So May has been Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in the USA because, you know, it’s not the bankers or the government or lack of jobs, affordable education or healthcare that cause poverty but THOSE PESKY KIDS who just won’t stop breeding and putting the world in the toilet, apparently.
Fact is, as my ol’mucker Zee eloquently put it: Teenagers don’t have the monopoly on crappy parenting. If you’re a crap parent, it won’t matter if you’re 17 or 70, FFS. Everybody must know this, deep down.
But no one sent the memo to various organisations attempting to shame and stigmatise teenage parents this May – lock the door after the horse has bolted, much?? – and there has been some right royal tripe doing the rounds on Twitter, including (but not limited to) the much lauded:
Now let’s be frank. The single simplest, quickest way of actually changing the world? IS BRINGING A BABY INTO THE WORLD. You know, a whole new person who makes his/her own impact on said world. So really, that’s a very silly slogan if you *actually* think about it for longer than a half a second as it actually undermines itself. Dear me. Red faces all round.
As for the second: there are sell by dates on dreams now? REALLY? And while we’re at it, can parenting wait for all of us? Let’s consider that: Hmmm, well for me, no it couldn’t: I got cancer in my early 30s, so my fertility was done for. Had I “waited”? Then no, I would never have been a mother. Since I always wanted to be a mother – yes, ahead of being a writer – this would have been a personal DISASTER. Luckily for me, that never happened, as I already was a mother. But I think of this every single day and thank my lucky stars that was never *my* story because I didn’t listen to halfwits like those who dreamt this campaign up.
Teenage parents deserve our support, not stigmatising and shame. Teens have sex and sometimes they get pregnant – guess what: older people make mistakes too, so why are adults so hypocritical they haul teens over the coals?? This is why I staged a takeover of the #noteenpreg hashtag with the brilliant Prymface – and say good on NatashaVianna for putting up #noteenshame. Oh and by the way:
Everything I am now? I owe to being a teenage single Mum.
This is not hyperbole. I feel it’s 100% true. And it’s my life. And really, who the hell is anyone to say this isn’t true?
But hey. Don’t let me just *say* this … Let me lay out in glorious technicolour how being a Teen Single Mum not only made no difference to me achieving my dreams of being a professional writer, it has actually enhanced my life and enabled me to create that career I always I wanted:
7. It gave me lots of material.
Let’s start with the obvious: my major sale, BAUCHENTSCHEIDUNG (Gut Decision), is about being a pregnant teenager. But I have lost count of the times I have used stuff I have learnt as a parent in my writing and collaborations, even when NOT writing about pregnancy or parenting. Life as a parent has enriched me and taken me to places I didn’t even know were possible; seeing the world via my children’s eyes has taught me more than any classroom or book. And that’s a fact. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes feel like locking myself in the cellar – especially when my middle child is having one of her epic nuclear tantrums – but hey, you gotta take the rough with the smooth. And as far as I’m concerned, life is smoooooooooth as long as a kid can show you the way (without blasting off).
6. It motivated me.
We hear all the time that YOUR LIFE IS OVER once you have a kid. We don’t feed this narrative to teens either, but *all* women and maybe all parents too: you *can’t* live the life you want and go for your dreams because you’re *too busy* parenting … Because, y’know, you can’t be a good parent AND go for your dreams because that’s … I don’t know. What is it? Selfish? Or Inspiring?? Why do these two things have to be mutually exclusive? Surely, if you are a parent, you owe it to yourself AND your kid to show yourself and them what’s possible? And why the hell can’t you go for your dreams, regardless? Who’s handing out these “Good Mum/Dad badges” anyway??
Now listen. If you would rather focus entirely on your kid, especially in his/er formative years and that alone satisfies you? GREAT. Go for it. You don’t need my blessing. Do what you have to do.
But if there is a little part of you that yearns for something *beyond* parenting, then WHY AREN’T YOU DOING IT? Can you imagine your kid’s face when they see how great you are something and then they say to you, “Why didn’t you do something with this?” To which you reply,
“Because I had you.”
ARGH. I couldn’t do that to my kid.
So: I wanted to be a professional writer; I always have, since I was about 7 and I wrote my first “novel” in the three pages of my Maths homework book. I couldn’t let having a baby before I meant to “stop” me from achieving this dream – especially when I wanted him to go for his dreams, too.
So my child motivated me. I would be a professional writer, by hook or by crook. And you know what? It was not easy. I am the last person to say going for your dreams is easy. But if you want it, you can do it. So get going. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:
5. It taught me to treasure my allies – and let things go.
Parenting is a hard road; no child is the same and what works one moment can have no effect the next. You’re constantly reviewing, working stuff out and yes, praying to God or Fate or Dr Who or whatever that *the next thing* works because-Lord-in-Hell-you-have-no-clue-what-to-do-next-if-it-doesn’t.
Parenting is the ultimate “seat of your pants” ride. As a result, whenever you find other parents, who see parenting the same way as you? You stick to them LIKE GLUE. And 9/10 this is a good decision.
Occasionally however, someone will not be who you think; or maybe they have a change in circumstances and that means their POV is no longer in keeping with yours. So you let them go and move on – and someone else will come along and fill that space again.
Like parenting then, working in the media is another “seat of your pants”-type ride. You may have no clue where you’re going; whether you’ll get paid; whether it’ll all come together.
You will have your allies though. That never changes. Except when it does – and you let those ones go and move on.
I’ve always approached my media contacts like I do my parenting allies. And guess what: I’ve been working with the same people for donkey’s years now. I am let down infrequently. And when I am, I don’t take it to heart; I dust myself down and forget it. Because what’s the point? Life is too short. And if someone really screws up – they’ll get theirs. Maybe not today or tomorrow; but soon. But I’m not going to pollute my life by going after them.
4. It taught me to never take “No” as an answer.
The Terrible Twos is called this for a reason: a two year old is indeed terrible. Though s/he might look cute, s/he has a will of iron and NO reason whatsoever. This means s/he will want to do all kinds of things, most of which are bad for them – and it’s your job, dear parent, to work this out with the least degree of conflict possible, when your adversary usually only says “No!”
It’s not fun, but it is necessary. I found very quickly as a young parent, meeting iron will with iron will does not tend to work. Instead, distraction & humour tend to have better results; as does not being drawn into slanging matches.
Guess what: working in the media and as a writer is the same!
People will tell you “No!” all the time like that foot stomping two year old. Their reasons may be varied: maybe they don’t want to listen to your feedback; or to give you any money to make your film or stage your event. Your job is to work out how to turn that “No” into a “Yes”, or even just a “Maybe”.
It’s possible. So figure out how to do it. And pronto. And hey presto: there is your career.
3. It taught me life is not fair.
As a young parent, I did everything I could and still found myself wanting. I thought all the inevitable things: if I had more money; if I had a nice house; if my son’s father hadn’t abandoned us; if I was married … You name it, I put myself through it. And for years. Guilt was my middle name.
But you know what? NONE of the above was my fault. I didn’t ask to be poor and I was only guilty of believing my (then) boyfriend he would stand by us when he said he would.
With or without money, I was a GOOD mother. My son may not have had material wealth, but he had my full attention. There was nothing I would not do for him. And you know what? That’s all he needed!
We tell young people that if you put the work in, you will get the rewards. This is utter BS. There are loads of people out there doing everything they can at *whatever* and getting F all in return. Life is NOT fair. That is a fact.
But realising life is not fair does not make you a pessimist; it doesn’t even necessarily make you a realist. You can still go for those ideals. Why the hell not? Who is the boss of you, but YOU?
So, with your writing, you can put the work in then and feel the satisfaction OF DOING that great work – or you can say you’re shit, because you haven’t got what you wanted (an option/a publishing deal/whatever).
So what’s it to be?
2. It taught me what you SAY is not what *they* necessarily HEAR.
Children see the world via a child’s POV. They are not mini adults. This may not be surprising news, but then adults fall into this trap all the time: they explain things to a child, expecting them to see their worldview – an adult’s POV. Can you see the problem here? An example:
I’m in the park, with my WGs. I see a man trying to discipline his daughter, who’s perhaps seven years old, the same age as my middle child. I don’t know exactly what she’s done, but I’m guessing she’s cheeked him in some way, cos he says:
“Look … We’ve talked about this before … I’ve told you … Just don’t do that, alright?”
But he doesn’t really look at her while he says this, he’s checking his phone. So guess what she sees: Daddy looking at his phone and maybe a few fragments: “Look … Told you … Alright?”
Guess what she was doing not even five minutes later: riiiight. Cheeking him again!!!
If you want to discipline a child, you need to get on their level. Had it been my middle child who’d been cheeky, I would have made her face me and said something *like*:
ME: “Why are we angry?”
WG: “Because I was cheeky … I did/said [whatever it was it was].”
ME: “What won’t you do again?”
WG: “Be cheeky.”
Making a child actually face up to what s/he’s done makes them take responsibility for their actions. 9/10 this works, especially with little children. And you have to do the same with the people you do business with: you must be clear about what you want from them; what you are prepared to do and what you are not. Make sure you are all on the same page.
However as kids get older, something happens in their brains and they won’t process information so easily. For example, I had terrible trouble with my teen, who no matter how I tried to engage him, he resisted at all costs. His stock response became as a result:
“I don’t understand.”
This is a child who is known for his skill English-wise; he’s an A* student. He can break anything down and analyse it down in minute detail. Yet suddenly: WHAM. He can’t understand even basic English? I don’t think so!
“I don’t understand” became code for, “I am not listening and I don’t care what you say.”
I did EVERYTHING I could to get through to him. I really broke my heart over it, if I’m honest. Nothing worked. I was exhausted. So I withdrew from the conflict. And suddenly my teen was interested! Suddenly my teen WANTED to engage with me. It was the weirdest thing ever.
And I realised something. I have been doing something similar, my whole career:
– I tell it how it I see it
– Some people agree with me
– Other people reject me
– And I carry on regardless
Parenting taught me this. I had been going AGAINST my instincts, trying to get my teen back on board; he is his own person, he needed to come to his own conclusions. And parenthood is not a case of pouring your good parenting into a blank canvas … And the same is the case with writing. YES, there might be **obvious** things to do writing-wise, but people will come to them in their own time, once they’ve worked through their own stuff!
But also: sometimes they will NEVER agree with you. It doesn’t matter what you say, either. For instance, though I frequently say:
“Your script can be ANYTHING YOU WANT! There are NO RULES!”
Lots of writers hear instead,
“Do it the way Lucy V wants it … Those are the rules!”
You cannot save these people. If they wilfully mishear/misunderstand you, that is their lookout. It’s a shame, but you have to move on … Just as you have to move on from the tantrumming child who tells you s/he hates you and wishes you were dead. It’s a moment. It’s not the be-all & end-all.
1. It made me realise success is about strategy – and consistency.
I learnt very quickly as a single Mum: you got a plan? You’ll be okay.
That’s not to say you can’t be spontaneous; of course you can. But I found the longest summers, weekends or even evenings went AGAINST routine. Routine and tradition is comforting to children and even though teenagers will rarely admit it, them too.
But more than that – good parenting needs a strategy, which is constantly up for review. A child of 5 is not the same as a child of 15; a child does not need the same provision when she lives in rural area, as when she lived in an urban area. And yes, an eldest child has different needs to the youngest or indeed the middle.
Things staying the same can be great, but things change too. You have to decide which is which, plus you have to keep up. You also need to realise you CANNOT be a perfect parent; you will make mistakes and you will have to make changes you didn’t realise you would need to, because of things that came out the left field – or didn’t. And yes, maybe sometimes you will need to apologise to your own child for fucking up.
But most of all: no child has the perfect childhood. There will be good times – hope and pray more good times – but there will bad times. You cannot avoid this. You can just shelter them from the impact as best you can. And you all have to make the best of things. That’s just the way it is.
And it’s the same with your writing, or any career you want. I hope you feel fulfilled and fantastic and inspired … but on the flipside, to feel those highs you gotta experience those devastating lows, too.
You will wonder what you’re doing.
Are you wasting your time?
Is this all a big joke?
If you want something, you must resolve to pay the price to get it. Oh – and you will need that plan, too.
It’s not easy. But it is as simple as that.
It taught me life is too short to wait … but you’ve also got all the time in the world.
As it says on the tin. You could die tomorrow. But you probably won’t.
So: if you want it? Go get it.
FYI – I’m no special case: I’m not the only one going for what I want … Check out this Storify of parents going for their dreams, no matter what. Enjoy!
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