21 Pieces Of Advice I’d Give My Teenage Self…

An article in “The Times” last weekend and my coming birthday inspired me to think seriously once again about what I’ve learned during my half-century. I’ve written posts in the past on the topic of the wisdom gained in middle age – mainly in relation to the advice I’d give NC, my daughter, but amazingly I have “grown up” some more since then, (as has the place of women in the world) – so I think it’s time for a re-evaluation.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

I envy NC and the support her generation receives from the multitude of inspiring female mentors in the media, at work, and within her social group, as well as the government and independent services they have for their mental health etc. And I hope that with more awareness about women’s rights, the majority of our young women are now finally aware of what exactly is within their grasp. But the success of their future – and I use the word “success” with an implicit meaning of personal goals – still comes down to getting the fundamentals right.

Middle age is a funny old time. We joke about still feeling seventeen or eighteen, and yet it would be ignorant to believe that experience and the power of time have not played some part in influencing our perspective from then to now. If I’m honest, I’m not certain I thought about anything very much in my teens, beyond meeting the education goals set by my parents, getting a boyfriend, and securing a job, but then we didn’t have as much insight into what was happening on the world stage back then.

So here’s what I would advise my younger self if I had my time again:

  1. Don’t assume that education is the only means to an end. Further education is a massive decision for a young brain and, these days, a huge financial commitment. One size doesn’t fit all, and many of our most successful entrepreneurs never finished school. Follow your heart when it comes to your career. You can always return to education at a later date.
  2. Trust your instincts more. Sure, there is a stereotype/Instagram version of success that we are pressured to aspire to, but if you have any niggling doubt inside you, you don’t have to be a sheep. It is unlikely that your doubt will disappear, and ignoring it may cause you and the people that love you a lot of pain in the long term. Listen to your body is something else I’d like to add here – and not just the physical signs that something isn’t quite right, but the mental ones as well.
  3. Value yourself. People will tell you that you are too young to make big decisions, too fat to wear those jeans, not good enough at such and such to follow your dream, but you are your own person and this is your life. Worst case scenario – you will learn from your mistakes. Remove anyone who doesn’t value you or respect your decisions from your life.
  4. Never trust or stay with a partner who doesn’t treat you as an equal. Nothing to add.
  5. Always take responsibility for your own finances. Even if you take time out of work, make sure that you don’t compromise your financial independence by that decision.
  6. Be assertive. Women are known as the “gentler sex” – and it’s true that we make great carers – but in the business world that can be seen as a weakness. One reason that women earn less is because they don’t ask for a pay rise. So be assertive about what you are entitled to.
  7. Don’t be scared to voice your opinion. Time and time again I hear women say that they can’t communicate with their partner. If that’s the case, you are not in an equal relationship and it’s not working.
  8. Accept your body for what it is. There are some things diet and exercise can’t change, so stop wasting your time trying to achieve the impossible. Live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t get sucked in by the unrealistic expectations of models in magazines or social media. You have so much more to give.
  9. Read more.
  10. If you have to chase a friendship, let it go. They don’t value you.
  11. You will have to fake it to make it and that’s okay because everyone’s doing the same thing. Don’t allow yourself to feel like an imposter just because you’ve pushed yourself to take on a new challenge. Take a leap of faith. Imagine if you succeed!
  12. Compliment other women. In fact, compliment everyone – those few words have the power to change someone’s day.
  13. Tell those closest to you how much you love them, more often.
  14. Move forwards not backwards. Regrets can be useful as a learning tool but demotivating if you focus on them.
  15. Don’t be afraid to say sorry. In particular to your partner and kids.
  16. Exercise self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There will always be someone with more and life will feel tough at times, but no one is perfect.
  17. Don’t be judgy. Instead, be empathetic – you have no idea what someone else’s life really looks like from the inside out.
  18. Take a greater interest in politics. I know that they’re boring when you are still ignorant about your own mortality, but you can change the world if you want to. And if not for yourself, for your kids. That’s what living in a democracy is all about, and it’s a privilege denied to many. It infuriates me when I hear of young people who haven’t voted and then moan about how the system never changes.
  19. Dreams can come true, but they take hard work, resilience and commitment. (Taken from GreenGlobalTravel). And to get there, you will most likely need to take some risks.
  20. Don’t grow up too soon. There’s plenty of time for that.
  21. Travel – as often as you can.” “After a life-changing trip, Jennifer Hill realized the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. As she’d tell her younger self, there are always reasons you can find not to experience new things—but the benefits of doing it anyway can be amazing.” (The Muse)

Empty-Nesting: You Know When It Is Time…

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

The old man and I became empty-nesters this week. Kurt has left the building.

I swear he wasn’t pushed. We view our negotiations as closer to a manipulation that made sense – primarily, for him. Not once did we bring up the subject of our sanity in the conversation.

Anyone who has twenty-something-year-old kids still living at home will know that there comes a time. A time when the kids need their space to grow, go wild and make their own mistakes. A time when you need your sleep.

It’s one thing to offer them a roof over their head while they are studying – to improve their career chances – but it’s another to sacrifice your peace when they are in the workforce, with far more disposable income than you’ve had in a very long time, and living the rowdy lifestyle that goes with it.

We have tried to make living together work over the past year – honestly! In some ways, Kurt has tried harder than us, and yet no amount of nagging will make the twenty-one-year-old brain of our son think along the same lines as our fifty-something-year-old brains.

Particularly, an ADHD brain – which I can vouch for because I was that kid that smoked the butts of cigarettes at five in the morning, hitch-hiked across Europe, and strolling into work straight from nightclubs. Needless to say, “the crazy” hasn’t fallen far from the tree in our house.

Fortunately for my father, my period of existentialism happened away from home, with no one to nag me about noise, how often I ate, or the dreaded R-word (responsibility) every five minutes, like a stuck record.

I swear that the word will always be a trigger in Kurt’s life.

I have no idea how long this amazing strike for independence will last. Forever, I hope – for his sake – even though my heart physically hurts when I think about my loss. For all his noise, for all those visits to the police station and suspensions from school, I will miss our boy.

Like any child, he has made an indelible mark on my heart. But in his case I have shared his struggles so viscerally – struggles that have mirrored mine many times – so his departure almost feels as though a part of me is leaving with him.

But this decision is not about me.

When our daughter left, I knew that she was ready. Kurt’s departure is different – he needs to go. For him, for us; perhaps most importantly, for the future of our relationship with him.

I would be proud to say that raising my son has made me a better person, and yet I’ve never pretended to be that “perfect,” selfless stereotype of the mum of the kid with special needs who rose to the challenge. Our journey has been a tough one, and there have been times when I have resented his “different” dynamic in what should have been an ordinary life. ADHD is not an easy condition to live with – for neither the sufferer nor the carer – and it can have a devastating impact on close relationships.

But what I will say is that my son’s presence in my life has made me more conscious of “difference,” and the difficulties of those people that have a “different” brain, who struggle in a society not customized to their needs, that continues to deny their disabilities, and to fall by the wayside. Being Kurt’s mother has made me less discriminatory and an advocate for people like him – work that I am proud of.

Am I more patient? No. But then, this stage of my life is probably not the best time to be judged by my patience levels.

Our boy has only moved up the road, which means that he can pop back, anytime – which he did last night at 1.30am, in search of a clean towel – and we can reach his new unit within five minutes if he needs us. Nevertheless, the three of us know that we need this time. We need time to heal, time to forget the scarring judgments spoken in anger, to repair, and to breathe freely again. We need time apart to remind ourselves of how much we love each other. The old man and I have more than twenty years of sleep to catch up on.

A year ago, I would never have believed that this day would come. A year ago, it felt like a fantasy to think that one day Kurt would hold down a job. A year ago, we feared for our son’s life, or that he might remain fully dependent upon us for the rest of ours.

In those darkest moments, hope and survival are sometimes the only things to hold onto, and one of life’s greatest gifts is the element of surprise. Always remember the healing power of time and its ability to scaffold forgiveness, change circumstances, and people. We are so proud of where Kurt is right now.

Friends, whose kids have already left the family home, have assured me that their relationships with their kids improved once they decamped. And while my relationship with Kurt has always been complicated – intense, symbiotic, and unhealthily enabling at times – I know that deep down both of us need this move to work. Little has remained left unsaid in our relationship. We know each other inside out – for better or for worse – so we know what we mean to each other.

Nevertheless, it is time for our chick to fly.

Car Insurance, Teens, And Just How Far Parental Responsibility Extends

key-791390_960_720Insurance is one of those dirty words that you only have to deal with once you grow up – kind of like calories and tax – and as a serial procrastinator, I always found that it was best left well alone until I needed it. But from my perspective as a parent, it is an issue that gets entangled in the question of how much we continue to support our kids once they become adults – and a tricky one. For as much as we want to support their growing independence, in certain areas such as car and health insurance, the penalties for youth are unfavorably high and that decision may not necessarily be the right one, for any of the parties involved. 

Married to an accountant, I’ve never been given a free hand with the administration of our personal finances, (nor have I ever had very much money to spend), but we have taken a stereotypically gender-based view of who deals with which insurance. I tend to sort out the house stuff because I know exactly how much our eighteen-year-old Ikea furniture is worth (sobs), while he has adopted car and health insurance.

Insurance becomes super-complicated once your kids pass their driving test, as anyone with young adult drivers in the house will testify. Super-complicated, as in super-fucking-stupid-expensive, and while on the one side, you want to encourage their independence, (in the vain hope that they’ll move out quicker), on the other, you’re not sure why you have to remortgage the house for them to trash your car. 

If you looked too closely at the statistics of accidents caused by young, inexperienced drivers, you’d never let them get behind the wheel of a car (and certainly not your own). And while the statistics for young adults are terrifying, the statistics for young adults with ADHD are Roseanne Barr-on-Ambien-terrifying, hence the reason we refused to get in the car with Kurt for a very long time, in spite of him being a naturally fast adept driver as a result of his online twelve-year apprenticeship with Top Gear.

We have regretted that decision many times over the past year as each corner of the old man’s car has been reshaped, (although neither sibling has taken responsibility as of yet), and Kurt has accumulated more parking and speeding fines than earnings.  But fortunately, Australia is a nanny state that doesn’t take kindly to free spirits – quite rightly in this instance – and as such, it is unlikely that Kurt will remain in the driver seat for much longer. A fact that didn’t stop him this weekend from going out with a bang. Literally. A minor one, fortunately, thanks to the robustness of the undercarriage of the old man’s car and the softness of the terrain of the roundabout he chose to bypass on his midnight hunt for Coco Pops. However, one that will seriously dent the wallet with an excess on our insurance policy that equates to the cost of Meghan Markel’s wedding dress, meaning anniversary plans may have to be scrapped, and the old man has yet to utter a sentence without a liberal sprinkling of the F word.

Kurt will pay for the damage, over time – no doubt via interest-free installments over the next decade to the bank of mum and dad – and I know I should be grateful that he (or no one else) was hurt, but it has taken all of my strength this week not to call those parents in the US who sued their son to get him out of their home, for a lesson in just how far parenting responsibility extends.

Why Every Parent Needs To Watch Lady Bird

Described by Empire as ‘A coming-of-age story like no other, Lady Bird is smart, emotional, funny and completely original. Rarely has a directorial debut been so assured, so singular and so heartwarmingly affecting,’ the movie Lady Bird has been critically acclaimed worldwide, and as a sucker for any movie that offers the secret to parenting, it was a must-see for me.

The best part about Lady Bird is the lightbulb moment as you leave the cinema that there aren’t really any secrets to parenting. The truth is, every parent and every child comes from the lucky dip of genealogy and we all end up just doing the best we can.

Every parent of teenagers needs to go straight to the movies to watch this movie. I’m not saying it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, but if you are in denial about what really goes on in the head of your soon-to-be adult child, it offers a formidable apprenticeship.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to learn the truth that love isn’t always enough – not without communication or being able to put yourself in each other’s shoes.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to better understand the limitations of the young, under-developed brain, packed full of dreams and hope and so often at war with the older, bitter brains acquired through life’s experiences. It’s not rocket science, but perhaps our kids aren’t always being intentionally difficult; maybe they’re simply looking at life through their own lens. 

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to understand that however hard they make our lives, it is wrong to destroy the dreams of our children; we mustn’t infect them with the poison of our own lives and our anxieties, and nor should we push our own expectations on to them, borne of our own failures.

As a child psychologist once told me: Be consultant, rather than judge.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to appreciate the struggles young people face today – the pressures of social media, mental illness, shootings, hazing – stuff that we didn’t have to deal with, that may contribute to that entitled or narcissistic label. Their goals aren’t the same as ours – and that is progress. The world is different to the one we grew up in, and if their challenges are important to them, we need to take them seriously.

Everyone should watch Lady Bird because it may not have the artistic depth of a film such as Call Me By My Name – my favorite film this year, with one of the most emotive father/son scenes I’ve ever sobbed my way through – but it is an authentic and honest portrayal of real lives that will resonate with most parents. Spoiler: Any of you of a blubbing disposition will need tissues for the scene where the mum drives away from the airport.

Fact:

Sometimes we say terrible, abusive things to our kids because we’re tired, hormonal or under stresses that they know nothing about; nor should they know about.

Sometimes we swear at them.

Often, we cry over them.

Parenting can be a mind-fuck that pushes the limitations of even those patron saints of parenting among us. It can be heart and gut-wrenching. The clever way it exposes our vulnerabilities is terrifying. Who hasn’t raged at a toddler? Who hasn’t threatened to kick their child out of home? Lady Bird highlights those tough parts – the unemployment, depression, and relationship stress that we all have to manage as we raise our children. But it also shines a light on the really good bits, borne of those tough parts.

Millennial Sickness, Hypochondria and Snot Levels

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There is something vaguely ironic about the recent discovery that Kurt is allergic to grass. After years of watching his eyes stream and his chest heave at certain times of the year – symptoms I originally put down to Karma for abusing his body, (because I’m compassionate like that), and the sad reality that none of the five fruit and vegetables make up Aldi’s Chocolate Pillows breakfast cereal – it turns out that the culprit is hay fever.

 

Those of you that have kids on the Spectrum might not know that it makes them much more susceptible to allergies for some reason.

 

Inevitably, the old man passed has down the man-flu gene to our son, but what not even I realized until today, is just how difficult it is to persuade a Millennial that what they have is a just a case of the common cold, which doesn’t entitle them to a sick day.

 

When you come from a one-parent family background that relies on that one salary to put food on the table, a day off work is not really an option. You dose yourself up, shove a loo roll in your handbag, and you muddle through. That is what we were taught in the UK, where an inherent toughness is vital to survive the possibility of invasion at any time or a colder summer than winter. The cold is an accepted part of life over there, almost a badge of honor, the natural order of things – a bit like how trains stop running when it snows.

 

If everyone took a day off each time they had a sniffle, unemployment levels would skyrocket and the country would face a much greater national disaster than Brexit.

 

Australians are somewhat less resilient, I’ve discovered. While we Brits know that if you have the flu, you can’t actually get out of bed without losing control of your bodily functions and scaring people away, Aussies turn up to work, sneeze in your face and use “the flu” as an excuse.

 

Now, I’m not going to tell my son to ‘man the fuck up’, because I believe that sort of sexist comment encourages male toxicity and misandry, however, I do believe that I may need to introduce my children to my mother’s snot level guide, the way she distinguished how sick we really were as kids.

 

You see, back in the day, before we had modern gadgets such as thermometers, Neurofen and Dr Google, our mums decided if we had a temperature, usually by feeling our foreheads or by watching how much we ate. Another means – and one that my Mum was quite partial to for sniffing out the hypochondriac, was the snot test – and I can still remember those terrifying moments during her lengthy examination of my snotty tissue that I knew would determine my fate.

 

If the snot was at the clear end of the scale, we were fine; yellow and stringy – leaning towards green – it was a cold; I imagine that red snot would have made my mother’s brow crease with… could that be worry? Fortunately, one ever had red snot from memory, because that might have involved a trip to the doctor and woe betides anyone who was sick enough to see the doctor.

When Your Millennial Wants A Birthday “Gathering”

Kurt is having a birthday “gathering” this evening, to celebrate his exit from the second decade of his life, and as we hurtle into his third with unbridled excitement and anticipation. This has been a particularly long stage in (our lives) his development and you might sense the resignation/fear, or hope in my voice when I say the word “gathering”, which is what we have agreed after lengthy Brexit-style negotiations, which historically are disbanded around 9 pm. 

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My idea of Kurt’s party.

 

 

I’m not sure why we have agreed to this “event” – he has promised me, IT IS NOT A “PARTY”  – and Kurt’s ‘chill, Mum,’ each time I freak the fuck out, has done little to assuage my innate terror.

 

If I look up the parenting strategy of “consequences” in any of the thousands of parenting manuals that adorn my bookshelves gathering dust, the cancellation of this “gathering” should have been a triumphant “win” moment for us. But it’s never that clear cut with kids with ADHD, and the thought of his one childhood memory being that time his bitch mum canceled his party, is something even the bitter old menopausal witch inside me refuses to contemplate.

 

Not that he’s really a kid anymore, as he glides into his third decade with all the panache of a bull in a china shop. It is recognized that there is an ADHD age, usually three to four years below the norm, and that makes much more sense.

 

His mates are a good bunch of kids, really, and they’ve stuck with him. They all hate me because (they’ve only heard Kurt’s side of the story) of the years they’ve endured my wrath and frustration at not being able to mold my child into what I expected and each abortive attempt to teach him right from wrong that failed. They have been pawns in our wars – banned from our place at times, kicked out onto the streets at unseemly hours of the morning. I like to think that I’ve helped make them streetwise.

 

None of them have a great respect for rules; they’re not the Polo shirt and loafer crowd I used to yearn for, more the stick n poke tattoo crowd who prefer to pierce each other, “hang” out together, talk about music; way too cool for clubs and looking up girls skirts, thank God.

 

He has told me there will be six of them, maybe seven, which means up to twenty, and he is going to warn our neighbors that his mum will march out in her dressing gown and bed hair ranting and raving (like she did last year) to shut the gathering down at 11.30pm. And then they’ll carry on – quietly, they think – until they decide I really mean it.

 

Meanwhile, the old man and I will hold a private celebration, for endurance, for the prematurely grey hair I’ve earned (and he would have earned), for the fact that our son continues to tell us he loves us (usually when he needs fags), and in spite of the tornados that have pushed us against the walls of our home so many times, that have nothing to do with climate change. And because, very occasionally, he does what is asked of him… and there is only one dent on the car. We may also make a toast to this, our last house party for our young adults… until next year.

Tomorrow Is Another Day for People With ADHD

boy-1149957_1280So much negativity surrounds people with ADHD and that judgement can be paramount to their poor self-esteem. But something no-one can take away from the ‘differences’ in their mindset is their relentless enthusiasm for life, when they aren’t reeled in by the constraints of a society that is at odds with their strengths and personality type.

 

While it’s true that his mood swings can change within the blink of an eye, it is rare for my son not to have a big grin plastered on his face, and sometimes I wonder if he lives in an alternate universe where it’s possible to glaze over the daily pressures of life and file them away for another day.

 

Fortunately, (or unfortunately), many people like him who have ADHD and live in the moment, suffer from other conditions as well – called co-morbidities – so while my son might be that full-time nutter that everyone dares to do crazy stuff, ( because he will), like Richard Branson or Robbie Williams – his anxiety reins him in… sometimes.

 

Kurt was away last week on his first holiday with mates.

 

Many of you, who have followed our journey with our son, will understand that those seven days marked a pivotal moment for us in his development, somewhere close to graduation in a normal kid’s life, because the stepping-stones are very different with these types of kids.

 

For all his bravado about the trip the week before he left, he called me at the airport when he arrived, then again when he was seated on the plane, and then the minute he arrived in the baggage hall.

 

‘You don’t need to call me every five minutes,’ I said crabbily, after the fifth call in two hours, while I was still trying to separate my own mixed emotions of anxiety for him and the freedom from stress for a week that were battling in my chest.

 

‘I’m not sure what the fuck I’ve done?’ he replied bleakly, on the other side of an adrenaline hit that had got him through his fear of flying, and now confronted by the realisation that he was away, on his own, with four equally irresponsible mates for a week.

 

Their stay was to be an interesting life lesson for him, with no-one to clear away the dinner plates and beer bottles from the night before, hang up wet swimmers and towels. Then there would be his own personal discoveries that not all people have the same high standards when it comes to hygiene as his OCD temperament demands, or that some snore.

 

Inevitably, he’d spent his budget for the week within 24 hours. Money management is a tricky old thing for any young adult to learn, but more so when you are naively impulsive, have no fear of consequences and find it impossible to plan ahead.

 

Hence, he bought a tee-shirt as soon as he got there, because that’s exactly what you do when you’re on a really tight budget with barely enough money for food and drink. He did remember to contribute to the household food shop, which was lucky, because I knew his friends would feel zero fucks if he lay starving on the floor in front of them “Trainspotting-style”.

 

He paid for the holiday out of his first real earnings and I’m proud of him for that. He organised it with his friends without any input from us, from the planning stage through to the well-timed negotiation session with us to borrow the last wedge of cash he needed, and sat patiently through the final negotiations as the old man formalised his contract with us detailing terms of interest and repayment deadlines.

 

He booked his own flight – at the last minute and under the influence – thereby incurring $100 of unnecessary extra costs to choose his seats, (next to the emergency exit), and to increase his baggage allowance to 20 kgs – slightly excessive for a few tee shirts and a pair of swimmers, I thought, but another life lesson learned.

 

Life Rule Number 1: Never make important financial decisions when you’re drunk.

 

The silence was golden in our house for those seven glorious days, although I missed the puppy dog radiant energy and unflappable enthusiasm that Kurt brings to it, even when his chips are so far down the swanny that the average man would cave in.

 

The next stage of the growing up process lay waiting for him at home, where a fine for illegal entry onto a train without a ticket has sat on the old man’s desk for weeks, tormenting him rather than Kurt.

 

Our son’s defiant disregard for ‘the system’ is one to be applauded if you’re a liberal like me, and only when it was explained to him that his refusal to pay could result in dire consequences to his credit history, he said he’d think about it; prompting the old man to have a mild panic attack. How can our kids turn out so different to us? $200 is no small sum, and could have kept him in fags for a few weeks.

 

I feel for him, because not only has he been forced to learn about responsibility, but he’s also learning the sad acceptance that perhaps he won’t be the one to change the world after all.

 

We were all anti-establishment once upon a time. Well…apart from the old man.

 

Fortunately for Kurt, tomorrow is always another day.