Tomorrow you’re going to get your GCSE results.
I can still vividly recall the day you started school nursery. I left you at nursery and I cried as I walked back to the car. I remember having to scrub at my face once I got to work because I’d gone full on panda with the smudged eyeliner and mascara and I looked a total state (nothing new there then, I hear you say!). You were so little. Your book bag seemed so big as you held it in your chubby little hands so proudly. You longed to be a ‘big boy’ and go to ‘big boy’ school, and now, within what seems like a blink of an eye, you’ve come to the end of your school journey.
I went to every single Parents Evening bar one. On that one occasion, I’d just been discharged from hospital after having your baby sister and Dad went instead (because I don’t think you’d have appreciated me rocking up at your school in my Christmas slippers and maternity PJs complete with baby vomit on the shoulder). And do you know what? On every single occasion, and I mean EVERY single occasion, your Teachers told me how bright you were, how clever you were, how you were exceeding all expectations. I would leave, every single time, basking both in glorious pride, and utter confusion at how your Dad and I were able to produce such an intelligent young man.
And you remain that intelligent, clever, smart young man today. Guess what? This time tomorrow, regardless of what that piece of paper says, you’ll still be that smart boy that you are today. That piece of paper could tell you that you’ve failed every exam and it still won’t change the fact that you are what you are. You will be tomorrow, everything that you are today. And today you stand in front of me as a smart, clever, articulate, curious, gentle, kind, compassionate and sensitive human being. A few numbers on a bit of paper doesn’t change that.
The exams were tough for you. I know that. You have been suffering with anxiety for a number of years but it was really heightened around the time of the exams. I know you felt the pressure. It didn’t matter how many times we told you that you can only do your best and that we’d be proud of you regardless, you still looked like you were carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders every single day as you left the house for school. From conversations we have had over the summer, I know you feel you haven’t done well. You aren’t expecting big things tomorrow morning. And whether you’re wrong or you’re right, I wanted to write this letter to say that, either way, it really is alright. (FYI I’ve told you this in person on many occasions but I think you listen to perhaps 0.5% of what I say to you (apart from where conversations involve food or pocket money…) so I thought I’d pop it in writing for you too 😉 )
You could never disappoint us. You could flunk every exam and I would still be bursting with pride – do you want to know why? Because you are a special human. Your sensitive nature and your kindness and compassion means more than exam results. You are resilient; you have suffered bullying for many years at school and you struggle with anxiety – yet you still got up every morning and went to school. You still went and sat those exams, even though the anxiety was making you feel physically sick to the stomach. You are so patient and so understanding. You have a (very demanding…) little sister and you have a Mum who isn’t always on the top of her game health wise. You are such a good help in both respects – if you see me struggling, you help without even needing to be asked. You know the difference between right and wrong and will challenge something if you think it is unfair or unjust. Finally, you have the biggest heart. You are the most wonderful son and brother.
And, you see, in a world where there is so much darkness and hate going on in society at the moment, it is these things the world needs more than anything. The world needs more kindness, more love, more compassion. The world needs more people who know right from wrong. The world needs people with big hearts. These are the things that matter. Yes, it would be lovely for you to achieve what your Teachers have predicted you in your GCSEs, I would like that for you too; but you have to remember that you already have inside of you what really matters – and whatever tomorrow brings cannot and will not change that.
As for where your future will go, certain steps are impacted by what is written on that paper tomorrow. You might get what you need to do the A Levels you want to do. You might not. Regardless, we will find a way. If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t go to, well, ‘plan’, then we’ll make a Plan B. One way or another, we will find a way and you need to trust that whatever happens tomorrow will lead you to being exactly where you need to be. I know you have big dreams and ambitions and I truly believe that you have everything you need and more in you to achieve them. The path to get there could take many possible forms. It might be exactly what you expected, or that path might need to take a slightly different route. It doesn’t matter though, because once you arrive at your destination, nobody is going to ask you how you got there. Because you got there. And that’s all that matters.
As your Mum, what I want for you way more than any academic qualifications or big ambitions realised, is happiness. If you’re happy, then I am happy. And I mean that. Your happiness was stolen from you for a number of years and it broke my heart every single day to see you so sad. In the nicest possible way, I don’t care what you end up studying, or where (disclaimer: I’m lying. I’d like you to stay as close to home as possible please!!), what you end up doing for a living, or where your future takes you; all I care about is that you are happy.
Whatever tomorrow brings, please just remember that I could not be any more prouder of you. You have everything in you already that you need to succeed, in whatever you decide to pursue. You are a truly beautiful human being and you will never know the joy and pride you have brought me over the last sixteen years.
I automatically wanted to sign off with ‘Good Luck’ but I changed my mind, you don’t need it. You, my lovely boy, are going to be just fine.
An exciting path awaits for you regardless.
Us ladies like to have a bit of a grumble about the men in our lives – whether it’s our Dad, Husband, Boyfriend, Brother – whoever. If they are male, quite usually we’ll have something to say about them. It might be their inability to distinguish the washing machine from the dishwasher or their inability to ask for directions when they get lost (Heaven forbid we even admit we’re lost, right lads?) or maybe their unwillingness to open up on an emotional level – we do like to point out their faults and have a good chat about them.
I see it on social media a lot. And in the press. All the whole world over there’s women with something to say about the men in their life and I get it. There are plenty wrong’uns out there. I’ve been there and got the T-shirt. Over the years I’ve had my fair share to say about certain men too. But that’s why it’s so important to celebrate the men I have in my life now because they have proven to me that not all men are the same and, as much as there may be plenty frogs out there, there are definite Princes too if you look hard enough.
I’ve made no secret of the relationship I had with my birth father (or lack of!). I’m absolutely sure back in the day that my mum met up with her girlfriends, had coffee (or maybe wine. Yes, definitely wine.) and had a good old grumble about my ‘Dad’. And she would have been thoroughly justified. He was a crappy Dad (a totally absent one at that), he was an alcoholic, he never came home when he said he was going to and when he did he could be vile to my mum. He was my first experience of what a man was. So, as you can imagine, I had a bit of an underwhelming start on the ‘men’ front.
When I started dating I went straight in to a long term relationship that was all wrong for me. I ended up in a downward spiral with my mental health, feeling trapped with an older man at the age of 17, who treat me like the brown stuff. I lost my own identity. I lost a sense of who I was. He controlled me. He had all the power. I lived with him so I had no breathing space and, at the time it felt like, I had no way out. I left college, I didn’t have much contact with my family or friends, I was isolated and stuck in the house day in and day out. I remember not even being aware of whether the clothing I was wearing was clean or dirty, or when the last time I showered or washed my hair. I was in deep with depression and the man I was with not only instigated that depression but fuelled it deeper with every single day I was with him. I was told to believe that nobody else would want me. Imagine believing at just 17 or 18 your future was in the hands of this one man because nobody else could ever possibly find you attractive or want to love you. That was me.
So, you could say, a theme was developing here. I’m not sure where all the good guys were at this point in my life but I’m pretty sure I didn’t believe they existed. Maybe there was some Law of Attraction shizzle going down that I wasn’t aware of. Damn. That’s why the universe kept delivering me shit men.
When I finally got out of that relationship a little over three years later (I could cry on the spot at the fact I lost so many years to that man) I found myself desperate to be loved in a bid to prove to myself that ‘he’ was wrong. He told me nobody else would want me or could love me. So I put myself out there. Maybe a little too much. I would go out four, five nights a week with the sole intention of finding a man for attention. I didn’t realise that at the time but looking back, deep down, that’s exactly what I was looking for. I’m actually ashamed of the way I put myself out there at the time. I had zero self respect and I’m sure I don’t need to explain the sort of men that attracted. I was used by every single one of them. Some of them used me for one night. Some hung on longer and used me for a little bit longer. One kept me within his clutches for months; he was a serial womaniser and I was one of a few, I’m sure. Yet there I’d be, waiting for him at the end of the night, because he showed me some sort of attention. I confused sex with love. Now I have a daughter of my own I look back on my behaviour at that time in my life and the risks I took and it knocks my stomach sick. It’s a time in my life I don’t like to talk about, but as much as I hate who I was then and what I did, it is part of the journey I was on to get to where I am now.
My mum remarried and once I got over the initial years of the ‘You can’t tell me what to do’ rebellion, I began to see how that man differed to my birth dad. He was present for a start. Just by simply being there he was winning! He took on two children that weren’t his own, he took me out when I was learning to drive, he gave me my first car, he got in an over protective (but equally lovely) tizz when I invited a boy in to my bedroom. More than anything he treat my mum with respect. This wasn’t something I’d seen before. This man is now who I consider my Dad. My only Dad. The only Dad that matters. His parents became our Grandparents and his father is a true old style traditional Gentleman. Even now at 95 he will ensure doors are held open for me, he will open the car door for me, he’ll hold an umbrella over me in the rain. He is, on every level, a true gent.
These two men were fundamental to my realisation that there were good men out there. I didn’t have to settle for a wrong’un because there was more than that out there for me and I deserved that. I met my husband and knew from the second our eyes locked across a crowded bar on Christmas Eve that I would marry him. I remember going to my Mum’s the following day on Christmas Day and telling her that I’d met the man I was going to marry the night before. I just knew it. It was in his eyes. Our relationship developed at the speed of light. People disapproved. Said it was too quick, we were too young. We probably were a little young but I can’t explain it any better than I just knew he was the one. We got engaged three months after meeting one another, we bought a house together a month later and by month 5 we were expecting our son. Fast forward seventeen years and here we still are, stronger than ever. It’s no fairytale though. I don’t believe those exist outside of Magic Kingdom. No marriage is perfect. My husband is my soul mate but even soul mates have their challenges. We’ve had times in our marriage that have really tested us and I’m not ashamed to admit it. We were still growing up when we met and over the years we have both grown in to people that are very different to those that first met in that bar. There were times when it could have gone either way to be honest. But we chose each other. We chose to work harder and to make it work. And thank God we did because he is everything to me. He’s a beautiful person and he makes me feel like I’m the centre of his world (apart from when Match of the Day is on, then Newcastle United are the centre of his world but, you know, you can’t have everything…). We have our arguments and our disagreements but we have a solid foundation of love and he is a good man. One of the best. He’s stood by me through illness, both physical and mental. He’s sacrificed his own career for me. He’s lost touch with his family because they didn’t support his relationship with me. He is the love of my life and I am beyond grateful for every day I get to spend by his side.
Then there’s my son. He’s sixteen (and still growing…). He suffers with crippling anxiety but I am so proud of how sensitive he is to the feelings of other people. He is thoughtful and kind. He’ll go out with his mates to town and he’ll come back having spent his pocket money on a Peppa Pig soft toy for his little sister. When I’m having a bad day, he gives me love. I swear a cuddle from him and the world is instantly a better place. He still holds my hand sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a teenager and we’re at loggerheads most of the time, but he has all the makings for being a good man. And with the role models he has around him, all the good guys that we have surrounding us, he can’t go wrong.
So, you see, I got off to a bad start. I believed that all men were bastards. But when I started to believe I deserved more and I deserved better, I was shown that good men do exist and I’m so grateful for the men I now have in my life.
So, yeah, we can all have a grumble about men. And some of those grumbles are wholly justified because some of them around are just plain shitty. But they aren’t all like that. They can’t and shouldn’t all be judged by the shitty actions of a few. Good men do exist.
To Gramps, Dad, Michael and Aaron,
Thanks for being one of the good ones.
This month has been Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and social media has been flooded with people’s posts, stories, images and simple acknowledgements that they too have felt the pain that comes with pregnancy and infant loss. I have come to realise that pregnancy and infant loss is not as uncommon as you think. I’ve seen posts from friends or acquaintances that I would never have guessed had gone through their own loss. Silly really. It’s silly that, just because their Facebook or instagram posts reflect a happy, care free life, I would be surprised that they too had experienced loss. It made me realise that many of us present only our best lives through social media. I too am guilty for that. After all, why would you want to document your challenges, the dark days and the low times? They aren’t the days you want Facebook to remind you of this time next year and the years to follow. Many times I have written out a post that is a real reflection of the shitty time I am going through but then have hesitated just for a moment too long, hovering over the ‘post’ button. I don’t want people to think I am a whinge-bag. I don’t want people to think I am having a moan, or complaining. After all, there are people in the worse situations. I shouldn’t complain. Delete. Delete. Delete.
So, an awareness campaign like this does good. It not only raises awareness but in a strange way it creates a community. A community that nobody wants to be in, granted, but a community no less. A community where we have all, at some stage in our lives, experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
I experienced pregnancy loss following a number of years of fertility treatment. I had secondary infertility and we had tried a number of different treatments over the years. After the weekly blood tests and the twice monthly scans, trying for a baby had definitely lost its romance. It was now clinical. Mind you, I would have had sex whilst standing on one foot with my right hand behind my back, reciting the alphabet in reverse order in Latin if they’d told me that would improve my chances of becoming pregnant. Every month I’d have to make ‘the call’ to the clinic to see whether the bloods had come back positive with pregnancy hormones and let’s face it, after years of trying, I was pretty used to them saying ‘I’m sorry, it’s a negative’. I’d have a mope about and then I’d get straight back on that rollercoaster of hope and think to myself ‘this cycle is going to be the one’ and so the cycle continued. So when I made that call from my desk at work and they told me it was positive I didn’t quite believe them. For me, at this point, the hurdles had been overcome. I was pregnant! Nothing more could stand in our way – we were having a baby!
When on fertility treatment, you have early scans so we were scanned at six weeks. We were warned that a heartbeat at this stage would be unlikely so not to expect much; it was for monitoring purposes. I can’t say that when I lay on that bed in the scan room I expected anything other than the sonographer telling me everything was looking as it should in there. We didn’t get bad news, per se, but it wasn’t great either. The sonographer did some measurements and expressed some concerns but said it was likely because the scan had been arranged for too early on in the pregnancy. They said to come back again the following week. The following week came and we had another scan and this time they advised we may be able to see the heartbeat. We waited and waited but again we were met with concerned faces. The sonographer pulled in another colleague and they zoomed in and zoomed out, they moved the screen about, they got up close to the screen. Again, they advised they didn’t see what they wanted to see but that we could be a week too early. I asked them for a glimmer of hope and they gave it to me. They said that it could be that it was just too early for a scan but at 8 weeks next week, they were sure they would be able to see what they needed to see to reassure us that our baby was growing fine.
That week was a tough week. It was long. It was hard. At 8 weeks pregnant barely anybody knew which meant there were very few people to confide in. Those I did confide in would tell me exactly what the Doctors had, it was just too early. Hang on in there for one more week. I’m sure this time next week you’ll have seen your baby’s heartbeat and everything will be fine. After all, you’re still being sick, you’re still off coffee – they’re good signs, right?
Something in my gut at this point told me that despite the morning sickness and other pregnancy symptoms, something wasn’t right in there. When the 8 week scan finally came, I was ready for answers. Living in limbo for three weeks had been tough on us and I was tired. I was exhausted of lying awake at night analysing every symptom or every ache or pain. I was exhausted of having to keep it all together emotionally when inside I just wanted to have a wobble. The scan started and within five minutes there wasn’t just one sonographer in the room but there were three. One thought they saw something but then the second didn’t agree. The third was unsure. They dithered about. They called my Professor in. She had been our specialist throughout our treatment. Within thirty seconds of looking at the screen she delivered the verdict and she did it with absolute certainty. I hated her at the time for it because it wast the verdict I wanted but looking back, that definitive answer was definitely needed. The long drawn out uncertainty of her other colleagues was soul destroying.
Our baby had started to develop but had, for some unknown reason, stopped developing in the early stages of the pregnancy. My body hadn’t even realised it yet, hence the continued symptoms. That afternoon I was sent across to the hospital to arrange the surgery to remove the pregnancy. I remember being in a side room in the hospital waiting for one of the nurses to come and explain what was going on and I felt numb. I felt like I wasn’t there, like I was almost looking down on myself being there, watching it from a birds eye view. This wasn’t happening to me. It can’t be. We’ve tried for this baby for years – six years in fact. When the nurse did come in I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her, or to process what it was she was saying. It felt like I had just emotionally shut down. I didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want to know anything about what was to happen next.
The surgery the following day made everything seem so medical, so clinical and so final. The nurses were sympathetic but all the sympathy in the world wouldn’t make this any easier. I remember coming round from the procedure afterwards and feeling empty. I felt physically empty and I felt emotionally empty. An infection following this procedure meant that my body was in for a long period of recovery from the miscarriage. I was ill for a good few of the weeks that followed. I had to return to the same ward because of the infection and that was difficult. I remember being referred to an occupational therapist because of the time I had taken off work and he very insensitively suggested that I should only have had two days off sick for a miscarriage. Two days! There was a complete lack of awareness of how a miscarriage impacts on someone emotionally, let alone physically.
Throughout the whole journey we were on, my husband was incredibly strong for us both. I knew he was broken too but he put a good front on. He really stepped up for me and I won’t ever forget the way in which he put his own emotions to one side in order for him to support the difficulties I was having with mine.
I chose to tell some family and some friends after this happened because there were questions being asked about my health, about absence from work and so on and it was too difficult to conceive a lie at this point. I only told those who needed to know though and as I look back on the whole experience now I do wonder why I made that decision. Miscarriage isn’t something to be ashamed of so why do we shy away from telling those around us about what is going on? For me, it was difficult because I hadn’t told many that I had been pregnant, never mind that I had miscarried. I couldn’t bring myself to say to someone ‘by the way, I was pregnant but I’m not now. And I’m not coping very well’ with it. Had I have been more open with people about being pregnant in the first place, I think I would have felt very different about opening up about the miscarriage.
I’m not sure why there is still this stigma about waiting for that 12 week scan before telling people you’re pregnant. I get that people are cautious and don’t want to celebrate the pregnancy prematurely but should the worst happen, it leaves you with nobody to confide in. If nobody knows you’re pregnant, there’s nobody there to support you through the miscarriage.
We were lucky enough, four years later (after two further years of fertility treatment and then a break for two years) to be blessed with another pregnancy. It was a shock. We had decided to stop the fertility treatment after being told it was highly unlikely that we were going to conceive again. Instead of the squealing celebratory response to the positive pregnancy test I instantly felt anxious. It wasn’t like the last time where I believed we had conquered all the hard bits by getting pregnant. I knew this was just the start of a very difficult journey to come; a journey that would see me never relax and never enjoy the pregnancy. We told all our close friends and family straight away. I didn’t want to be isolated if it all went wrong again. I wanted to make sure that I had a network of support around me incase the worst happened again.
After eight months of anxiety, liver complications, regular bleeds and lots of prayers that this time would be different, our baby girl was born by emergency section. She will be 2 in a week. After we made the painful decision to give up the fertility treatment and to accept that we were never going to have a second child, never did we expect to find ourselves with the beautiful baby girl that we had dreamt about for so long. She has definitely eased the pain that came with having the miscarriage but it’ll never be something that I will forget. It has made me fiercely grateful for what I have. I have two beautiful children and I know every day how blessed I am to have them. Even on the toughest parenting days (and let’s face it, we all get them!) I know I am blessed and I am so grateful.
For those who have experienced miscarriage, I am thinking of you. I know this is tough. It’s just shit. There’s no polite way of describing the situation; it’s just shit. I’ve been where you are now and I know that grief is heavy and the darkness you feel around you is thick, like a thick fog. You will get through this. You won’t ever forget this but you will get through this. Talk to people. As hard and inconceivable it may seem, talk. Let people in. Let people know what you are going through. You need them. Take one day at a time and when a day seems too much, take one moment at a time. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve. You are entitled to grieve for your baby, no matter how early on in the pregnancy you experience your miscarriage. It doesn’t matter how small or how formed the baby was inside the womb, the baby was your baby in your head and in your heart. You had hopes and dreams for that baby in the same way others do for their children. You may have envisioned what your baby would look like, perhaps, inside your mind, you had played out the moment you would first hold your baby in your arms. You need to grieve that loss and you have every right to do so. Take your time.
I’ve not blogged in a while. There are mixed reasons for that but it mainly comes down to the fact that for ten years or more I have been on stonking doses of morphine and other meds and having changed GP surgery recently, my GP advised that the dosage I was on was potentially lethal, informed by new medical studies about the use of morphine at that level. I had no choice but to accept that my meds needed to change but it brought out a lot of anxiety for me. Anxiety that I would be in pain; that my life would be impacted – my work, my ability to parent, hell, my ability to just be me, wash my own hair and get on with my every day life. The reduction in the meds has been gradual to stop any withdrawal symptoms and I have got it down to a reasonable dosage although the GP wants to drive it down even further. However, there is no doubt that the pain is now not managed. It is taking its toll on me both physically and emotionally.
So, when the Disabled Blue Badge scheme hit the headlines recently, it prompted me to return to my blog to share my opinion on that matter because it is close to home, particularly at the moment.
I have had a blue badge for a number of years. I suffer from two chronic conditions: an inflammatory arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis, both of which give me chronic pain in my spine and in my joints. I was diagnosed around 14 years ago and have been battling with pain and reduced mobility ever since. The thing about my conditions are that they are incredibly variable. One day I can manage certain tasks, like walking from the car to the shop, lifting my baby girl, putting the washing in to the washing machine and so on and on other days I am bed bound or physically can’t walk or move. It is so difficult living with this uncertainty. It is hard to plan things and for years I felt like all I did was let people down. Texts saying ‘I’m so sorry. I’m having a flare up and I won’t be able to make it today’ were a regular occurance. I let friends down not just once, but repeatedly. I would feel fine one day and arrange something and the next I would be floored. These days I am wary to arrange anything at all as I can’t stand the feeling of letting people down at the last minute. It makes me feel like a crappy friend/ daughter / mother and believe me I already beat myself black and blue with mum guilt, I don’t need any further guilt on my plate. I’ve lost friends a long the way and I certainly don’t get invited to the nights out and the parties that I used to, but theres no point crying over an invitation that I probably wouldn’t be able to attend anyway.
On a ‘good day’ I still battle with chronic pain. I may be a little more mobile but I am still, constantly, in pain. I depend on my car and the blue badge even on those good days as without that I would be pretty lost. Every day trips to places like the supermarket, the bank, the doctors, would be nye on impossible if I wasn’t able to park close by in a disabled parking bay. I start the day with a certain capacity and energy and if I use up that capacity having to walk from a parking bay further away then I am going to be pretty snookered for the rest of the day. On certain occasions, I push through the pain and I end up using a week’s worth of capacity in one day and then I’m out of action for a week after, bed ridden or unable to move. Some days I knowingly make that decision because I want to live my life. On those days I rebel. I want a piece of my old life, even if for just a day and even if it comes at a cost.
Sometimes I have to use a wheelchair, sometimes I have to walk with a stick and sometimes I walk independently; it totally depends on how I am doing and how active the diseases are. Over the last few years as a blue badge holder, I have had my fair share of run ins with people who have seen me use a disabled bay. I regularly have people inspecting my badge, quite obviously, through the windscreen, after they have seen me. I personally think that people see me pull in to a disabled parking bay and on the surface I look (ahem) (relatively) young and, possibly on the surface, healthy. I’m judged before I’ve even got out the car sometimes. People shake their head at me like I’m not supposed to be there; like I don’t have the right to be there. The irony of the whole thing is that I would so love NOT to be there. I would give anything to be able to park at the furthest point in the supermarket car park and cart wheel in to the shop if I could. God, given the chance I’d hop around the perimeter of the car park on one foot, naked. Sometimes I get the feeling that people view a blue badge as a privilege. That idea knocks me sick to the stomach. Nothing about needing a blue badge is a privilege. I’d give anything not to have that so-called-privilege.
Then there’s all the times where I have come face to face with people who have judged me as not needing that ‘privilege’. Maybe I was having a good day and on the surface it didn’t look like I needed it. Usually I’ve only just got out the car so they are yet to see me even walk. I’ve had vile comments said to me. I’ve stolen the badge. I’m lazy and just want to park close to the shop. I’m exploiting a disabled relative’s badge. I’ve heard it all. Fortunately for me, most of the time my husband has been there with me. My husband is an incredible man. He has stood by me and supported me in every which way you can think of. He has to do so much because I am unable to and I am so grateful for that. He is protective of me. Fiercely protective of me. He isn’t able to stand by when people make these comments and on more than one occasion my husband has challenged these people, shouting at them the reality of my situation. Their response? I’ve never had an apology once. They shake their head at us. Or, at best, they bow their head and scurry on.
My personal experience has found that the most judgemental people are Blue Badge users themselves. I’m not one for making mass judgements but based on my very real and personal experience, it has been blue badge users of the older generation that have made those judgements about me. Whether it’s a generational thing or not, I don’t know but I think it’s really sad that those who share similar limitations in their lives (thus requiring a badge in the first place) would be so quick to judge others on whether they are worthy or not of the same badge.
The fact that the government are now considering allocating those with ‘hidden disabilities’ and non-physical disabilities blue badges sits very comfortably with me. On some occasions I am sure my disability is hidden. I still get up on a morning and try and put my face on. I still try to (badly) do my hair. Maybe that’s the reason, maybe I don’t look poorly or disabled enough, I don’t know. I know I have had similar judgements made when I have used a disabled toilet. On the surface I possibly look absolutely fine. But look closer. Follow me for an hour or two and you’ll see my struggles. Even on a good day.
The opposing view is that those with non-physical disabilities don’t require a parking bay as much as those of us with physical limitations. I don’t buy that. There will be people out there with Autism or Dementia who need support to access places we use in our every day life. Who is to say they need that parking bay less than me or someone else with physical limitations? Who made anyone judge and jury? I totally understand that there are limited numbers of disabled parking bays and, perhaps, that is the only point I would agree with. If more disabled badges are being allocated then maybe more spaces need to be added. But that is the only point made by those opposing the suggestion that I agree with.
I think the solution to the whole debate is kindness. If we were all just a little more kind, a little more empathetic, a little more sensitive, then society would be so much better at supporting those who require a little extra help to access places. Every one who is given a blue badge is given one for a reason. It’s because they have it tougher than someone who is emotionally, mentally and physically healthy. It’s because their life has challenges. It doesn’t matter whether their challenges are greater or lesser than mine. It doesn’t matter whether they look well on the outside. It doesn’t matter if they got the last disabled parking bay in the whole of the town. Give them a fucking break. They have that badge for a reason. Nobody has any business judging, commenting or head shaking.
The government should allocate blue badges to whoever they believe requires one. If a doctor has assessed a person as needing one, then that should be enough for everybody else. It doesn’t matter whether their disability is visible or not; a doctor has said they need that badge, that should be the end of the discussion.
I’ve been reduced to tears by someone who judged me as not being ‘disabled enough’ to warrant a blue badge before. I was having a really bad day and it had taken me every ounce of strength to get dressed and get in the car to nip to the shops for a couple of essentials. My capacity for the day was done with just getting out of bed. Constant pain wears you down on an emotional level and I was already at that point of only just being able to hold it together. I just wanted to get to the shops and get back home without seeing anyone I knew, without being asked if I was ok, without even making eye contact with anyone. I looked terrible. I felt terrible. I was conscious of the way I was walking and I felt fragile. A couple of vile comments from a complete stranger completely broke me that day. It had an impact. It only further compounded the shitty-ness of my day. Nobody needs that, especially those who live with health challenges every single day.
The solution to the debate? Be compassionate. Be kind. Be sensitive to the needs of others. If you’re a fellow blue badge holder, don’t compare your needs to that of someone else – you can’t possibly tell by looking at someone whether they deserve to be parked in a disabled parking bay.
Kindness is the answer. Topped with a sprinkling of sensitivity and a drizzle of compassion.
Having our own business and working on it full time has never made this ‘work life’ balance thing easy, particularly with our Little Miss and Big Lad. The Big Lad may be old enough and capable of seeing to himself most the time but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be there to do it for him. That’s what Mums are for, right?
Work has been crazy these last few weeks. We were offered a potential business opportunity that could possibly be life changing for our future. That has brought with it more work, pressure and stress than we have ever known. It’s been like being back at university again, pulling all nighters to meet deadlines. We’ve worked more, slept less, stressed more and relaxed less, and all of this is not exactly conducive to family life. I am justifying this because if we manage to pull this opportunity off, it will change our lives and our kids are, of course, part of that.
Whether it’s been snapping at the Big Lad for not tidying his room (when I’ve already asked him 1037 times) or opting for episodes of ‘The Wiggles’ on Netflix as a means of entertaining the Little Miss instead of the usual interactive play, messy play and story reading we usually do together, I’ve not been the best Mum in recent weeks. More time has been focused on work and less time on the kids and whilst I can justify why we are doing it until I am blue in the face, it doesn’t feel very good. It feels bloody awful, in fact.
Despite having a whole boat load of work to do over the bank holiday weekend, we ditched it in favour of some family time. That sort of time is good for the soul. And our souls could do with some goodness. Whilst out at a farm, the 4 of us, we got to talking about the Big Lad’s plans for after he leaves school. Whilst university feels miles away, he’s already doing his GCSEs and it scares the shit out of me how quickly time is flying by. University has always been part of the grand plan for the Big Lad. I didn’t take the conventional route to university and ended up doing my degree long distance whilst working full time and raising my baby boy (many moons ago!); it was tough going. Like really tough. I don’t believe that a degree is essential to get where you want to be in life, but he has a clear idea of where his future lies (which is more than I can say for me at his age – I think I still believed I was going to be a Radio DJ at that point….) and in order to break in to that sort of career, he does need a degree.
My Big Lad is quiet and sensitive, thoughtful and loving. He still holds my hand when we are out and about ( and I absolutely cherish those moments. Every single one of them.) and becoming a big brother has seen him flourish in to a mature, caring, kind and compassionate young man. He’s a home bird. He loves to hang out at home, he loves family days (he prefers the xbox but he definitely does like the occasional family day!) and he likes to stay close. When letters come out from school about skiing trips to France or trips to New York (I know! New York! New bloody York! Beats the glamorous outdoor pursuits residential weekend in the Lake District (in the torrential rain, no doubt…)that we were offered at school!) and we ask him if he wants to go, he answers instantly with a firm and clear ‘No thanks’ (or maybe minus the ‘thanks’ bit if he’s being particularly teenage angsty…). He isn’t interested in trips away, he’s quite happy remaining at home, in a familiar place with familiar people.
We’ve talked about university before. We have four fantastic universities within a 30-40 minute drive away so moving away to a university further away has never even been something we have contemplated in a conversation. Until Saturday. There we were, casually strolling around the worst smelling farm my nostrils have ever experienced, and the words ‘I think I’d quite like to move away when I go to university’ left his mouth. They left his mouth so carelessly. But with every new syllable my heart dropped further and further in to my stomach. I laughed it off. I used the, you know, ‘I’m smiling and I’m sort of laughing but on the inside I’m literally dying. Dying I tell you!’ laugh. I started off casual, with the, you know, old ‘Who’s going to make you a sunday dinner on a Sunday?’ ‘Who’s going to wash your clothes?’ ‘Who’s going to make sure there’s food in your cupboards?’ but when he answered (a little too promptly for my liking) ‘A local carvery, a local launderette and Tesco’ I needed to ramp it up a little. The conversation gradually built up and up until I was metaphorically clinging on to the backs of his trousers screaming whilst sobbing ‘Pleeeeease don’t leeeavvve meeeee.’
It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did. But I think because I know I’ve been the shittest mother ever to walk the planet these past few weeks, I instantly laid the blame at my door. He wants to leave home because I’ve not been home enough. He wants to leave because I’ve been nagging him about his room. He’s leaving because he’s sick of me questioning him on whether he’s brushed his teeth, changed his boxers and used deodorant every morning. He’s leaving, well, because he’d rather live alone than live with his Mum. The guilt. Oh the guilt. It washed over me like a wave. Actually, sod that, it washed over me like a fecking Tsunami.
I couldn’t even count on my husband for moral support. He made a comment like ‘Good for you, son. Get yourself out there’ or something of that nature. I couldn’t hear the exact words for the deafening sound of my heart breaking. I know what you’re probably thinking right now, you’re thinking I’m being dramatic, aren’t you? Well, there is nothing more dramatic than your son telling you that he actually wants to leave home at an undetermined point in the future. That’s just not okay with me. Jokes aside, I’m not ready to let go of his coat tails just yet. And a couple of years isn’t going to make me feel any better, I am certain. I’m being selfish. I know I’m being selfish because what if him leaving home is the making of him? What if this is his chance to make his mark on the world? And I want all that for him. I want his life to be limitless. I want him to have it all. Because he deserves it so much. But I just want him to come back to me afterwards. I love him so much.
This one conversation sent my hormones haywire for the rest of the weekend. The following day we set out on a day trip just the hubby, Little Miss and I (despite my best attempts at persuasion, the Big Lad decided that the Xbox had more appeal on this occasion) and we were travelling in the car when I glanced back at Little Miss. I glanced at her like I glance at her a million times a day, every time we are in the car together, only this time something got me. She was asleep, her little head resting against the side of the car seat. Her eyes closed tight with her long, day eyelashes so still. Her tiny, puffy little hand laid gently on top of the other. Her little feet swaying with the motion of the car. She looked so beautiful. So fragile. I felt something. Like the biggest pounding to my stomach. It was the realisation that in no time at all, she would be having the very same conversation with me too. Because I can’t even begin to emphasis how quick those years have flown over. Time is so precious when you are raising children. You can’t get time back. Every day we spend is a day that we lose. Every moment we share with our children is gone in an instant. I have never been surer of the need to cherish every single moment with my two children. Even the moments where you’re frazzled, drained of all energy and surrounded by poo and vomit. Because these moments are time limited. We will spend a lifetime afterwards trying to recall the every detail of these precious moments as we create a lifetime of memories in our minds.
That realisation flooded me with emotion and I instantly began to cry. I think some of those tears was about the fact that I feel like my time with the Big Lad is running out and the guilt of wasting some of the time during his childhood being wrapped up in work; and some of them were about me becoming overwhelmed with the fact that I have another childhood to enjoy, treasure and cherish with the Little Miss. I wished I hadn’t bothered spending so much time on precision eye liner because within seconds I looked like someone out of Kiss. Thanks goodness it was sunny enough for me to realistically justify wearing sunglasses, avoiding the ‘I’m wearing sunglasses in the dark like a Z-Lister’ look.
They may be 15 years and 18 months old but I want to protect them until my dying day. I want to see to their needs every single day of their lives. I want to protect them from heart break. I want to protect them from disappointment, upset, feeling sick, scared – the lot. I know that they have to get big and grown up one day. I’m not daft, I know they can’t stay with me forever (although that won’t stop me trying to come up with reasons why they should….) but I don’t want to think about that right now. I’m not ready to think about that right now. This weekend has served as a reminder that being Mum to my two children is a privilege. It’s a privilege that not all people get. Whilst life will invariably place a strain on me being Mum of the Year from time to time, I want to be the best Mum I possibly can be because when I wave them both off to enter in to the big wide world on their own (when they’re like aged 62 or something….) I want to know that I did the best I can and made the most of every single precious moment of their childhood. I don’t want to think ‘I wish I put my mobile phone down more’ or ‘I wish I put the laptop away on an evening and spent it with the kids instead’ or ‘I wish I’d taken more time as a family’ because I can only imagine how difficult it would be to live with those thoughts. As mums we feel guilt as a default emotion; most of the time it is misplaced and it is certainly a pointless emotion as no good can come of it. I don’t want to feel guilt. I just want to know, in my own mind, that I’ve done the very best I can. Because, then, I can live with that.
I’ve never been the type of person that yearns to put their point across. Just the other week I was at a big business Expo event and I attended various workshops, one of which loved the whole ‘audience participation’ thang (groan…). They asked for opinions on a certain issue and boy did I have them in the bucket load; did I say them? No. Did I raise my hand to signal I had something to say? No. Did I sit there thinking about my opinion, hell yeah, I always have an opinion. I did feebly open my mouth to express it on a couple of occasions (accompanied by the deafening thud of my pounding heart as public speaking isn’t really my bag) but quickly closed it again when someone else started speaking. So, you see, I’m really not one of those people that loves the sound of my own opinion being aired to the masses. I’m opinionated but I keep a water tight lid on them.
But, you know, every now and again a subject will come up that either lights a fire in my belly or rubs me up the wrong way, and when this happens I’m not so good at keeping that lid on my opinion. It, sort of, loosens a bit and my opinion ends up inadvertently spilling out on to whoever happens to be there at the time the lid pops off (when I talk about this metaphorical ‘lid’ I’m more imagining a champagne cork; it’s a bit more glamorous that way.) .
When I read an article in The Independent about a Sexuality Expert’s thoughts on parents asking their children’s consent prior to changing their nappy, I immediately felt extremely uncomfortable. There has been a lot of talk of consent in the press and it is clearly an issue that sparks a lot of debate. For me, the more the issue is in the press and the better we, and the upcoming generations, understand the issues surrounding consent, the better. It is something we all need to understand, promote and respect amongst society. My discomfort came from the issue being discussed by a person described as a ‘Sexuality Expert’. The idea that nappy changing was being discussed by a sexuality expert made me feel uneasy. I worked in Child Protection for almost five years and the things I saw, discussed and read during that time still haunts me today, almost fifteen years later. So, I get that I may be slightly sensitive when it comes to issues such as this. I’ve sat at a table opposite some true monsters. Monsters that really didn’t understand consent. Monsters that didn’t care nor respect children and their right to be protected, kept safe. So, when a ‘Sexuality Expert’ starts commenting on the act of nappy changing, something that, to me, is an innocent act that is part of the every day care of my baby girl, it started to hit a nerve with me. Nappy changing isn’t an act that should be associated with sex or sexuality. It is merely about ensuring your child’s basic needs are being met when they are too young to see to those needs themselves.
So, throw in there the issue of ‘consent’ (an issue heavily associated with sexual relations in the media) and this article started to feel very wrong for me. I am a good mother; my husband is a good father. When we change our baby’s nappy it is an act of innocence born out of the need and desire to take care of her the best we can. When we are frantically pulling fifty five baby wipes out of the packet (when we were only after one single wipe, that is possibly the most irritating baby-wipe-malfunction ever) and trying to scrub the brown stuff off our baby girl before she gets the opportunity to stick her feet (or, quite frankly, her hands – she’s very explorative at the moment….) in it, we aren’t thinking about consent because we are innocently seeing to her needs, we aren’t disrespecting her body, we aren’t thinking about sex or sexuality – we are, quite simply, being mum and being dad.
I never thought I’d see the day I agreed with Piers Morgan (a man with an incredible ability to piss me off just by merely breathing) but when he opened the debate on ‘Good Morning Britain’ (I just had to google the name of it because I still call it TV-AM, a true sign of being an 80s child….) and they were discussing the act of asking a baby for consent prior to the nappy being changed, I found the whole thing ridiculous. And so did old P-Dog. I bet that’s the first and last time we ever agree on something. If I waited for my daughter to give her consent for me to change her nappy, we’d be up to our eye balls in the brown stuff. We would be living at 108 Poo street in Poo-ville, the Poonited Kingdom. I can’t get my little girl to consent to eating a carrot, never mind her agree to have her nappy changed. I literally have to chase her around the floor until I’ve got her in such a position that I can whip her nappy off (whilst praying there are no surprises inside that are going to fly out and splat on our new wallpaper) get her cleaned up and send her on her merry way with a clean nappy on and all in around 0.3 of a millisecond otherwise it’s meltdown mania. Most of the time the process leads to meltdowns of grandeur. It can be a two-person job sometimes! There is not a chance that my baby girl would ever volunteer or actively consent to having her nappy changed.
When the specialist on TV-AM (or whatever…) was asked by Piers how a 3 month old baby gives consent, she said that there are non-verbal ways of communicating consent, like a baby will relax its shoulders because it will feel happy that his or her nappy will be about to be changed. I’m not sure if my two were just wild or possessed (or both) or what but even at 3 months, they were not fond of the nappy changing thing. No-siree. There were no relaxing of the shoulders or giving non-verbal signs that they were in any way enjoying being changed. They gave plenty verbal signs that they weren’t enjoying it, mind. There were plenty of them. The neighbours 5 doors away heard them every bloody nappy change.
My biggest gripe with this whole debate is that if we are to teach consent to our children, we have to be 100% committed to respecting their consent (or lack of it). To ask a child for consent to do something, something that we know, as parents, that we have to do regardless of their consent, is teaching the very opposite of consent, respect and trust, so why ask for consent in the first place?! My feeling is that every child should be taught consent. They should be taught to respect their body and that they have autonomy over who touches, and what happens to, their body. I’m not arguing with that in the slightest. What I do struggle with is introducing it at such an age where the baby is physically, cognitively and emotionally unable to understand the concept of consent. I also really struggle with teaching consent through an activity that has to be carried out regardless. What is that teaching them? That their consent means nothing. In the same way that when I change my baby girl’s nappy no matter how hard she protests so that one day she learns that nappy changing is something that has to be done no matter how strongly she feels about it, children who haven’t consented to their nappy change who go on to be changed and have their consent ignored, will learn that consent means nothing and that, for me, is the most dangerous thing about this whole debate.
If we are ready to teach consent to children who have the cognitive ability and the emotional literacy to understand the concept of consent, we have to be willing to respect that consent otherwise it will only serve as a reminder of the fact that their consent just doesn’t mean anything. We can’t have a generation of children growing up under the impression that consent is something that can be ignored, or something that really doesn’t matter. That is the very last thing our children, and our society, needs.
My bottom line on this is that the issue of consent is absolutely something we have to approach with our children but from an age where they have the ability to understand. I think that asking for consent from a baby to change their nappy only serves as a means to make us feel better about doing it. It tricks us all in to thinking that we are respecting the body, wishes and feelings of that baby but in reality, that consent means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because them withholding their consent makes no difference whatsoever to what happens to them. And we can’t risk that sort of culture emerging with the next generation.
We can only teach consent when we are truly willing to respect the child’s response. Until we are completely committed to respecting their view on consent, we shouldn’t be introducing the idea because it will only have a negative effect on their perception of the issue.
I (stupidly) got a little bit too wound up over this debate and put out a flippant tweet explaining that I was fed up of hearing about it and that I thought the idea of gaining consent from a baby was ridiculous. It wasn’t directed at anybody, it was just me needing to vent about a topic that was irritating me somewhat. It got a mixed response; people agreed and people didn’t agree. Most who didn’t agree explained their reasoning in perfectly respectful terms and I have no issue with that whatsoever. It would be a boring world if we all felt the same way about everything, after all. There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate. Everybody is entitled to their opinion; that’s the beauty of free speech.
There’s always one though, hey. Someone really didn’t like my opinion and had worked out that, from the fifteen words or so in that one single tweet I put out, I didn’t have the intelligence to understand the wider issues surrounding consent. I didn’t much like the suggestion that I hadn’t fully understood the issue of consent, particularly given my background in both child protection and teaching, so I explained that I fully understood the matter. I wasn’t rude or argumentative, I just defended the idea that I was a complete and utter nugget who didn’t have the first clue about what I was talking about. I always say that in life you never know the battles people are facing and therefore, I don’t ever like to be confrontational or disrespectful because you just never know the impact that could have on someone, particularly on social media, where you interact with people that you’ve never spoken to before. So I maintained my position but I did it with respect. A couple of others entered the “discussion” and most of them were supportive of my opinion. A couple of lovely people with well meaning intentions challenged the person over the way in which they had spoken to me and BANG! Then the fireworks started going off. It got pretty personal very quickly, with comments being aimed ay myself and one of the people who had stuck up for me about our age, lack of understanding and there was even a ‘why don’t you stop arguing with me and go and see to your kids instead?’ type comment, clearly suggesting that being on Twitter made us poor parents because we should have been dealing with our kids instead. They were in bed, by the way. Not that we need to justify ourselves.
I did the thing that frustrates my hubby the most about me. I sat and wrote out response after response after response but I let my finger hover over the ’TWEET’ button for just one moment too long and the hesitation was enough for me to have second (third, fourth and fifth) thoughts, scrap the tweet and start all over again. I would scribble a response in haste, wound up, but by the time I reached the end of the tweet I had calmed down enough to question whether it was really wise, or appropriate, to respond in such a way so then I deleted it all and started draft 2, draft 3, draft 144 – you get the idea. None of those drafts made it out in the Twittersphere.
I would love to say that those small comments or ‘digs’ made about me didn’t bother me but, you know, actually they did. And I don’t have any reservation about admitting that. We are all human at the end of the day. I often feel old enough looking at all the twenty somethings smashing it on social media every day so that comment about our age (she approximated that we were 40, she was a few years out and, let’s face it, when you get to nearing 40 every single year counts!) did bite a little bit. The suggestion I was too stupid to understand the bigger picture of the debate hurt too. I try to live my life being as least judgemental as I can because I know how it feels to be judged and would hate to do that to someone else; so when she made the assumption based on my tweet (and maybe my profile picture, I don’t know…) that also got me a little bit. Social media as a general arena is very public so to be accused of, in other words, being stupid, I was acutely aware of all the other people that would see it too and that didn’t feel good. Believe me I wish I didn’t give a shit. God, it would be so cool not to give a shit. I would LOVE not to give a shit.
Despite feeling a little bit miffed, I maintained my composure and the ‘debate’ was over in a milli-second. I thought nothing more of it. The following day, more lovely peeps from Twitter replied to my original tweet with their views. It’s, very obviously, been a topic that has stirred up strong opinions in a lot of people so my initial tweet got engagement from people who also wanted to state how they felt about the issue, and they were very welcome. Again, it was a mixed bag, some agreed and some disagreed. Apart from reading everybody’s replies with genuine interest, I thought nothing more of it. Until I received a notification that the original tweeter (or twitterer, I’m not 100% on the Twitter etiquette so forgive me…) who had taken such issue with my opinion was at it again. She mocked me about interacting with new people who had replied that day, telling me to ‘get over it’ and suggested I had harassed her all day because she had automatically been tagged in to every reply made to the original post due to her initial reply. When accusations like that were starting to be bounded about I wanted to switch off my phone (actually, I wanted to throw it through a double glazed window in my office but I thought it would be unfair to expect the cleaners to tidy up the glass afterwards) and run away. I thought how on earth can one tweet cause so much hassle? I get that it is a topic that people will respond emotionally to. I get that people are passionate about their opinion. But being passionate about your own opinion is different to being passionately negative about someone else’s.
I did reply, but only to tell her that I had not tweeted her once and I explained the way Twitter works and that her being tagged in is automatically done by the folk behind the blue bird. I left it at that. I was biting my tongue and sitting on my hands but I left it at that.
Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate. It has changed the way we do, just about, everything. I have met some truly beautiful people on Twitter, and I have witnessed some despicable behaviour on Twitter. I’ve been a bystander in kick off’s on other people’s posts before and when I think about some of the horrible, nasty and unkind things I have read others say to each other, what I experienced on my post was nothing in comparison. Social media provides us with a community in which we should feel free to discuss our opinions, ideas, thoughts and beliefs without fear of unkindness in response. I can listen to opposing opinions all day long (in fact, I am a true believer in that doing so widens our minds) but if someone mocks you for what you think and gets personal in a bid to fuel an argument (I’m not sure why anyone would want an argument mind, maybe there wasn’t much on the telly or something…) it’s just not fun.
I’m not sure I will be rushing back to Twitter (or any social media platform for that matter) to share my opinions anytime soon. I’ll revert back to that wall flower who is too scared to open her mouth and share her opinion publicly.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this debate though – feel free to comment with them; for the avoidance of any doubt, you can rest assured this is a safe, judgement-free space to share your views!
Have you ever got in to a bit of a hardcore argument on social media? Tell me all about it below!
There’s friends and then there’s ‘Facebook Friends’, i.e. people you once knew but will never see again, yet you remain interested in gawping at the wedding dress they have chosen , their Great Aunty’s third cousin’s ex husband’s holiday photos, or their weekly mirror selfie demonstrating how their weight loss journey is going, or what their third boyfriend in six weeks looks like, or how perfect their brand new high gloss white kitchen looks (they’ve got no children, obvs). They are the friends that never forget your birthday, but they only ever speak to you (aka type) on your birthday. They don’t speak to you on any other of the 364 days of the year, but you get a happy birthday from them at the very least.
I have a group of amazing friends. One bestest best friend, a couple of really squeally good friends and a number of friends that I’ve met in various circles that I see every so often. I know that I could call on them at any given time and they would be there for me, without question. They bring so much to my life and by God have I needed them in recent years. Since having Little Miss though and going back to work from maternity leave, I feel like I don’t really deserve the title of ‘friend’ in return. I am fast fading in to the Facebook realm of no return. I am going to be one of them. I am going to end up a Facebook friend. A Facebook friend to someone I genuinely love and care for. They’ll have a neb at my photos every so often and nothing going on in my life will be of any interest to them. Nor will they need me. Because they’ll have real life friends for that.
Is it because I’m a horrible person? I don’t think so. Is it because I don’t want to be their friend? Hell no, I love the very bones of each of them. Is it because I don’t care? Absolutely not. In fact, I think about them more so now than ever before. So why? Why am I paling into insignificance in the friendship stakes? Because I’m just not good at it anymore.
My best friend lives on the other side of the world and, frankly, it’s a good job she does, otherwise she’d have binned me off by now too. I can manage the occasional phone call, the weekly text messages and emails and Facebook exchanges; that’s all good. But when it comes to doing friendy things, like actual things with my friends, hanging out with them, coffee dates, long drawn out telephone calls where we put the world to rights, cocktails and drunken chat, delivering McDonalds the morning after the night before and devouring it in our jim jams because we have both never been so hungover in our lives before – all of this I once did. Now not so. It’s getting less and less (and I’ve definitely not drank enough to have the mother of all hangovers since circa 2003 so that last one definitely hasn’t happened this century) and every time I say ‘no’ to an invitation I can feel myself slipping further and further away from my friends.
It’s not even that I don’t want to go. Show me a frazzled mamma who doesn’t want to meet their friends (for either caffeine or alcohol, one wakes me up, one sends me to sleep so at this point in my life I favour caffeine over the good stuff. Falling asleep on my friends wouldn’t do me any further favours in this situation after all…) and have idle chit chat, refreshingly adult conversation and find common ground as we compete as to how sleep deprived we are and how bad our baby brain has become. If I could, I would accept every single invitation I received and I’d rock up those coffee mornings, cocktail nights and soft play nightmares with bells on. I’d be there every single time. But it’s just not that easy.
The reality is that I am a mama to an 18 month old baby and a 15 year old boy. They need me in equal measures right now. My boy has his GCSEs round the corner and suffers from social anxiety so we spend a lot of time working with him, supporting him and ensuring he is equipped to go to school and fulfil his potential. Then there’s my Little Miss, she is currently getting sick a lot; almost on a twice monthly basis right now. Even when she’s well, she’s not always a great sleeper, and with her going to nursery Monday to Friday, I really value the time I have with her after nursery and on weekends. Our time as a family on weekends, bank holidays and so on is so precious. More precious than anything I’ve ever known or seen. After years and years of building our businesses and working seven days a week, we know how lucky we are to have our weekends as a family. Because we know what it is like not to have that quality family time, it’s not something I ever want to happily give up. Then there’s the working full time thing. I manage our family business, which doesn’t allow me or my husband the privilege of knocking off at 5pm. It’s not that easy to promise lunch dates or ‘after work coffee meets’ because every day is so unpredictable and at the end of the day, our only income is from this business. My husband and I have no choice but to give it every single thing we’ve got in order to take care of our family.
Even when that is all taken care of, I just don’t even have the energy most days. Once I’ve got the kids sorted and to bed, I’m literally lucky if I can muster enough energy to carry my sleepy (and rather big) ass to bed. The thought of getting dolled up to then go out and hold down an adult conversation without falling asleep mid sentence and drooling over a Mojito, is enough to make me cry. I know I’d feel much better for going out but that doesn’t change the fact that I am completely exhausted.
I have friends who don’t work or work part time. They meet through the week, soft play one week, baby sensory class the next, swimming the week after. They think because I own my own business that I should be able to make it to these play dates. I tried it once. I thought I’d actually take a lunch hour for once and meet my friend for a coffee at a coffee shop nearby my office. It ended with me being away from my desk for an entire half day because once we got chatting, we lost track of time and before we knew it hours had passed by. We hadn’t seen each other in months and months (obviously) so naturally we had a lot to catch up on. I ended up coming back to work to find 108 unread emails, five squillion phone calls to return and a mound of paperwork that would give Mount Everest a run for its money.
Maybe I’m getting boring. Or Old. Or both. Yeah, definitely both. On a Saturday night I look forward to getting in my jim jams (supposing I actually made it out of them that day…) at like 5pm, getting the kids sorted, lighting a few scented candles, ordering a take away and watching something on the TV that doesn’t require a brain cell, wrapped in a duvet on the sofa. My days of standing in the taxi queue half drunk (actually, disclaimer: I was never ‘half’ drunk, I was definitely ‘full’ drunk, whatever full drunk actually means…) wearing next to nothing in the bitter cold, dipping chips in to the smelliest garlic sauce on the planet, are definitely numbered. Maybe even over for good. These days I prefer the simpler things in life. There is nothing more important in my life than my family. Doing simple things with the people I love the most means the world.
I feel like I say ‘no’ a lot when invited out by friends. There was a time when I said yes to everything but never actually made it out due to poorly babies, a work deadline I had to meet, lack of babysitter, feeling ill and exhausted myself – the list is endless. I felt like I was letting them down every single time. I worried I upset them. I would feel crap about it for days after. But, let me tell you, there’s only one thing worse than having to say ‘no’ to a friend when they invite you out and that’s not to be invited out at all. I’ve been there with friends that I have now lost contact with. The term ‘party animals’ doesn’t really do them justice; ‘Party Beasts’ suits them better. They went at it hardcore every single weekend. A couple of drinks and a meal with them only ever ended one way: passed out on the (very sticky) floor of some dated nightclub at 3am. I like a drink as much as the next mama but pulling chewed chewing gum and washing spilled beer out of my hair the following morning is not the way I like to start my weekend. I did think that our friendship was deeper than me just being another person to add to their night out headcount but obviously not because after saying no a couple of times, the invitations stopped and now I’m a Facebook friend to them and vice versa. But even though the way they spent their Friday and Saturday nights wasn’t my idea of fun, it still hurt when they stopped inviting me. I felt like they’d given up on me. I’d now become ‘the one that never says yes’, ‘the one that never goes out’, ‘the boring one we don’t waste our time on anymore’. You know what social media is like, there is no hiding the nights out that I was missing. The pre-drink selfies, the dance floor selfies, the eyes rolling into the back of your head drunk selfies and the like. I’m sitting at home in my jim jams watching the photos update over the course of the evening and the most exciting thing to happen to me all night is that I missed my mouth and spilt strawberry yoghurt all over my PJ top. It’s not like I even wanted to be there! Why does this upset me! I am a crazy lady! I go from ‘not caring’ to feeling totally left out and isolated in three point five seconds. My feelings about it all were completely nonsensical but I was feeling them regardless so they were real to me.
With that life lesson under my belt I don’t want to lose my support network because I’m no longer present in their lives. I need to find a way of making it work. My friends, particularly my close friends, love me unconditionally as I do them. They are there. Always. So I need to work it out. I feel like the worst friend on earth. I feel like I’m never there (or ‘available’) when they need me, I’m never able to make plans when they are free and I rarely say ‘yes’ to invitations anymore and busy or not, exhausted or not, they do deserve better than that because they are good people and beautiful friends of mine. They deserve better.
They say life is all about balance, don’t they? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but if ‘they’ are able to advise me of how to keep all the plates spinning and keep up my friendship duties, I would be oh so grateful to them. After all, we all need friends. It doesn’t matter how solid our family network may be, you will always need a friend at some point in your life and that works both ways. Life is short; we are here but for a while. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a ‘Facebook friend’ to people I love and adore. Besides, my craic on Facebook is piss poor so I’d probably be demoted from even being that.
In the last couple of years there has been a bit of a ‘New Business Revolution’ in the UK– more and more people are turning to self employment and starting up their own business. Not that I’m a ‘numbers guy’ but there were over 660,000 new companies established last year in the UK alone and those numbers are set to increase this year too so there is no sign of this revolution slowing down.
I totally get why that may be the case. I think people are in search of a better work-life balance maybe, or maybe they are in search of financial freedom, or a better sense of fulfillment from their career – or maybe there are other reasons. For me, I went in to business because I was running out of other options. I had got ill and was having to take days and long periods of time off sick repeatedly from my teaching job and it got to a point where I felt it was unfair for the students I was teaching to have such a lack of consistency from their English Teacher and I felt I was becoming a bit of a burden to the school I worked at, despite them being very supportive. My husband was a Police Officer at the time and due to my condition leaving me with mobility challenges, he also had to leave his work in order to support me at home. It was frustrating. Both of us had careers that we loved, doing work every day that we were passionate about but due to something outside of our control, we had to make the difficult decision to leave and embark on a whole new adventure.
We established a business that we could run together, one that would allow me to take guilt-free time off if I didn’t feel well enough to work and one that would generate enough income to keep the roof over our heads.
Once we started our first business, I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Running a business excited me. I expected it to be less stressful than teaching but that wasn’t necessarily the case. It was just as stressful but it was a different kind of stress. Three businesses later and there is still always something to stress about! We were suddenly in business without knowing an awful lot about business. All three of our businesses have been a huge learning curve – one that is never ending! Being in business and being your own boss brings with it a lot of positives – or privileges I like to call them, but it’s not all short hours and big bucks; it isn’t easy by any means.
Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the rise of terms such as ‘Girl Boss’ ‘Mum Boss’ and ‘Mumpreneur’. If there is one thing I am passionate about it is seeing women win in business. For so many years business was men dominated – across most sectors and industries and even today, there remains sectors and industries that are completely and utterly male dominated. I have come across businessmen who I have been dealing with who will ask who my manager is, or ask if they can speak to the ‘real decision maker’, or will ask for my husband despite me insisting that I am one of the company directors. So, I love that there seems to be more and more women starting up in business. Women have just as much to offer as men do and I love that the world is getting to see what businesswomen can achieve.
But I do have an issue with this ‘Be a Girl Boss’ culture or image. I have an issue with it in the sense that it glamorises the power and control that comes with being a ‘boss’. It suggests that any woman can don a formal suit (usually accessorised with big shoulder pads), pick up a laptop and be their own boss. Being your own boss isn’t and should never be portrayed as ’trendy’ but I feel like that is exactly what it’s becoming. Being your own boss brings many benefits, but it’s not all plain sailing. Deciding to become a ‘girl boss’ is not like opting to wear something different. It’s not a decision to be made lightly and it certainly doesn’t promise success or satisfaction.
I keep getting sponsored Facebook posts all the time showing an image of a family, they are usually extremely attractive looking, usually sitting on a remote beach with golden sands and crystal waters, claiming that they only have to work 4 hours a week and their business has allowed them to travel the world with their children and live a millionaire’s lifestyle. Now, I’m not saying that’s not true. But the fact that those posts usually conclude with a ‘Join my membership club and I will show you the secret to building your own successful empire’ or a ‘Don’t you want to work less and spend more time with your children? You can be just like us! Just buy this business starter kit for £99999999999 and you too can be doing what we are in just 2 hours!’ I’m exaggerating, but these guys know how to sell a lifestyle. I even find myself looking at their photo and feeling frustrated, maybe even disappointed, scratching my head whilst questioning ‘where the hell am I going wrong?!”
The truth is I don’t buy the above. I don’t believe people ‘get lucky’ in business. I believe that success in business comes as a result of an extremely strong work ethic, steely determination and a bit of passion thrown in for good measure. I think people may get lucky with opportunities that may come their way in business but I certainly don’t buy that success can be achieved working 4 hours a week or whilst topping up your tan and sipping cocktails on a beach in Thailand. Our journey as ‘entrepreneurs’ has seen us ride a full-on rollercoaster. The highs have included being nominated as female entrepreneur of the year within our region, being nominated for a Mumpreneur award, having our business visited by politicians and council officers and receiving lovely reviews and testimonials. But, just like any rollercoaster, when you hit those highs, the lows feel even lower. Low points included hitting financial difficulty due to increases in bills and expenses and decreases in trade, having a competitor attempt to sabotage our business via a string of fake negative reviews on the likes of Facebook and Tripadvisor, staff members stealing money from the business, having the money to only pay the staff but not ourselves and the general day to day challenges of running a business. See, not a single mention of a cocktail or a beach in Thailand!
One thing for sure though is that being in business has given me a new lease of life. It excites me. It gets the blood pumping and the heart pounding. Is it easy? Hell, no. But when was anything good achieved with ease? Is it less work? Nope. In fact, if anything, we have to work even harder than any job we’ve ever had before. We spent four years working 7 days a week to get us to this point. That is not something I am proud of; I feel like we missed out on 4 years of our son’s life. Now he’s 15 and becoming more and more independent, those 4 years prey on my mind. The time I should have spent with him and the memories we could have made during those 4 years haunt me. They really, really do. Was it worth it? Financially, no. It was 4 years of seven days a week, 7am-7pm work, then working on our laptops once we got home until the early hours, and for, frankly, very little return. We didn’t even get much sleep at night because the worries of whether we would make enough money that month and the doubts and concerns would creep in to our minds and keep us awake. Although we didn’t get much of a financial return from all those years of work, it was part of our journey. They were years that led us to this point with our current business and who knows where that journey will take us in the future. Things are going well but if there is one thing being in business has taught me it’s that you never know what is coming next. You can try and prepare, you can try and plan, you can even try to make arrangements for what you think is coming next, but you just never know. That’s what makes it so exciting. You can be commiserating over lost sales or a deal that hasn’t gone through on one day and literally dancing on the ceiling celebrating the biggest win of your career the next.
We’ve moved towards a business that predominantly operates between Monday and Friday which has given us our weekends back. Those weekends are like gold dust; they are pure nectar. I will never ever take for granted quality family time. Having time off work to spend with the kids is a privilege to me. And having the opportunity to zone out (of sorts) for a couple of days every week and focus on the people we love the most is good for our souls. I am happiest when I have spent some solid quality time with my kiddiwinkles and that time serves as a valuable reminder as to why I’m doing what I do. I go back to the office on a Monday morning with a renewed sense of motivation and that drives me forward. I want my business to be a legacy for my children. I want them to grow up with a strong work ethic. I want them to understand that success isn’t handed to you in life; that they have to work for it. I would love for them to share the same passion as I do for enterprise and business but it is equally Ok if they don’t. Maybe it won’t be their thing. Whatever ‘their thing’ is, I hope that they will learn from us that hard work is how you get to where you want to go in life.
My intention for this post was not to be a Debbie Downer about going in to business. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I would actively encourage any woman who was considering establishing their own business but it is one of those things that needs to be realistic. It’s not realistic to think that you can work 4 hours a week and live like a millionaire. If you are thinking about starting out in business, you could be about to embark on the most exciting adventure. Just don’t be fooled by any of these ‘Get rich quick’ schemes or ‘get rich quick’ books, audiobooks, conferences, courses, webinars or whatever else they want to sell you on those beachy themed posts. There is no question that us women have the talent required to achieve something big and it would be fantastic to see more of us out there giving these businessmen a run for their money!
I was just 22 when I had my first child. At the time I remember thinking that I relatively had my shit together, however looking back, I knew zero about parenting and together with my (very young) husband, we were just feeling for the lights in the dark for many years, winging it on a daily basis whilst trying to do the best we could by our boy.
Less of a child and more a man-child, our boy is 15 now. There are 13 and a half years between our son and our daughter so naturally, we are different people than we were thirteen years ago. I’m sure that’s not abnormal; I’m sure most people change as they get older, whether that be changes in maturity, in temperament, in attitude, in priorities; people must naturally change as they age, meet different people and take different paths with their lives. The biggest change we have seen in each other is the way we parent.
These are just a few things we have done differently the second time around:
- Relaxed a bit:
Even at 22 I was highly strung. That was nothing to do with becoming a young mum, I was pretty highly strung before I got pregnant. For some reason, I was just like that. It did, however, spill over in to my parenting. I was a big worrier. If it had been socially acceptable to wrap my baby boy in cotton wool and tie him to my left leg so that he could never leave my side, I probably would have done so. No ‘probably’ about it, actually. I was a ‘text book Mum’ according to my out-law. As much as I would never admit that she was right, I do sort-of-kind-of-agree-through-gritted-teeth that she was right. I was trying to be the parent they talked about in the guide books, the parent you see in Pampers TV Ads or the parent you see in the Mum & Baby magazines. I tried to be perfect. I will never forget the ends of the earth I went to in order to look ‘perfect’ for my Midwife’s first home visit. I got up ridiculously early (even before the baby – what complete and utter madness that was!), washed, dried and straightened my hair, chose a smart outfit (one far too formal to be wearing sitting around the house with a colicky baby) and dolled on the make up. The result? My midwife was suspicious! I thought I’d present as the ‘perfect mum’ and it actually had the opposite effect! She looked at me up and down in surprise as she asked what I had planned for the day. I said ‘nothing’ and she looked utterly confused. Probably because I looked like I was about to go to the biggest job interview of my life; and all three days after giving birth to a whopping nine pound ten ounce milk-guzzling machine.
With my second, there was no reading of guide books, no Mum & Baby magazines (having the time to read them would have been a fine thing) no lusting after the perfect mummy image. I greeted the Midwife in coffee stained pyjamas, with hair that hadn’t been washed in a week and she had to wipe the crumbs of digestive biscuits off the sofa before she sat down. I remember with my first baby feeling really exposed when getting him undressed in front of the Midwife to be weighed. I worried that she was examining the way I was pulling his little arms through his vest. I worried that she would bellow at me ‘You can’t do it like that!!!’. Obviously there had been a large gap between my children so in some ways it felt like I was having my first baby all over again. It wasn’t like riding a bike, much to my dismay, it didn’t all come back to me naturally. There were no two ways about it; I did feel out of touch with it all. But, this time, when the midwife was sat watching me undress my baby girl, I didn’t feel like I was being scrutinized. Yes, sometimes I felt clumsy in the way I was undressing her but that was more about me wanting to be gentle and careful with all five tiny teeny pounds of her. I felt a confidence about the way I cared for, and interacted with, my daughter. A ‘this is the way I parent, like it or lump it’ type of confidence.
- Felt able to ‘let go’ a bit:
I never allowed my son to swing high on the swings at the park, climb the climbing frames, sledge down hills, jump in the deep end of the pool – if I considered the activity to pose even the slightest bit of a risk (even if it was a totally safe, measured risk), it was a no-no. I didn’t encourage him to embrace freedom because I didn’t want him to have any! Looking back I now understand that was more about me than it was about him. I wanted him to need me and for that reason I never made a conscious effort to encourage independence or freedom. Years on, I can see the ill effects of that style of parenting and it isn’t something I’m particularly proud of.
Little Miss is only 17 months old but I can already see a difference in her character and confidence compared to what my son was like at that age; I firmly believe that a lot of that is down to us embracing a completely different parenting style. This time round both my husband and I have made a conscious attempt to ‘socialise’ her, ensuring she spends lots of time with other people so that a dependence on us doesn’t develop. She can, of course, be clingy sometimes, usually when she’s poorly or tired, but she isn’t afraid to go to other adults she knows or play with other children.
We embrace the swings, slides, jumping in puddles and jumping on the bed; she has so much fun and is adventurous as a result. I might have bitten all my nails off in the process watching her but it is her that matters, not me.
- Became ‘at one’ with crying:
There was never any question as to the pair of lungs my boy had as a baby – he was the loudest baby on the maternity ward; he single handedly out-cried all the other babies. Even when I’d gone through the ‘why is your baby crying?’ checklist and knew he was dry, fed, warm and so on, I always found it really hard to listen to his crying. To me, that was my precious baby telling me he was unhappy and I found it really hard sometimes that I couldn’t soothe or settle him. As he grew in to a toddler, I still would find it hard to see him upset and boy did he know it! He played me like a good’un! He ended up getting his way more times than not. He still does come to think of it!
I don’t know whether it’s something that has come as a result of maturity or what but this time round, I am good with crying. Me and crying have made amends. I don’t want to sound careless because I don’t care any less than I did with my first, but this time I am able to keep things in perspective. A bit of crying is not the end of the world for them or for me. Certainly now Little Miss is a toddler and starting to show she is quite the stubborn and strong willed little thing, we are no stranger to tears and tantrums in this household. The difference this time round is that hearing her cry doesn’t upset me or stress me out. Obviously I’d prefer her to be happy, but her shedding a few tears over not being able to have ice cream for her breakfast, lunch and dinner (nasty mother that I am…) or because she wants to wear odd shoes for nursery is not the end of the world. I now understand that a few tears here and there aren’t going to harm her. And it’s all character building, right?
- Been Selfish
I used to be the female equivalent to the ‘Yes Man’. I just never said no – like, to anyone. If someone wanted help, whether that be with a uni assignment, their decorating, their work, their babysitting or anything else it may be, I would say yes. I never felt able to say no to anyone, even when the saying ‘yes’ meant giving up my free time or time with my precious family. I’ve gradually, over the years, got a lot better at saying no. My boy got big in the blink of an eye. One day I was cradling him in my arms and the next he’s going out to town with his friends and about to sit his GCSEs. I have longed to go back in time and enjoy him being little for just a little bit longer. I now realise that if I had said ‘no’ more and been more selfish with my time, I would have spent more time with him. I was, by no means, absent from home on a regular basis but when you factor in full time work and all the other bits I said ‘yes’ to, it starts to eat in to the time that should be strictly reserved for family time.
This time I have said ‘no’ more and I have been extremely selfish with my time. I know how quickly my baby girl is going to grow up and I don’t want to miss a thing. If that means appearing like a bad friend, or a boring person who doesn’t have a life outside of her work and children, then I’ll take that. I’ll take that ten fold, because I want to spend every possible moment with my family. They make me happy.
- Been more ‘Present’
I’m not one of those people that ‘s about to launch in to a lecture about the effect our mobile phone usage is having on our children because a) I’m not judgmental and b) I would be being a complete and utter hypocrite because I’m quite fond of my phone myself. However, speaking from personal experience, I know how easily my phone can hook me in and before you know it, half an hour is passed and you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at or how you got there. I use my phone a lot – for work, for keeping in touch with friends and family, for my diary, for social media and for lots of other reasons. Whilst I acknowledge that I’m quite a heavy user, I also acknowledge that it takes you away from the moment you’re in. I didn’t realise until I went on a social media detox on holiday just how much I was missing by being on my phone a lot. Just like with the above, I know that my daughter’s childhood is going to fly over in a millisecond. I’m not prepared to miss that for anyone or anything. I am definitely more acutely aware of my phone usage when I am around the kids. Yes I’m glued to it once the kids have gone to bed but there’s no harm in that if that’s how I choose to spend my (very limited) free time. When my phone is off or away I am definitely more aware of what is going on around me, I’m more active in conversations with my Big Lad, I’m more able to concentrate on what he is telling me and I’m definitely more present in the moment with Little Miss.
- Been more grateful
After ten years of trying for our second child and battling with secondary infertility, we were always going to feel extremely blessed to have a second child. We have been blessed with two gorgeous children and I feel so incredibly lucky.
However, when we had our first, I was too young to realise just how lucky we were. I took the conception, the straight forward pregnancy and the healthy baby at the end of it all, all for granted. With Little Miss I have felt extremely blessed at every step of the way and her existence has made us even more aware of how lucky we are to have both our children. For a number of years we genuinely thought we weren’t going to have a second child. I’ve sat in the waiting room at the fertility clinic opposite couples without any children. That was an experience that instantly opened my eyes to how lucky we were to be parents at all.
Now we are a family of four, something that I never thought we would achieve, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world and I will never, ever, take either of my children, or the time I spend with them both, for granted.
So, you see, the second time around can be very different to the first. It’s no better or no worse to the first, but it can be very different. My only advice would be to relax, go with the flow and you will enjoy parenting so much more. It’s a tough gig, I get it. I have those moments where you just want to scream in to the abyss or sit in the corner of the room sobbing, rocking back and forth. But we get back up, and we get back up again for the gorgeous kiddiwinks in our lives.
When Amara Eno asked for contributions to her Single Parent project I was really interested – not because I am a single parent but because I was raised by one. Often single parents and their families are judged or stereotyped negatively; I wanted to share my experiences as a child from a single parent family because my upbringing and the way my mum raised me has made me who I am and I would challenge anyone who negatively judged me, or my mum, for being a single parent family unit. You can have a look at Amara’s fantastic project here http://www.amaraeno.com/3791628-the-25-percent-ongoing#1
I distinctly remember the night I first heard my parents argue. It wasn’t like a ‘you do the washing up, no YOU do the washing up’ type argument, it was an explosive one. My sister and I slept in bunk beds and I was asleep on the top bunk. It was dark so it was late and something woke me and I remember, rather oddly, the smell of onion rings in the fryer hitting me instantly. Despite living with us, my father was rarely at home. He was more like someone who visited us occasionally than a father. He was either working or out drinking. So when I awoke to his voice it was a bit of a surprise. He was aggressively shouting at my mum. I recognised, even then as a child, that there was both fear and upset in my mother’s voice as she defended herself verbally. I didn’t feel scared but I definitely had a sense that this was definitely not the way it was supposed to be. Something felt wrong, uncomfortable even.
Weeks later my father’s belongings were in suitcases that sat at the front door. I didn’t know then, but I do know now that my mum had been scared to ask him to leave for many months because she had been an unemployed housewife for many years, she had a big mortgage and two children to feed. She was miserable with him, and physically at risk of his malicious, alcohol fuelled temper. It was only as an adult that my mum told me he had tried to strangle her once. She confided in friends and decided it wasn’t in anybody’s best interests, both us and her, to keep my father at home. She made the incredibly brave decision to leave him.
The second he walked out my mum’s life drastically changed. We went from being a financially secure family living in a large three bedroomed house to living in a two bedroomed flat; my mum went from being a housewife to having to take any job that came her way. She only took work that would allow her to work when we were at school so that she could continue to drop us off and pick us up. During all of this change, my mum never once suggested to us that what was going on was hard. She maintained a smile, said it was all an adventure and turned up every afternoon to collect us from school. I remember at meal times there would only be two plates out on the table, one for me and one for my sister. When we asked mum why she wasn’t eating she would respond with ‘Oh I’m not hungry’ or a ‘Don’t worry, I’ve already eaten’ and as children we believed her. It wasn’t until we were a lot older that we realised that during that time she couldn’t afford to eat if she fed both her daughters. My Dad had moved out and refused to pay any maintenance or child support. He barely ever turned up to have us for the weekend and when he did, he sometimes asked my mum to drive us half way there because clearly a 30 minute car journey to see his two daughters was just too much to ask of him.
Despite this, mum never suggested he was a bad father or that we were in a bad situation. As I got older and started to ask for the trainers, designer clothes or games consoles that everybody else had at school, she was forced to be honest and tell us that she couldn’t afford to buy those things. As a parent now myself, I understand now how heart breaking that must have been for her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t raise my kids to believe that money, designer trainers (you have to re mortgage your house for a pair these days!) and computer games grow on trees but having the resources to say yes occasionally is a real privilege really, particularly when you compare it to the ‘No, we can’t afford it’ response that my mum had to give us time and time again over many years.
Of course, we were just little girls then and I’m sure we threw our own fair share of tantrums over that answer. It must have hurt my mum so much. I see that now I have children of my own.
My mum went through a turbulent time, single parenting us for many years. She was so strong throughout. Our father continued to disappoint us every second weekend, not turning up, sometimes without notice and sometimes with the most ridiculous excuses. I think my mum definitely felt that she had to make up for where my father fell short. She would take us on days out, even if they were on a budget, and she would invest a lot of time in ensuring that we were happy, well balanced children despite the way in which our father messed us around.
As someone who parents alongside a partner, I can’t imagine how difficult, challenging and exhausting it was for my mum, and indeed for any single parents. Parenting is often a rollercoaster, the highs are high but the lows are low. It can be the most rewarding experience in your life but equally the most draining. When I need to go to the toilet, get changed, shower, cook (disclosure – I don’t cook very often) and so on, my husband takes the baby or takes over from me assisting with my big lad’s homework or the like. We are a team, and working as a team allows us as individuals to dip out to shower, make a phone call or take an “extended” trip to the toilet (in my experience this is one of the few places you are likely to come across peace and quiet. I often just sit, for way longer than necessary, enjoying the quiet!) knowing that he has everything in hand with the children. It’s not just the physical help that joint parenting brings, it’s that we face the challenges together, we always have someone to confide in about our shared concerns; it’s having someone to ride that rollercoaster with, someone who will hold your hand during the scary bits and celebrate with you during the bits that are exciting and exhilarating.
I can’t imagine not having my partner in crime at my side as we face the very unpredictable journey of parenting. Becoming a mother myself has definitely made me realise the sacrifices made by my mum to raise us and how challenging it must have been for her. If you asked her about it she would be very modest; she would say that she was just being a mother, raising her two girls. But I know that for those years of our childhood, she put her own life on hold. If raising us meant not eating, not going out, not having any luxuries whatsoever (by luxuries I mean pretty basic things, branded food at the supermarket, eating out at a café, having fish and chips from the chip shop) then that is what she did. And she did it with no complaint or hint of sadness.
Now I am ‘grown up’ (questionable at times, I know) I know that I am the mother that I am because of the way my mum raised me. Her decision to leave my dad, thus protecting us all and minimising the negative impact he had on our lives, was so brave. She taught me never to accept ill treatment from a man, that a woman doesn’t need a man to survive and that having a decent man as a father to my children, who joins me in parenting, is not to be taken for granted.
I know that there is nothing I could do to return the sacrifices that my mum made for us but I do feel that my sister and I owe it to her now to give her immense support and treat her to the things that she missed out on for all those years. It will never repay her but it’s important to me that she knows how much she is loved and appreciated by my sister and I. We could have been very different people if mum hadn’t made those sacrifices and it is down to her that we have ended up being (quite) well rounded human beings (ish).