Things I’d Tell My Daughter

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m childfree-by-choice, but as my life fills with young female friends, I find myself thinking about what I want to pass on to them – in a wise-woman way. I so enjoy their company and I love talking to them about how they navigate the world of work, relationships and, well, just being a young woman.

If I’d had a daughter when I was thirty, she would be eighteen now. So these are the things I’d like to say to her, and weirdly, lots of them are things my mother said to me, but I didn’t quite understand them at the time.

Be yourself

It sounds like a hackneyed phrase that all (good) mothers say to daughters as they walk into the world, but I mean just that. Be your own self. Your life doesn’t have to be defined by being a partner, a mother, or even having a stellar career. Just know that you have a choice in all of this. Define yourself by the life you choose to live, and by the people you choose to experience it with.

If in doubt, don’t

My mum used to say this all the time. But oh how true. If you have any doubts about a relationship you’re in, any at all, leave it. Don’t wait for ‘the day’ to come. It won’t and you’ll have lost valuable time. Never settle for something that doesn’t feel right or compromise your own sense of what is right to please a partner. Your gut will tell you that something is wrong – listen to it and take action.

Love your body

People started commenting on your body from a young age and it will be monitored by those around you (male and female) as you grow older. Look in the mirror and look into your own, makeup-free eyes before you monitor your own body. Make an agreement with yourself to see someone beautiful, strong and taking up space in the world. Never starve your body – eating properly makes you all of these things.

Look out for toxic people

Some of the people you choose to surround yourself with will make you feel good about yourself, others will do their damnedest to try and bring you down. These people are usually insecure and jealous of beautiful, strong, young women who are confident in the world. Surround yourself with the good ones, ditch the toxics. Don’t try and hold on to foul friendships – they will just bring you down. It’s ok to let friends – and family – go.

Be in the space

Take up space in the world. If you’re out walking, running or doing yoga in the park – take up the space. If you’re in the office in a meeting, let your voice take up the space. If you’re online and you feel strongly about something, let your words take up the space. Never flinch if people question why you are there, and they will – make your presence felt and your voice heard.

Be confident in your sexuality

Whatever your sexuality is, people will try and make you feel as though you have to hide it, that it is shameful, that you should not seek sexual pleasure just for its own sake. Do everything you want to do, safely and confidently. Do it and never wake up with regrets. The only regret you’ll have is that you never did it.

Compliment other women

Tell other women that they’re good at things. Things that don’t involve hair, makeup, losing weight or wearing a fab outfit. It will change their lives.

Don’t dread getting older

Don’t. Good things happen and they are unexpected. Your body and brain will have a way of coping with the transition that means you will discover each milestone isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. Older women are smart, beautiful and supportive of younger women. Don’t believe the myth that they’re not any of those things – it’s a lie constructed by society because older women are immensely powerful people.

Don’t lead a tick box life

Question everything. Never do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Feel the peer pressure and question it anyway. You can construct your own set of tick boxes that are different to other people’s. Don’t believe what others tell you about people, places or other cultures – find out for yourself.

Do things on your own

Even when you’re young, it’s important to commune with yourself, not just your friends. Do things on your own, such as going to the cinema, walking, going for coffee, even on holiday. You’ll never regret it.

Look out for controlling partners

Beware of signs that your partner is trying to control you. It can be oh so subtle, and before you know it, your life is completely in the control of another. If they make negative comments about your weight, what you’re wearing, or stop you seeing certain friends, the red flag is waving. Get out.

There are wonderful people out there

You’ll know the signs. They will be kind to you, your friends, their friends and their family. They will celebrate your successes and be there when things go wrong, without a sly smile on their faces. They will offer to connect you to people they know to help you in your career, and notably, women will help other women.

Say sorry

There will be times when you regret your behaviour, or saying something that has hurt someone else. Tell them you’re sorry and they will forgive you. If you don’t, the guilty feelings will just build inside of you and make you more likely to hurt someone again. We’re all flawed – think of apologising as a flaw release valve.

Have fun when you’re young

Don’t hide away from fun times. Work hard, play hard – get into all the corners that life is offering you. Make mistakes. If not, you will spend the rest of your life trying to make up for missed opportunities.

Ignore all of this and find out for yourself

Because I did when my mum told me.

Advertisements

Home Land

Having never been a huge fan of crime or murder-mystery series’ on TV, I’ve recently found myself addicted to a certain number of them, to the point where I’ve binge-watched them over a number of weeks, leaving my LoveFilm movies to one side as I complete each season. It started with Danish crime series The Bridge, and my girl-crush on lead character Saga Norén, then Sarah Lund in another Scandi-drama, The Killing, and now Carrie Mathison in Homeland. (I’m probably soon to start obsessing over Stella Gibson in The Fall or Gro Grønnegaard in The Legacy.)

I’ve always preferred human stories over complicated whodunnit plotlines so I’ve followed the stories of these women as they’ve led missions to solve crimes and track down villains, not really caring about the superficial plotline, but definitely caring about what happens to them and why they’re doing what they do.

A number of identifying characteristics binds them all and I’m finding it fascinating as to why this is a trend in crime dramas – the rise of the brilliant, yet unstable, often mentally challenged, highly independent professional woman who doesn’t give a toss about family or having children. To all intents and purposes, this is the new version of the maverick, swaggering, ‘fuck you’ trope of the ’70s and ’80s crime dramas, epitomised in male-led cop shows like Cracker or The Sweeney and parodied by Gene Hunt in Life on Mars.

These women walk into bars and pick up guys, they drink too much and they neglect their progeny. They’re brilliant at their jobs but they have trouble interacting socially and are prone to say what they think, even if it’s inappropriate. They’re sometimes highly autistic or bipolar, needing medication to manage their mental state, along with wine. They can’t be bothered wearing makeup or man-pleasing clothes – they simply get clean t-shirts out of their desks or pull on frumpy jumpers and badly fitting trouser suits instead. Who gives a f*ck about appearance when there’s a job to be done?!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this development, and wondering if it’s a bad thing that these brilliant women are being portrayed as child-resistant ‘unnaturals’. Are we meant to celebrate their inhabiting of the lone-wolf space, previously taken up by family-avoiding male detectives, or are we criticising their refuting of domestic bliss for the joy of job satisfaction? The trend has its roots in earlier cop dramas like Prime Suspect and Cagney and Lacey – Jane Tennison and Chris Cagney were allowed to exist outside the domestic space but it was one they at least tried to access. These new women are not even considering it – if anything, human relationships are secondary to their professional ones in a way that has stereotypically been associated with men for decades.

If we’re meant to be critical of these women, then I’m not feeling it. I’m watching these shows precisely because they outline the concept of female independence so clearly. The recent crop of them shows that there is a huge audience fascination with these ladies, and it can’t just be women watching them. I have to admit that my first thought on watching The Bridge was, “typical – to be a successful, non-familial woman in a male-dominated space on TV, you have to be somewhere high up on the autistic spectrum, and your lack of maternal instinct viewed as nothing short of freakish.” Then, as the number of these high-functioning women appearing on my TV screen grew, I started to think that this trend is nothing short of a revolution in female roles both on- and off-screen. Yes, the characters are flawed in ways that fascinate us, but we don’t judge them for non-conformity.

What’s most interesting is that when Skyler White first graced our screens in Breaking Bad, pregnant and desperately trying to hold together a picture of domestic bliss and familial normality, social media exploded in direct criticism of her actions, as though she was somehow spoiling her husband’s maverick crystal-meth-making fun. Even the actress that played her was vilified for the part she played in trying to keep her family together, trying to make her husband conform.

So bring on Stella and Gro because I can’t get enough of these indie women. The plotlines of these series are just a sideshow to the real story – women are dominating our screens in ways we’ve never seen before and I love it. This winter I’ll be swishing around in a military greatcoat (which I’ve had for years, actually) and DM boots, pretending I’m Saga, solving crimes in Denmark, eschewing makeup and letting my hair dry naturally as I stride into the office.

I might stop short of changing my t-shirt in the office in front of everyone, though.

I don’t think we’re ready for that just yet.

 

Ping Pong

On Friday night, I attended a Ping Pong night organised by my work colleagues at London’s Bounce. It’s a really fun night and something that happens a couple of times a year. Everyone is organised into doubles teams and the evening consists of beer, good cheer and banter, as we all live through the highs and lows of winning and losing.

Except I choose not to play.

I like to go along and be part of the social event but I can’t bear team sports or competitive situations. I’m much happier witnessing the progress of others with a glass of wine in my hand, capturing the action on social media.

An interesting thing happens each time I go along to one of these things. I’m routinely asked why I’m not playing, if I wished I was, if I regret my decision, if I feel I’m missing out. Usually the questions come from just one or two people who can’t believe I’ve opted out and are desperate to make me part of the game. Nope, I say, I’m happy with my choice.

I’m childfree-by-choice, as it happens, and my life is often like that Ping Pong night, complete with a continous rolling sidebar of questions from friends and strangers, although they get less frequent as I get older and out of the baby-making zone.

I’ve always known I didn’t want kids, even as a teenager, and although I have always been very clear on the decision, I have regularly ‘checked in’ with myself to make sure my head was still in agreement with my heart. There have been pressure points along the way – I had to have The Conversation with my husband-to-be about it in case he thought I’d change my mind. ‘I never say never,” I said, “but as far as things stand now, I don’t want them, and you need to be sure you want to be with me.” Then came the weddings-and-babies years of my thirties – the peer pressure was huge. “It’s just what you do,” friends said. The more they said that the more I questioned it. I’d never want to ‘just do’ anything that everyone else is doing just for the sake of it.

I loved my friends’ babies but sometimes my enthusiasm for them was taken as a ‘sign’ that I was broody. There was one particular weekend where I was doing that couply thing of staying in a country cottage with a group of friends. One couple brought their adorable baby boy and I bounced him on my knee for pretty much the whole weekend. Looks passed among the group as if to say, “See? Finally she’s joined us.” I hadn’t. I had just met a tiny person that I really liked being with. Looking back at the pictures still makes me smile. He was smily, fat-cheeked and gorgeous.

One by one, my friends had their children. Many of them struggled to conceive and being childfree, they felt able to tell me about their problems. I was so grateful not to have the all-encompassing urge to get pregnant, that I could hear their stories and comfort them as much as I could. It seemed as though they thought it was some sort of failure on their part, that they struggled to admit to each other, but could do so to me. Some friends admitted to me that they didn’t realise they’d had a choice about having children, and that they hadn’t expected the ‘drudgery’ of their post-natal lives. But then they threw themselves into it, happily, and had one or two more children. In for a penny, I suppose…

I did have a couple of wobbles during those years – mainly because having babies was what everyone was doing. My opting out of it was like choosing not to go to university, have a husband, buy a house – like not ticking a box in the tick-box life. But my gut instinct was right and I stuck to it (I ignored it about one of those things, but that’s for another blog post).

There are possible underlying reasons why I don’t want children, such as my parents dying early, that may be partly responsible for my decision. I do feel very strongly about not willingly inflicting that experience on another person, especially as an older parent. But perhaps there is also some truth in the other statement sometimes lobbed at me: “you just haven’t met the right man yet.”  The only time I’ve ever felt anything close to an urge to have a baby, it was because I had fallen deeply in love with a man. I think I must have a low-level ‘water-table’ of maternal hormones that were brought tantalisingly close to the surface during that time, but I’m grateful to my gut instinct, because that man turned out to be a colossal git.

Whenever I get the Sidebar of Questions, including the usual, “but you’d be a great mum!” I always say, “I’d make a great bus conductor, but I’m not here to do that either.” I just know I’m not here to be a mother. Other people are, and they’re great at it. I love seeing my friends raising their beautiful children and I salute them. I have loved accompanying my godson and his mother when he is at football, trampolining lessons or drumming on a kit in a music shop (he’s brilliant at it: I call him “rock-godson”). It does give me joy and thank goodness I do have my friends’  children in my life.

Someone once said to me that freedom was obviously the most important thing to me. At the time it didn’t quite register. “Is it?!” I thought. I was still married at that point, but looking back, I was constantly making bids for freedom. My running times at weekends had got longer and longer as I plunged deeper into the Buckinghamshire countryside, on ever more circuitous routes that would wear me out. I was staying out after work more and more and taking all-day shopping trips on Saturdays. On holidays, I longed to disappear off over the horizon on my own. In retrospect, it was all pretty clear.

Yes, freedom is incredibly important to me. I long to have a Jack Russell in my life, but it would curb my freedom and would be unfair on the animal. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the same would apply to a baby. It would completely unfair on both of us if I had one. Am I being selfish? I’m sure someone will tell me I am. I will admit openly that I do not want to live my life through someone else’s – the things I’ve achieved have come relatively late in life and they’ve been hard won. If being selfish is making a decision that improves my life and avoids a disappointing one for another human being, then I’m happy to live with that.

And I do.

Because I can.

 

——————-

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/CamillaLong/article1453705.ece