Lessons From My Mother: when everything goes wrong
Many years ago, in the middle of my hysterical bout of misery at the prospect of extra maths lessons, my mother booked an impromptu family holiday in Wales. It was 2008. My parents were stockbrokers.
I asked her how she coped, back then, as the world crashed down around us and she stared at the TV and phone, waiting for my dad to call from the Cambridge office. It wasn’t good if he did. It was worse if he didn’t. But she put on a brave face, playing with us in the snow, grinning as we took photographs, telling us stories of castles and duchesses. “How did you do it?” I asked in awe, an adulthood later.
“You made it easier,” she said. “I watched you and your sister play, fight and find joy in snow and twigs and charity shop books. It made me realise there was a lot more than stocks, money and shares. A lot more than work.”
That, for me, has hit home a lot since I embarked on precarious independence. However achingly cruel the world may feel, go look at the sky. Go watch the leaves turn umber on Primrose Hill. Lose yourself in a book and forget the world around you. The world is there. It doesn’t stop because something has gone wrong, something had ended, or another thing has begun. Thrive in the small, intimate beauties of life.
My mother is wrong on a lot of things, namely avoiding South Asian cooking and her weird penchant for floral wallpaper, but she gets some things so remarkably spot on that it seems daft not to share them. So here are some sayings from my wise, bizarre baby boomer Mother:
1. Don’t sacrifice your happiness for convention.
Never, ever be utterly miserable to impress or satisfy someone else. If your marriage/gym regime/over time is killing you, never feel the correct answer is to grit your teeth and bear it. If you’ve made your bed and found there’s an alligator under the pillow, you aren’t a coward for saying “yeah no, bye". Whatever society thinks.
2. Say no, as well as yes.
No is as vital as yes. Good decisions can be hard decisions. Never be a push over. You can’t please everyone and trying to will exhaust any genuine empathy or concern you have. Learn how to say no firmly, kindly and often. Better a ‘no thanks, I don’t feel comfortable taking that on yet’ than a long explanation about why you are having a mental breakdown over a stapler.
3. Have your limits and know your worth.
Remember when you were at school and had a really mean friend, who was horrible to you but you stayed because your self esteem was so battered? Recognise abusive patterns in your relationships and get the hell out. It isn’t okay for your boyfriend to call you ugly. It isn’t okay to tolerate emotional abuse from a horrible cousin at a wedding. Get out. You deserve it. Get out.
4. Never let your worth depend on your work.
It’s literally a job. Hell, you might be great at it, but it’s a job. Unless you are literally smuggling children our of ISIS territories, how well you do your job is pretty low down global priorities. Focus on what matters to you. No one remembers your VITs from Week 42 in eight years. Relax.
5. Recognise a bastard.
Some people suck. Some people are horrible, horrible people. They might be people you love very much, but get really good at identifying a sociopath. Even if you can’t avoid Uncle Larry, you can bear the fact he’s a jerk in mind when he berates you for cooking.
6. You are not what other people do to you.
Abusers choose to abuse you.
Bullies choose to bully you.
It isn’t your fault. It was never your fault.
7. Avoid biscuits.
Easy empty carbs. (She just feels strongly on this one).
8. You can’t plan love or babies.
You might get pregnant at 18, you might get pregnant at 46. You might fall insanely in love with your best friend’s husband. You might really fancy a grandma. Stop over planning it. What will be will be.
9. Femininity is powerful.
Lipstick and a bit of flirting will get you far. Or at least a free coffee in Pret.
10. Learn to leave, and learn to stay.
It’s a good thing to know when to quit when you’ve lost enough, and it’s worth knowing when you need to stay in the game. Trust your gut. Listen to your head, not just your heart.