursting pride and pure fury. So, when he made it to 18 it was a celebration for him and a hugely emotional time for me . That despite all those mistakes and moments of bad judgement we managed to make it to 18 without any drugs, alcohol (mother’s denial) theft, police or bunking off school .I managed to produce a well rounded half decent human being with a good chance at going to University .
Then I woke up the day after his 18th and realised it wasn’t over. I was expecting an “you’re on your own now kid” type transition . Nope. Not a chance. It’s like getting to retirement and on your last day someone tells you you’ve actually got another 5 years left.