FEELING BAD ABOUT YOURSELF

feel better flowers
feel better flowers (Photo credit: amanky)

It’s hard to feel good about yourself all the time,  although the  TV ads tell you: ‘You’re worth it!’Life events have a way of knocking you sideways and making you feel bad about yourself, even though you may have a strong centre, most of the time. The smallest thing can do it. One nasty sentence from someone you love can wobble you, and although you thought you were resilient and had broad shoulders, you find yourself deeply hurt and unable to shake it off.

Sometimes, you feel bad simply because you cannot resolve a difficult situation. You feel trapped and can’t see a way out. You want to make a difference; make life work better, but you can’t. That makes you feel bad about yourself. Those you love can have a huge impact on how you feel about yourself. I know we should never need approbation, never need to feel good only because others think we are good, but that’s not how it works. We do need others to bounce off. We need to know we are loved and cared for. No man or woman is an island.

In our celebrity society, this has never been more obvious. Young women hate their bodies because they do not conform to a set design – thin. Three year olds want to want to wear make-up and are dressed in provocative clothes marketed by companies who think it’s okay to exploit children as sex objects. Kids see being famous as a legitimate goal in life and famous female pop stars are shown in sexually explicit videos that leave little to the imagination, yet their audiences are often as young as 10 years old.

We are falsely led to believe that individuality is important. Then, why do people act like sheep, smoking and drinking, taking drugs? Because everyone else does. Peer pressure. They live in a fantasy that they are being ‘cool’ and ‘different’ but in fact, they are boringly the same as everyone else. Why can’t we teach kids to really be individual and unique, for that is what they are.

Why put money into the pockets of the tobacco companies, the drug pushers, the cheap booze suppliers? Perhaps you have some altruistic view that spending money on these commodities will keep the economy buoyant? Joke! Buying into the drug, booze, cigarette fuelled roller-coaster does not make you feel good about yourself. Refusing to eat so you become a version of the airbrushed photos of women you see in magazines, does not make you feel good about yourself.  Making spurious accusations about others that have no basis in truth, does not make you or others feel good – yet some newspapers do it all the time and they make money, because we read and like the trash.

Today, everything can be thrown away, even people. You move on from one relationship to another and drag your kids after you – they have no say in the matter, until they become adults and repeat the same behaviour as you. Rejecting family, cutting yourself off from those who love you, everything is disposable. The mind set is you can always get another one. But, of course, this is increasingly becoming less and less possible. The world’s resources are running out. In some countries, women are refusing to have babies – Italy has the lowest birth rate of any European country.

Feeling good about only yourself is a selfish survival strategy. Doing what will makes others feel good, may be a way to save the world.  Something has to change in the way human beings interact today. Wars have to become obsolete. Dictators have to realise they are not making people feel good by their behaviour – that’s bad news for them! There has never been a dictator who ended up feeling good in front of a war crimes tribunal.

Making good decisions in favour of those you love, of your mates, of the world at large, makes you feel good. Making bad decisions to assuage some inner sense of resentment, makes you feel very bad in the long run. But I guess you have to be able to differentiate between good and bad, as a starting point, and maybe some people can’t do that?

It was clear watching the TV coverage of the riots in London in August 2011, that those taking part did not feel good about themselves, and the behaviour of the rioters made everybody feel bad. There were explanations: some young people made the argument that their lives were impossible, they didn’t have jobs, they were living on the bread line. Yet what was stolen? Food? Bread? No, most of it was TV’s and other ‘stuff’ that would only succeed in perpetuating the feelings of being no-one, having nothing and feeling very bad about yourself in the long run.

It doesn’t need the rules of a religion to understand any of this. Sadly, to my mind, religions have always divided people and have used guilt as a way of controlling the masses. You do not need rituals to do what you instinctively know is right. Even if no-one has taught you the rules, you will soon find out that by doing bad things, you do not feel good. And we are all motivated by a desire to feel good; to be happy.

Could it be, that today we think only the acquisition of more and more ‘stuff’?  Yes, we all need a comfortable and secure home, we all need enough money to buy food and clothes. We need to work. We have to make our lives work and to do this, we need to feel good. However, we have to make others feel good, too.

PS In Italy, feeling good is called Bella Figura!

CAR BOOTED!

 

English: Picture of teapots.
English: Picture of teapots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two weeks ago, for the first time in years, I sold my rubbish at a car boot sale. It was fun. All life was there. By that I mean there were people buying and selling from every class, race or creed. It was a microcosm of a perfect world – at first. The sun shone and I was guided into a parking place by a jolly man with Rastafarian locks and a big grin. I was shown how to lay out my stall by a lady biker in black leathers, blonde curls and a wrinkled face. She was sixty if she was a day. Those thighs had seen action.

My customers, mainly women, were choosy. Some were dealers and they knew how to play me. They fingered my teapots and cushion covers as if they were damaged goods and haggled on my already stupid prices, until they’d knocked me down to the statutory 50p for everything on the stall:  stall equals wallpaper table with old blanket on. Other women discussed their lives, told me their sorrows and asked my advice. I was obviously more than a shop girl to these lovely ladies. I had acquired a psychology degree.

Opposite my pitch stood a very old white van. The side door was open to show the interior. It looked like Dante’s Inferno after the fire had been put out. Metal of all sorts lay in mangled heaps. If it could talk it would have screamed in agony, so tortured were the shapes it appeared to have twisted itself into.

English: Didcot Car Boot sale Didcot Car Boot sale
English: Didcot Car Boot sale Didcot Car Boot sale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone could knit pipes, that was certain. The man who was trying to sell this extraordinary heap of junk, glared at me. Her, over there, with her teapots shaped like cats and her knickknacks, who did she think she was? This was real booty, this distorted pile of ugly ore. After more scathing looks, he came over to me and offered to roll me a cigarette. It was his way of saying hi, I guess. I declined but smiled broadly to show that I was an egalitarian person; that I liked everyone, not just people who didn’t smell. I offered him a cup of tea from my flask. He accepted. Then he shrugged and said: ‘ You won’t sell any of that rubbish…’

Four o’clock and a wind was blowing through the six acre field. People were packing up and leaving. A spot of rain hit my nose. Van man was still sitting in the driver’s seat. The sliding door was still open. No-one had bought anything. Obviously not much call for recycled metal knitting at that particular boot sale. My stall, on the other hand, was almost empty. My last sale was to a young couple, who were probably dealers but told me they were about to get married and could they buy my Victorian tea set for three quid, as that’s all they had, their wedding costing so much, and all. Once they’d gone, I was left with an electric juicer, the last tea pot with a picture of two dogs on it, a battered old book of the works of Byron, and a couple of china chicken egg cups. They would all end their days in the charity shop.

When I got home I counted out the booty bounty. Thirty-two pounds and twenty pence! Amazing. The thrill lasted all week. I’d made friends with some interesting people who’d been kind enough to take my rubbish home and give me money. Miraculous. I still wonder what white van man will do with his steel knitting. Will he be there, next time I go? Does he do all the car boot sales across the UK and just sit in his van, watching rookies like me dispense wisdom, therapy and old junk to anyone who stops in front of me? Who knows.

It’s a very English thing, this car boot obsession. It’s a black market that the tax men seem to ignore. Some people do nothing else, but travel the country flogging rubbish in fields. Do they ever make a fortune? I doubt it, but it is fun to do and makes one feel like an entrepreneur, despite your freezing hands and feet. And bacon sandwiches, mugs of tea and KitKat biscuits never tasted so good!

 

CHILDREN’S VOICES MATTER

Child protection is a complex issue. When I was researching The Lost Child project for Lancashire County Council, I was truly unprepared for the information that I had to sift through. I was naïve. I’d had a happy and loving childhood. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Of course I’d seen stuff in the newspapers and on TV but somehow, holding paper reports in my hands and reading the stories of children who had been abused in the most terrible ways, affected me far more. You can switch the TV off. You can drop a newspaper into a bin. But there, on my desk in front of me were the words – dispassionate and factual – of social workers and other professionals involved with the cases and even though the names of the victims, the perpetrators and the families were blocked out, reading the reports had a profound affect on me. It informed my writing and I went on to run the project and make an award winning DVD that had real impact. But that was some time ago.

Recently I have been reading about the children abused by a gang of men in Rochdale, UK. This group of men were paedophiles, preying on girls as young as 13 years old. The police and the CPS failed to prosecute because they feared they would be seen as racist, as the gang were all Asian and the children were white. Apologies have been now received from the police and the CPS.

This is a really appalling tale of stupidity and political correctness gone mad. How it was allowed to go on for so many years before the gang was brought to justice, amazes me. The colour of skin or their heritage is irrelevant when dealing with men who were committing such heinous crimes. How can anyone in their right mind could use a fear of being labelled racist as an excuse for not implementing the law, beggars belief. I hate racism. I always have and I always will, but surely, this shows clearly that there must be more and far better education about racism in our public services, so that something like this never happens again?

The voices of our children must be heard. We must listen to them. Children have rights in this country. Sadly, there is another area where their voices are often not heard. In divorce cases, parents sometimes use loving grandparents as scapegoats, stopping them seeing their grand children, even when those children have had long-term, loving relationships with them. This causes untold unhappiness for both the children and their grandparents. And to my mind, it is a form of abuse. Children have a right to see members of their family, but often grandparents have to resort to going to the Courts for the right to see them.

With so many broken families, children often grow up deprived of a lot of love that other family members could give them. It’s very sad. You only have one chance at childhood. We adults must do everything we can to make sure that the children we are related to and who live in our communities are protected, loved and listened to.

www.thelostchild.co.uk

GOSSIP?

Happy door!

The Doors were a band that made excellent music. These are The Doors in my village. They don’t make music but they do have style and character. They speak! I live in a strange little place, very rural in parts, with a lot of green stuff called countryside. Also, the sea is just a few minutes away by car, so the best of both worlds, you would say. But, and here’s a big BUT, I live on the border between two counties and competition if rife. That’s a nice way of saying that there are people here who are very parochial and a little partisan…

The Roundheads and Cavaliers fought to the death near here. There were battles and skirmishes; it was all a bit bloody. One battle was played out on a hill quite near to my house. All part of the first English Civil War that raged in this area. There is no sign of the battle on that green hill, nothing to show that men slaughtered each other indiscriminately. The Royalists won and I hope they were happy. When I look up at that hill and think about the mayhem and misery caused by people fighting over their beliefs, it makes me sad. Do we, as human beings, look for reasons to annihilate each other?  A strange concept, that we have to dispatch the nearest tribe because they do not hold they same views. Where I live, that happens on a regular basis. Not the killing, I’m relieved to say – well, not using swords etc., but there is a sort of murderous undercurrent that pervades in the form of vindictive gossip. Do all small communities suffer from this plague? Are blogs nothing more than gossip? Am I being ridiculous? Too many questions for a Sunday morning, but I do wish I could find a way of confronting those who spread such nastiness.

Cross door!

Rumour and gossip has been responsible for ruining lives. People have committed suicide. Families have shattered. Yet it goes on and on. Newspapers thrive on it. Magazine make millions from it. I wonder what a world without gossip would look like? Behind the closed doors in my village, what gossip is being exchanged? I wish I could be a skirting board with ears in those houses. What gems of vitriol would I be party too?

Trouble is, we all like it. It makes us feel better to trash another person, doesn’t it? So people in glass houses – moi – shouldn’t knock those who indulge, I guess. But that green hill where the battle was fought, reminds me every time I look at it, that life is a moment on the face of the universe clock. That the meteors we saw flash and sparkle this week,  their tails like strings of diamonds, are like our lives. We pop up, sparkle for a bit, then we hit the atmosphere and burn. Gone! It’s a sobering thought and one I will digest with my pane au chocolate and my coffee this morning. The chocolate will boost the serotonin and ward off the depression that will inevitably cloud my mind, while thinking about my death!

Happy thoughts are needed.  Will I continue to gossip like everyone else? Probably.  But I hope I don’t start a battle and kill anyone in the process!

THE SIMPLE LIFE

simplicity nuke
simplicity nuke (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I have been lazy about writing my blog this week. Work on the novel has absorbed me. I am at that stage in the process where I cannot think about anything else. Real life is shouting at me but I’m not listening. I’m in the world of my characters, giving birth to their foibles, their likes and dislikes, their irritating personalities. And can they be irritating sometimes.

You see, they won’t do what I want them to. As they develop, they have minds of their own. I try to tie them to the plot, but they have this uncanny knack of extricating themselves; galloping around all over the shop. I must rein them in and give them a good telling off. But I know I will resist, because after all, my story is their world and what right have I, the mere writer, to upset their meanderings?

It’s all about simplicity, you see. Life is becoming far too complicated. Complications are beginning to infiltrate the structure of my book, as they are, my life. I am starting to see that in order to get anywhere, I have to simplify – everything! Just the process of going to the shops to buy paper for my printer  is hugely complicated.

What choices I have! I can take the car and go into the town; ten miles away. If I do that, it will be a waste of petrol not to do some other shopping, but then I will spend more money and probably get a parking ticket because parking is impossible there. So maybe I should walk to the village? But the road is dangerous and the pavement so narrow that the lorries pass me like a knife-throwers knives, with me the target. I can feel the wind of death as they roar past me, inches away from turning me into red mush on the pavement.

So no, I won’t be walking. I could order the paper on the Internet, but I have lost my password for the website and when I try to change it, the computer says no. I could phone the company, but when I try, a girl on the other end asks me for my password, which I have lost. Then I get stroppy with her and she gets nasty back and I hang up – not productive and NOT simple!

I long for simple times, when shopping meant a quiet walk to the village store, a chat with the postman on the way, a chance to pop by a friend’s cottage, drink fresh coffee and eat home-baked cake. I long for roads that are quiet, with one car an hour. I long to see a Green Line coach waiting at the bus stop, with a cheery driver willing to get out of his seat and carry my shopping up the steps for me. I long to enter the village stores and not be assaulted by demands to buy a lottery card, a lottery ticket, a two for one, a three for two, an Easter eggin January!  Yes, life is just too complicated.

C.S.I: Sewing
C.S.I: Sewing (Photo credit: Misato ♥ Leo COUTURE)

Nostalgia gives respite. Maybe that’s why I am trying to use it in this new novel? Or is it because I am not young any more?  And it’s funny process, getting older,  because you want life to be simple and yet you are afraid to express this, because it will make you look like a fuddy-duddy. And the young are complicated. They like complicated things and their lives reflect it. They love complicated! They understand the latest smart phone in minutes. It takes me weeks and at then end of it I still have only understood a quarter of all its functions. But I wouldn’t tell anyone that. Oh, no. I want to be up there with the youngsters. No one will accuse me of supporting ageism!

So, my goal for this week is to make life as simple as I can. Clarity in all things, simplicity in everything. I remember when I used to make my own clothes – back in the dark ages. The patterns I bought from the material shop – that Aladdin‘s cave of colour and touch – were called SIMPLICITY. Of course, they weren’t. They were bloody difficult, but all I needed was the few yards of material, a sewing machine, some thread, a pair of sharp scissors and my hands.  Bliss. At the end of an afternoon of complete concentration, the outcome would be a badly fitting dress. But it didn’t matter. It was just me and the sewing. Simplicity was definitely the name of the game… and the pattern.

Of course, some people might say that making clothes is complicated. Yes, it is, but not in the way I mean. Once I was locked in that sewing room, it was quiet. Maybe Radio 4 was on, maybe the cat wanted feeding or a child came home from school and wanted tea. But there was no mobile phone screaming on and on at me, no computer, no pressure to Tweet, no email, no advertising coming through the letterbox, no need to compete… It was simple and focused and the sun was always shining – wasn’t it?

AN EVIL CRIME

white flower_0309
white flower_0309 (Photo credit: mondays child)

In Manchester UK, two young women police officers were shot yesterday. One was 23 years old and one was 32. These police women were called to a report of burglary and were lured into a situation that ended up with their murders. The prime suspect is being questioned. He was apparently released on bail some months ago, after being arrested for two other murders.

These two young women were doing their job. They expected to finish their days work and go home to their families. They had no idea, I suspect, that the job they were doing was putting them at such risk.  The police have a difficult job to do and when such things happen, we begin to realise just how difficult. What happened to these women is unbelievably evil.

My heart goes out to their families. I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through.

Supporting the police in the UK appears to be unfashionable. There has been so much bad publicity in recent times about bad policing that we forget what brilliant work they do every day in protecting us and our communities. They deserve our loyalty and our help.

I can’t say anything more about this today as I am so sad and ashamed that I live in a country where this has happened.

FIGHTING THE BAD GUYS

Title page from the Edmund Burke's Reflections...
Title page from the Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After reading the accounts of what happened after the Hillsborough tragedy, I am ashamed and horrified that there was such duplicity in our public services. Negligence, cover-ups, trying to shift blame onto the fans – the list goes on and on. And it’s taken over 20 years to get to the truth!

Surfing the net, the other day, I came across a great many sites that talk about the lack of transparency in our society; the way people in positions of power seem willing to shove things under carpets and to subscribe to a sort of mixed metaphor thinking process, where they know what is being said is dishonest, but they somehow convince themselves that they are telling the truth; well, we could stand here and talk till the cows turn red!

I am slowly becoming obsessed with the real meaning of honesty. I wake up at 4 am ruminating about it. What is the difference between white lies and black lies; between honest talk and downright duplicity? Have we lost the plot? Some people really do not seem to know what truth is anymore. Or am I being disingenuous? That’s another English word that can be misinterpreted. A disingenuous person is usually thought of as being hypocritical, deceitful, or insincere – not nice descriptions, yet the word is often used in relation to someone we feel sorry for, ‘poor man, so disingenuous to make an offer to take his wife to a restaurant when he is having an affair with the waitress…’  By saying this, are we subscribing to the lie, supporting the man who is cheating on his wife by using that elastic word ‘disingenuous’ to describe his actions which are clearly duplicit?

Or is this just me? Am I seeing deceit where there is none? In the case of leaders, of any sort; people who have been put or who put themselves into positions of authority, how do you tackle blatant dishonesty? Do you simply say, if you can get near enough, listen – you must be really stupid not to see through all this rubbish – or very disingenuous? How do you make someone see that they are being dishonest when they truly believe that they are not? Wars have been started on this premise.

I am the sort of person who rushes in where angels fear to tread – and I love clichés! Sometimes it works and sometimes I am left with egg on my face (there I go again!) But as I have got older, I have become aware of how many people are happy to to go along with serious untruths, maladministration and cover-ups. Has this always been the case, or is it something new?

Blowing whistles takes a lot of courage; few of us want to wear that label, but increasingly, we have to be prepared to toot. As Edmund Burke said: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. But what if we are losing the ability to define evil? I’m not talking about the big stuff; everyone knows it is evil to murder someone. I am talking about the subtle stuff, the stuff that goes on behind closed doors, at boardroom level, in banks, in secret societies. Dishonesty behind closed doors can lead to what we have witnessed in the Murdoch enquiry, at Hillsborough and many other terrible events where cover-up and lies have ruled.

So, how does the little man or woman make a difference? I think that each of us should give ourselves a personal audit on the way we deal with dishonesty, when we come face to face with it. I have been in meetings where bare-faced lies have been put forward as truth. It takes a strong person to confront such behaviour. Is there a right way to stand up to such dishonesty in public? I think there is, and it is all about getting the facts right. Liars slip up, that’s what they do. To keep the lies going, even for 20 years, takes a lot of energy.

To get to the truth, you have to be prepared to keep plugging away, until you get a glimmer, and you will. A glimmer can lead to a blinding flash and you have to be prepared to manage the aftermath, when those who have been lying are found out, especially if you were responsible for that happening.

Never give up. If you know what you are fighting for is good and right, and you have to be sure that it is, gather like-minded people around you. The organisation, 30 Degrees does just that. http://www.38degrees.org.uk/

There are other groups like http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/ They work to defend civil liberties and protect privacy.

Then there is this group: http://www.rightsworkinggroup.org

This is a quote from their site and explains their vision: Rights Working Group envisions a society where people live with freedom, respect, dignity and equality and strong protections of their civil liberties and human rights, particularly the right to due process and equal protection under the law.

Joining groups like this can support your understanding of good ideals and values in today’s world. However, technology means that the cacophony of noise out there gives good people access to others, but also gives people whose views are counter-productive a space to publicize nastiness, and there’s a lot of that about! Keeping your head when all around are losing theirs (there goes another cliché!) is really important when you are a lone voice standing up for what you know is right.

Perhaps we need a new universal code of practice that makes it crystal clear to us poor mortals what it good and what is bad? Or am I just being disingenuous?

 

THE WRONG MESSAGES FOR YOUNG WOMEN

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna, i...
The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna, in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are certain people in the American media who are saying the most shameful things. What they are saying will be heard by young women who listen to such rubbish and believe it to be true. Rush Limbaugh – I have written about him in another blog – charming man, has told women that they are ‘sluts’ for using birth control. Another peculiar chap called Todd Akin, a member of the Republican Party supported his pro-life stance by saying that women who had been raped – he called it ‘legitimate rape’ rarely get pregnant. How are men who says such things being taken seriously in a civilised country? To give him his due, Akin apologised, but his ridiculous and dangerous comments led people to ask him to withdraw from the senate race, thank goodness.

Another strange Republican called Mike Huckabee was quoted as saying this:

Ethel Waters, for example, was the result of a forcible rape. I used to work for James Robison back in the 1970s, he leads a large Christian organization. He, himself, was the result of a forcible rape. And so I know it happens, and yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things.’

I cannot imagine any circumstances in which rape is acceptable. In my opinion, the children of rape are demeaned and devalued by statements like this. And how do young women in America, or anywhere else for that matter, feel when they read such comments from men who want votes; from men with public profiles? Why do the Media give them the time of day? Because, as it ever was, women’s bodies make money; rape and abuse in all its forms are what a great many people want to read about.

I was party to a conversation between two older men the other afternoon, here in the placid old West Country of the UK. It concerned the antics of two disobedient female dogs that would not respond to their master, one of these crusty old fellows. He remarked that, ‘these days you can’t get women to obey you any more!’  They both cackled conspiratorially at their little joke.
Is this the issue? Are we not obeying men?  Should we stand on street corners, naked and silent, waiting for the next lot of abuse, with a smile on our faces? Are we upsetting the poor dears by making a fuss when we are raped?
In the UK, we sometimes have a more subtle way of devaluing women. Men here are very good at being patronizing, paternal or dismissive. Why, even our own Prime Minister is guilty of such behaviour, when he recently told a fellow politician in the House of Commons to ‘calm down, dear.’  I wonder if this inspired a lot of intelligent young women with aspirations of a career in politics, to change tack and find a nice little job in a supermarket?
I look at the way women are portrayed in UK soap operas. In the current episodes of East Enders – which is increasingly modeling itself on several Greek tragedies – women are shown as either harpies or naïve innocents. The men are either Mafia-like thugs, murderers or insane. The interaction between the sexes sends me into paroxysms of fury or complete mind-numbing boredom. We are living through turbulent times when it comes to portrayed communication between the sexes in film and on TV.  It can be amusing, but it hides a nasty underbelly. Are young women fed ideas and values by what they see and read? If programmes on TV continually show women in such stereotypical roles and as victims of men, if the media continues to feed prurience, how are we to encourage young women to feel empowered and independent; to respect their bodies and their sexuality and to stand up for their rights.

Women have to work with men, they marry men and they have the children of men. That’s a lot of men in one lifetime. Maybe fathers could take a more proactive role in teaching their daughters to be far more critical of what they read and see in the media? Maybe all male family members should remember that the women they are related to, could be raped and abused, and take steps to show them by the way they react, that they will not subscribe to the way women are often vilified and debased?

Violence against women, in any form, be it verbal, rhetorical, physical, emotional or shown in the media as something that men control, ignore, ridicule or approve of, is very very wrong and it gives our young women and young men all the wrong messages.

THOUGHTS ON KIDS AND DIVORCE

 

Single Parents
Single Parents (Photo credit: PlayTV)

Research for a new novel led me to talk to parents going through divorce and separation. Here are some of the things they told me. Thank you to everyone who contributed and gave permission for these quotes to be published on my blog.

‘I am thinking about what it means to be a parent going through a separation or a divorce. I’ve raised three children, sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner, and bringing them up was, at times, a struggle. Now, as I look back at those child-rearing years, I think the secret to survival was enjoying them; seeing the funny side on a daily basis and recognising that as a parent, I needed space for myself,  sometimes.’

‘Someone said that it takes a whole community to raise kids. That’s so true. To go it alone, means you may have no-one to fall back on; you may begin to feel isolated and trapped and then, even the best parent can take those feelings out on the children. You may be far from being an abusive parent, but abuse can be subtle and unintentional. Being so preoccupied with your self that you don’t really ‘hear’ your kids, is to my mind, a kind of subtle abuse. To be wrapped up in your own life so totally, that you begin to treat your kids like annoying little robots is another form of subtle emotional abuse. Single parents need a lot of support in what is, after all, a very tough and unpaid job that goes on for years.’

‘Single fathers are still in the minority but they face huge issues. If they have had a good relationship with their own mother, particularly at that critical age, around fourteen, I think they are likely to cope. Many boys at fourteen start to have problems with their mothers. Boys know, deep inside themselves, that they must break free of her. This means that they can start to act badly. They are rude and sometimes downright nasty to their mothers. That’s not right.’

‘A father must challenge bad behaviour and make sure his son does not to disrespect his mother. He can show his son that to argue  is okay sometimes, but there must be boundaries. Boys need to learn from their fathers how to respect women.  Dad’s have to teach this to their sons, even when it is a mother who has left the family home. That’s a tough call for a hurt father going through a separation, but it is essential.’ 

‘A single father raising a son alone must realise that he will need help from other men. A grandfather or brother can be there to help them deal with the many feelings that divorce and separation throw up, when it is the mother who has left. A sensitive father can also show his son that he respects women and will always respect the boy’s mother.’

Male role models for sons are vitally important. Single mums can do so much for their boys if they enlist the help if their community. Good male teachers can be invaluable. Grandparents can do more that just act as babysitters. They can be listening posts for children going through family conflict by giving them a safe place to discuss their thoughts and fears.’

‘Daughters need some very special things from their fathers. They need affirmation, for a start. This is so important for girls. Affirmation means that a father shows his daughters by the way he talks and interacts with them, that they are special and unique to him. He must give them the chance to practice conversation and mutual respect and admiration with a man who cares deeply for them and know that they are safe with him. Through talking to their fathers girls gain confidence and reassurance and feel worthwhile. They know that they do not need to give themselves to the first man who comes along and flatters them. Fathers can give their daughters a really precious gift; a realistic understanding of what it means to be a man, warts and all.’

‘The quality of the relationship between her mother and father is really important for a girl. Even when parents separate, if the relationship between them has the children’s needs at heart and there is mutual respect, girls can survive separation and divorce relatively unharmed emotionally. Knowing that her mother and father can be civil to each other no matter what, means that she will recognise boundaries. She will learn how to say ‘no’ and take ‘no’ for an answer. If her parents get on well even if they are divorced, she will have a bench mark for her own relationships in the future.’

‘Men need to understand that they must show their children that they can protect them. To a boy, his Dad has to represent strength and protection.  This is crucial to their well-being when the parents are going through a divorce or separation. Men themselves need to feel protected and this is where family and friends can offer support. If a man is going through a difficult and acrimonious divorce, having a someone to talk to is really important; an uncle or a brother or a best friend. Contrary to popular opinion, men do need to talk and be listened to.’

‘Children need  to see their parents behave well.  A father must not be an arrogant, unapproachable ruler. He mustn’t be judge and jury, nor must he be a passive blot on the landscape. And he must be there. A mother must show respect for men. She must show that she has self-respect. She must show confidence in dealing with men and not be a push-over. Both parents must be careful what they say to their children. They must also check grand parents and other family members who have spiteful attitudes and tongues. Not easy.’

‘You can only ever be a ‘good enough’ parent, but if you are, then your kids will thrive. They will know that you have put thought and wisdom into one of the most challenging roles you can ever engage in – that of raising the next generation. With so many kids going through the separation and divorce of their parents, we need to think carefully how these young minds will be affected and do our very best to help lessen the pain that will undoubtedly occur.’

Thanks again to everyone I talked to.

 

WRITER’S DILEMMA

Good Housekeeping is one of several periodical...
Good Housekeeping is one of several periodicals related to homemaking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summer is drawing to an end and I have started researching my next novel. When the sun shines, it’s hard to get down to work. This summer, it has rained almost everyday, but I couldn’t pretend it was winter, because the air was warm.

In the winter, I feel gloriously virtuous, locked away in my little study, beavering over my Mac, listening to the wind roaring through the garden. But between June and September, it’s supposed to be all blue skies and trips to the beach – anything to stop the writing process. Confusing.

This morning, the skies are a satisfying grey;  fifty shades of the colour in some quarters of the firmament. I have woken early – 5am, and carried out the usual morning ritual of making a large pot of tea. This magical potion will see me through until my stomach demands breakfast, at about 8am. It’s after breakfast that the trouble starts. No matter how many resolutions I make about discipline – and you have to be disciplined to write – after breaking the fast, I start looking round for ‘jobs’ to do. Writing is your job, a little voice in my head mutters. But the eyes see washing up in the sink and mud stains on the carpet. The nose sniffs out unpleasant whiffs in the bathrooms. All these anomalies have to be sorted out before I can start messing with the words again.

The battle commences. If I have encouragement – by that I mean, if my husband yells at me to ‘get writing’  followed by ‘I’ll clear up’  I have emotional permission to proceed. If I am alone, those housework gremlins invade my mind and guilt pervades. Now, I have asked myself many times why this is. Was I programmed from birth to put homemaking first? Did my mother raise me wrong? Is it because I is a woman? It’s a conundrum. I know one thing, however. As the years roll on, I am less and less inclined to be ‘good’.

By that, I don’t mean I am embracing evil as a lifestyle. Moi? Never. I’m far too lazy to be purposefully evil. No, what I mean by good, is that inner sanctimony that makes one feel superior to those other slutty women living in the neighbourhood, who go to the movies instead of spring cleaning their nasty, germ ridden homes. I want to join that monstrous brigade of women who don’t give a toss about dust on the windowsill and can live quite happily with a dirty kitchen floor. I don’t wish to believe the adverts that tell me my house will be ‘diamond bright!’ if I use a particular type of cleaner (containing all sorts of nasty chemicals) or stand, like a Stepford Wife, glowing with pink-cheeked pride at the site of a sparkling sink. There is more to life than this!

Of course, I won’t let my surroundings descend into utter filth. I am considerate enough to know that others, who have to live with me, have standards. But once one set of standards drop, they all start falling, like a set of errant dominoes. It is usually me who points out the need for cleaning. My husband, although very willing to chip in, would happily live in a tip; I guess most chaps would, if they have a wife who has spent half of her life as a charlady? When I look back at the hours spent cleaning instead of writing, or even taking a hearty walk in the fresh air, I cringe. Advertising is out there, making us all feel horribly guilt ridden of we do not aspire to winning the Squeaky Clean Gold Medal of Perfection in the domestic arena of our lives. Why? Why? Why?

Of course, clever people have enough dosh to pay some other unfortunate soul to clear up their mess. Could I do that, if I were ever rich enough? No. My dust is my own. I own it. It’s part of the furniture. It’s on the furniture and underneath it. It’s like a huge birthmark. I was born with it, it will always be with me, so I have learned to love it. Why would I want to share this home grown dirt with a stranger and pay them to make it vanish? And it’s not something that will end once you’ve handed out the wages. They will have to come back, like the mess, again and again. It’s a treadmill and everytime they get out the Hoover or fill a bucket with soapy water, I will be reminded of what a filthy mare I really am. No, no. far better to ignore the detritus and get to the real work – writing the next book.