Aren’t you supposed to be setting an example?
What on earth are you doing with your life?
There is much discussion about what makes us happy. What gives us meaning. Everyone from scientists, to kids, to those of us in between. There’s a train of thought that living wholeheartedly is the key. Is it?
There’s a belief that wholehearted living comes from being true to yourself. Being authentic to yourself. So is this why so many women realise that at 40 they haven’t been true to themselves? That they are still searching for something? Or does it mean that they are more content in the role they are now playing? Often the role of parent, because caring is what makes them true to themselves?
Back in 1992 I left school and walked straight into a crisis. I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, or what it was all about. Society did. There were expectations, pathways set out for us; we just had to choose our way. More options, alleged options.
In 2015 I hit 40 and realised that I’d been living my midlife crisis since I was 16 years old. Since then, and ever since, my authenticity was challenged by the expectations of the society that I didn’t want to be confined to.
My mum recently handed me an old scrap of paper, on which was wisely written:
“Life is dead easy when you do what society expects.”
I wrote that in 1992. Natalie Fidler, aged 16. Not bad really for 16. Instead of keeping it in a safe place for 30 years, I now think she should have tattooed it on my forehead. Yes, it is. Of course it is. If that’s what you want. But I’ve never been very good at conforming.
And a wholehearted life, I now find, is the most enjoyable life. And meeting the expectations of others is not the way to achieve that. Except that’s what we all do, blindly throughout our whole lives. And it’s rare to find someone that refuses to live that way.
And quite often, when we do, they are considered the mad ones. The crazy few.
These are those who had the guts to launch their own business, to live by their own rules and to make new rules. They decided parenting wasn’t for them, or the 9-5 wasn’t their ideal. How dare they? But who dares wins, right? They do. They win.
We are the crazy ones, conforming to the social norms. Little tiny rules of behaviour. Sure, that’s what makes a society; the norms that prevent anarchy, but they also stifle us without us noticing.
The mark of success in our culture today is measured in money, in job titles, in mortgages and multi-centre holidays.
I started to let my kids walk to school by themselves before any of my friends did. “Oh I wish I could, but I’m too afraid to / they’re not as old as yours / we live further away than you” etc. Actually, while these facts may be true the truth here is “I daren’t” and they daren’t because society says you shouldn’t. Society.
I’ve read countless studies on the importance of freedom in childhood. It’s important for kids’ development, emotional resilience, health, fitness, eyesight, you name it. But that won’t get them into university. French lessons and violin lessons and extra maths and swimming and running club… that’s what will get them into university. And university is vital. Because without going to university they won’t be able to get a high flying job, or a mortgage, and never that multi-centre holiday.
What if we measured success by something else?
Let’s measure it differently. What if we dared to measure it by the free time we have? The days we don’t work and we don’t earn even more for another holiday. How would it feel if we had a day off every week? What if we worked part-time or we parented full-time? How would it be if we just were content living in a community of like-minded people, drinking tea with our friends and chatting over the fence with the neighbours?
Oh wait? That’s old fashioned, going backwards? Outdated? That won’t get them a personal pension will it? Next I’ll be telling everyone to grow their own fruit and vegetables instead of buying everything from a supermarket. Well, what if we did that? If we bought less? If we had less?
As I look to the rebels in society, I start to see every tiny thing as a success. The mum who refuses to ‘dress like a mum’, the one that dyes her hair pink. There’s the one that runs a lot, another who swims a lot. There’s one that is a high flying lawyer.
Then there’s me. I remember walking to the doctor’s once when I was about 25. The sun was out and I thought to myself, “I can’t wait not to have to go to work anymore, once I’ve had a baby”. Yet I don’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I thought I would – and that’s a whole other story right there – but why not celebrate our successes as our own successes and not those of the big society?
So how about I don’t apologise anymore for drinking coffee with my fabulous friends. Stop making jokey excuses for prioritising those I love to spend time with. How about I don’t make self-deprecating noises when I’ve been for a run, or to the gym. Instead of getting it all done in the background, how about I’m more upfront about the time spent getting on top of another load of washing. And how about I decide not to feel guilty for missing out on the school run and letting them walk home?
What we should do is make a manifesto for ourselves.
My manifesto is for the rebel in me.
I shall nurture her. I shall be the woman who I wanted to be but was too scared to be.
- I shall wear my punk, grunge and rock t-shirts. And my Back to The Future t-shirt
- I’ll discover new music and go to gigs without being self-conscious
- I’ll play old classics with the car windows down if I want to
- I’ll not wear makeup every day and I will not care. My face is not who I am
- I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve and I won’t hide my feelings
- I’ll read as much as I like – on any medium that I choose
- I won’t apologise for being a night owl
- Nor feel bad that I’m not a morning person
- I’ll play more and work less, because I want to
- I’ll cook for the kids more, because I want to.
Let’s make manifestos for ourselves. Let’s start to be our true selves, not our lost selves. And then let’s ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Is it because I feel I should, or because I genuinely want to?”
And then we’ll start making better choices and being great, happy role models.
And that’s what parenting really is.