Blowing in the wind

Watching the Winter Olympics in complete awe of the bravery, determination and talent shown by the competitors, it upset me to hear that the female ski jumpers had to fight for years to finally be allowed to jump in the Sochi Olympics four years ago (apparently one argument against it was that their reproductive organs may get damaged on landing) and even now they only get one event, while the men get three.

There are still, as we know, huge inequalities in sport across the board: from prize money, to coverage, to access…it makes for depressing thoughts and until there are more females holding top positions on boards, progress will continue to be slow. Women are underrepresented and therefore open to exploitation and abuse.

The female snowboarders competed in horrendous winds in Pyeongchang a couple of days ago and most people, including the competitors, felt it should have been postponed as it was dangerous. Yet the message that came across was that the female athletes hadn’t made their voices heard. That they hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, to rock the boat. To me this mirrors the bigger picture of where female athletes see themselves in the pecking order.

Women need to have a voice in sport – they need to make themselves heard!

As I was pondering this inequality (and I ponder it often, as my daughter is a footballer) I thought about how important it is that we get girls into sport and keep them there! The vast majority give up sport as teenagers.

Teenage girls are incredibly self conscious and I’m convinced this is one of the main reasons why they quit sport: the outfits, the gear, the sweat, the performance- it all draws attention to them at a time when they prefer to hide behind screens with filters and two hundred takes for that perfect look.

How do we convince our girls that sport will rock their self-esteem far more than 100 likes on Instagram and more than comments such as ‘beaut’ and ‘hotty’ ever will?

How the hell are we going to convince them, when actually there’s not enough action coming from the top? This is the problem.

IF we are going to get more girls into sport, we’ve not only got to smash stereotypes at the ground level, we need to get a huge momentum going at the top end of the sports themselves.

Yes, we need sportswomen as role models, we need females in the boardrooms, we need female coaches, we need a VOICE!

The struggle is real. Sadly I think that we are years away from big change. As an International female Taekwon-do competitor, as a Taekwon-do coach, as a mum to a female International footballer, as an avid spectator of sport, I see and have seen terrible inequality.

In my sport I teach people how to fight in the ring. As a female it can often feel as if every step towards equality is a fight. Not all women are taught to fight. The ‘fight’ response is often quashed by gender stereotyping at a young age. While boys are told to ‘man up’ girls are conditioned to be ‘like a girl’ – both are wrong.

But the fight is on!

We must all play our part. We must not allow our voices to get lost in the wind.

      Stepdaughter fighting in the ring

Melting worries

I turned to my 18 year old daughter the other day and asked her if she’d ever smoked. 18 years old and I’d never asked her before. It seems I’d only just got around to it. As I was rather pleased that I had finally thought to ask one of the questions that is surely in the parents’ guide of things to ask, I asked her one by one if her sisters had ever smoked (just in case I didn’t get around to asking them myself).

This morning I was thinking about this as I remembered how, when my daughters were really little, I was dreading the fact that they might smoke when they were teens. Of course, even now I don’t want them to smoke. But the point is that I forgot to worry about it when they became teenagers. I forgot to worry about it because bigger worries came along and took up my head space. I worried about them taking drugs and then this worry was displaced with a worry about screens and now this worry has been displaced with a worry about dreadful things happening to them when they get drunk.

Of course I am not suggesting that I am only capable of one worry at a time, but it made me realise that many of my worries simply melt into nothing and are replaced with trust.

When we reach a point with our teenagers that we feel able to trust them, it feels as if a huge weight has been lifted from us. We are quite literally able to take a big step back and observe.

We can observe their fuck ups. But we can also observe that they are doing just fine.

As parents we will never, ever stop worrying. However, we must not smother our kids with our worries. I don’t think there’s any harm in letting them show either – it makes our children feel secure and maybe, perhaps, think a little more about how they act and what they do.

A teenager needs to feel trusted, because just as parents we feel more relaxed when we trust, our teenagers will gain in confidence with the knowledge that we trust them.

Snowflake Parenting

Our kids are being called, ‘the snowflake generation’ – lacking resilience and emotionally vulnerable, but you know what? It’s not their fault. It’s our fault as parents. We are parenting them from a position of fear. We are snowflake parenting.

When you go with your gut instinct in a situation, you usually make a quick decision. You don’t necessarily work through every possible scenario and consequence, you just react to your initial thought. You then will probably go about the rest of your day without it taking up much more head space. Brilliant.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how most parents these days parent. Parenting from the gut is a dying art and I blame Google, Facebook and Mumsnet.

Back in the day when you had a persistent cough or a weird rash, you’d get one or two people’s opinions on what it might be, and that may or may not have included a doctor, and before you knew it, it would have gone away. Nowadays we google the shit out of every ailment, so that within an hour we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s something far worse than it probably is.

It’s the same with parenting. We have a concern about our child. We voice our concern… to literally thousands of people online. We get back a deluge of opinions, many of which are basically telling us that our parenting is shit. We doubt our ability to parent. We wonder how we are even allowed to parent. We sit in a darkened room, lit up only by a computer screen and we worry and we are confused and we may even cry.

We are parenting from a position of fear. It’s making us forget what we really should know: that our kids will be ok. Because my mum didn’t breastfeed me and I am ok. I walked to the shops on my own when I was 7 and survived. I went up to London with a friend from the age of 12 without a mobile phone and I didn’t get lost. My mum didn’t care less, she worried less. She went with her gut and then carried on with her day.

Yet now we are parenting from fear: fear of what others might think, or even worse, say. Fear of defying the online majority’s opinion. Fear of being told by someone we don’t even know that we are a bad parent.

Fear takes hold and spreads like a wild fire. We quickly lose control and our way of trying to regain control is by smothering it.

We are smothering our children. They are unable to think for themselves. We would rather rescue them from difficult situations than watch them struggle.

They are delicate and so are we.

The snowflake generation can blame us for their emotional weakness, but it really isn’t our fault. The internet has stripped us of our logic and is leaving us vulnerable too.

In my book, ‘Raising Girls who can Boss it’ I address this fear. I talk about how we as parents need to have the confidence to let go a little. To give our children space to breathe in their own air and to exhale their own thoughts.

We need to worry less. Stand back, take a breath and hope.
…and yes, nowadays this is easier said than done.


When it comes to our preoccupation with screens, us parents are hypocrites. Perhaps it’s our earned prerogative, or simply a rebellion via the back door. We pop off to bed early to read our book, only to find that an hour later we are still scrolling through the dregs of Facebook. Just one more person’s news, just one more click and then we’re surprised (every night) that it’s suddenly the witching hour and we’re absolutely knackered and can’t sleep because something we’ve read has pointlessly wound us up. And so we lie in our bed worrying, (because every little worry creeps around at night), and one of those little worries is that we forgot to take the kids’ mobiles off them an hour before bed (again).

We’re nothing but bloody hypocrites. But it’s ok, because we are the parents and so we are allowed to take photos of of our food, our cappuccino, our glass of wine and put them on Instagram without fear of reprisal. Being an adult gives us this right. We can wake up in the morning and grab at our phone and glasses and check our e mails and the news, because we have to know what’s been going on (obsessively).

‘Screens are a drug’, we tell our kids, as we feed it to them when it suits. When we want that moment’s peace. Like the chocolate bar, the trip to MacDonald’s – just a treat. The treat that leaves them wanting more. That leaves all of us wanting more. The treat that becomes addictive. On their birthdays and at Christmas we are their dealers. Dealers with a conscience and a sense of responsibility to those who score. A responsibility that we aren’t quite savvy enough to handle.

‘You are always attached to your phones’ I tell my teens and I don’t think they can be bothered to reply the obvious. They notice, but they think it so normal that I am attached to mine. That I check every buzz, every ‘like’, every tweet. Just like them.

I think we need to stop kidding ourselves that any of this is going to change. If we can’t change, they can’t change. This addiction is assimilated in all our lives. We can read articles about its dangers and nod and agree, but at some point we have to put our hands up and say: this is life and not just our kids’ lives, but our lives too. We are hypocrites and when we admit it, then we will accept it. And you know what? We will adapt to it (we already have). We are feeding it. What’s important is that we understand it.

Standing outside the box

I was chatting to my sister about disciplining teens and the old chestnut came up about giving them barriers to kick against. “Yes” my sister said, “but what if those barriers don’t work?”

It came to me that there are different types of barriers and then this analogy popped into my head. Imagine your teen in a cardboard box. Firstly, imagine that they are screwed up into a ball. They have no leg space to unravel themselves and they are struggling for air. It’s uncomfortable and oppressive and they can’t talk because their face is pushed downwards onto their chest, with their knees digging into it. They are getting hotter and more frustrated as they literally cannot move. It’s dark in there. Their parents are sitting on the box, preventing them from opening the flaps. 

Now imagine the scenario of the same teenager, but they are in a bigger box. There is room in there for them to stretch out their legs. They can breathe freely and when they want to talk to someone, they can open the flap. Their parents are standing just outside the box. When the teen stretches out their legs, their feet touch the sides. They feel secure in their box, as the cardboard walls make them feel safe. 

One thing I’ve learnt over the past few years, is how important it is to parent outside that big box, rather than sitting on it. Teenagers want to know you are there, but not too close. They need to feel trusted, but they also need to know what the parameters are. They need rules so that they can argue against them, whilst knowing you care and have certain expectations of them. In short, they need a box, but they need space in that box to move. If we don’t give our teens space to explore, to make mistakes then they will never learn what to do when they fuck up. If we are always on them, rescuing them when they fail, they will never learn resilience. If we don’t give them the space to be able to kick the sides of the box, they will most probably eventually explode out of it, catapulting us far away and abusing their new found freedom, because, like a kid in a toy shop, they want all the toys they were never allowed. 

So back to my sister’s point: what if those barriers don’t work? Well, if the big box isn’t strong enough, and this could be for a multitude of reasons: poor friendships, incident-induced anxiety, perhaps some nature and a little nurture, then we will watch them fuck up. That’s ok. We did and we survived. But we will be there, standing right outside that box, to help them get back on track. 

So predictable

Since my daughters have hit their teens, I have had that recurring thought of the similarities between teenagers and toddlers: self-centered, attention-seeking and petulant. Unable to always communicate properly, other than via a series of miserable whines that extol utterances of ‘woe me’. The ability to make you feel like a worthless piece of shite, whilst you freely still slather them in love. Then there’s the highly irritating trait of being utterly charming to granny and friends’ parents, so that these duped individuals exclaim to you (in a voice that makes you feel like a nasty fraud), “difficult? I don’t know what you mean!” Usually said as they feed them another biscuit which, when they have cheerily and smugly said goodbye to you and your offspring, will leave you dealing with the carnage of the sugar rush.

Are you the parent of a toddler who is worried about time moving too fast? Fret not. It only moves like lightening in the bigger picture. The minutiae  of life, the bickering and the tantrums, can keep the cogs turning slowly. Of course, just like toddlers, there are many moments of wonder and unadulterated joy with teenagers, but we all know that the reality is that shit happens. Whatever lies your Instagram feed is showing you, with the best will in the world and as much as you would not be without them, sometimes being with toddlers and teenagers is hard bloody work.

Last night however, prompted by one of my dogs wanting a wee, when he should have been going to sleep, my thoughts turned to the differences between having little ones and having teenagers. As I lay in bed, waiting for partner to take the dog out to the toilet, it came to me that one of the most stressful parts of having babies and toddlers is their unpredictability. Weeks of colic with daughter 1, unable to predict what would set her off screaming for hours, sent my already high stress levels rocketing. I can clearly remember the pure relief I felt, when at 16 weeks I had got her into some kind of routine, her colic had subsided and she became more predictable. If as parents of tinies you knew the night schedule in advance: baby wakes at 11pm for a feed, toddler cries 1am-2am for no apparent reason, baby wakes at 2am for a feed, toddler wakes at 5am for Peppa Pig on loop and breakfast, it would actually be far easier to deal with, because you could formulate a plan. Not quite knowing makes it stressful, and in the early days it can feel quite scary.

As a rookie teacher it was the same. The more experienced I became, the more behaviours I had encountered and therefore the more predictable they were. I think it’s the same with teenagers; in many ways their behaviours are highly predictable. You get very little thanks for doing things for them as they feel it’s their right anyway. They don’t bring dirty mugs downstairs. They spend hours on their phones, they take hundreds of selfies…oh the list could go on and on, but at least you know where you stand! They can be so incredibly predictable.

Does predictability make life any easier? Sometimes. Although occasionally, of course, it is the surprises that make life interesting*.

*not when they involve screaming, shit, sick or wee. Smiles, flowers, pleasant behaviour, are all good surprises

“In fiction: we find the predictable boring. In real life: we find the unpredictable terrifying.”

– Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Be Real(istic)

Be Real is a national movement made up of individuals, schools, businesses, charities and public bodies, who are coming together to campaign to change attitudes to body image.’ They are aiming to create a more accessible, more real vision of beauty.

Now, I am all for this. As a woman and mum to 5 girls, body image is a subject close to my heart. It worries me how much pressure girls are under to look good, to conform to a certain image. An image that is, in reality, completely unattainable for various reasons. Those glossy photos they drool over in magazines that are photo shopped to hell. Then, there’s the often overlooked fact that to a large extent, you are what you’ve got. If your mum and grandma were short with large thighs and an ample bust, then there’s a very good chance that you may be too and there just isn’t a lot you can do about it. It’s very difficult to turn a pear into a banana.

Of course, the point of this campaign is to spread the message that you don’t have to change your body shape to conform. They want kids to see beauty as confidence and are saying that it’s not what you look like, it’s who you are. I applaud this, but they are really up against it with this campaign and without trying to sound as if I’m pissing on a brilliant parade, here’s why:

Parents are our kid’s role models. Kitchen shelves all over the world, are heaving under the weight of low carb diet cook books. At the moment, my Instagram feed is full of photos of shredded veg. Photos of every meal, meticulously prepared under Slim fast rules. Mum wants to lose weight. Nothing wrong with that. Mum is obsessed with losing weight. Every pound lost gives rise to an exuberant shout out in her Facebook news feed. We all know that losing weight is bloody hard work and making the ordeal public helps keep the momentum going. Meanwhile, her daughter is taking all this on board. Her mum’s desperation to change her body shape. Her daughter can see that it’s not about who her mum is: a hard working, amazing person who is always there for her family and who gave birth to wonderful human beings. No, her daughter is seeing through her mum’s eyes that it isn’t, in reality, about who you are, it’s about what you look like. Because ultimately, for many, this does go quite some way to defining who they are. 

Then there’s the Social media obsession with make up. Driven at high speed forwards by beauty bloggers, who are telling our impressionable daughters that it is vital to have a different make up brush for each part of your face. Trust me, I know. I know because my daughters are keeping Chinese factories in business. 

There are the models who are starving themselves to within an inch of their lives, only to have curves photo shopped on to their bodies. Oh, the irony of it! Meanwhile, our daughters are lapping up the images. Images that are reinforced by celebrities, who further feed the obsession with looks. In a warped kind of way, they make it all seem more real than the photos of models, because their whole business is built around making people connect with them. 

We’re telling our daughters that they are, ‘beautiful’. Mums proudly post photos of their daughter on social media and the comments of how ‘pretty’ she is, flood in. Perhaps there’s no harm done. Perhaps we are telling her that looks matter. Almost unwittingly reinforcing that thought.

The ‘Be Real’ campaign is spreading such an admirable message. Dove are one of the supporters of this campaign and they have tried to change attitudes to body image before, using ‘real’ women in their adverts. This served to hi light awareness of the issue of body image in advertising and that is, of course, a good thing. My point is that despite a global conversation being initiated by the campaign, kids continue to be bombarded by unrealistic images. The internet is too vast, self esteem is too fragile, humans are too easily influenced and peer pressure is too great to stop our children, especially girls, ever being completely happy with what they have got. 

We really are up against it: from the media and from our own insecurities and inbuilt gender stereotyping. Unfortunately, it isn’t so much, ‘Be Real’ as ‘be realistic’. But we still need to fight it. We must do our best as parents to lay strong foundations from when they are very young. We must try to keep reinforcing the message that it’s not all about their looks and we must continue to encourage them to be active. We must keep on trying to fight what seems like a losing battle and even small victories may count.

I am always here

God, teenagers can be miserable buggers. I mean, I know that they have to deal with a whole load of shit on a daily basis, mainly parents, and I am also aware that life must be really hard when quite literally the whole world is against you. But surely it wouldn’t kill them to muster up a “hello” in the mornings? Are they in danger of cracking the layer of make-up with a smile? Don’t for Christ sake say that you actually liked the fact that I made you a cup of tea, or that you are grateful that I brushed up your crumbs and wiped the jam off the table (again), because you will be dropping your teenage guard and leaving yourself exposed to the possibility of a conversation with your mother. 

I have decided that I am actually battle scarred, because I can laugh about this now. A few years ago I was reduced to tears and screams of frustration almost on a daily basis. I don’t care less now, I am bothered less and I believe that there is a subtle difference. I seem to have developed an armour that protects me from teenage moods. The occasional sword still gets through and stabs me, which reminds me how cruel they can be. But mostly I am hardened to their sarcastic comments that try to put me in my older person’s place; their disgusted looks that are trying to tell me how sad I am and how I need to get a life. I have grown a turtle shell that, rather than pointlessly rising to comments, bounces them back in a jovial tone. I can smile at their tantrums and stand back from their worries a little, which makes the advice I can offer more meaningful. My own worries are less now too. I still want them to achieve, but I see their achievements as their own and that they must reach them on their own.

I am always here, a mere step away. They can still reach me with their voice or with two arms outstretched. I am here, I’m just not sitting in their space. 

Pink Flamingos

8am Christmas morning and a song about hard sex and an iphone is blaring out of a speaker in the depths of a teenager’s bedroom.

“I’m sure the neighbours would rather hear Slade or the King’s choir” I yelled over the din. “That’s not appropriate.”

“It’s only a song,” one of the teenagers yelled back, sauntering out of her room, singing the lyrics – just in case I hadn’t quite heard them correctly the first time.

Some people start the big day off with tea in bed and a croissant. Others with smoked salmon and bucks fizz. My Christmas morning started with a sex-fuelled beat, ringing in my ears. Hello Christmas with teenagers.

They still want stockings, only now they are teenagers I am sent e mails with a whole list of links to random objects: a waterproof speaker for the shower, foundation, after shave balm – for a girl, (apparently it makes a good primer – whatever that is) and make up brushes – lots and lots of make up brushes. Unfortunately, half the things came from China and so didn’t arrive. In January we are going to be inundated with Christmas gifts. I’m going to pencil in another Christmas in the new year, just to accommodate them. They did partner and I a stocking each too – a sweet thought. However, whereas their stockings contained really useful items, ours contained: a toothpaste dispenser that causes the toothpaste to spew out everywhere in a gunky mess and ear phones for someone who has two left ears – two items from China that did, sadly, arrive. We also got chocolate and body butter. I can still remember the hedonistic days when both those would have been used in sex. Now they are added to the pile. *

We headed off to my sister’s to spend the afternoon, as it happened, having a smashing time: 6 large plates worth £120, a crystal glass and a beer bottle. My sister and husband remained calm throughout, although I suspect they may well need therapy come January.  This was the oldies causing carnage, the teenagers behaved impeccably: supping on their Blossom Hill Rosé with restraint that I doubt they will show at their New Year’s Eve parties. Whenever I opened my mouth, apparently I embarrassed them, which I think was a little harsh, as they spent the day in flamingo slippers.

I insisted on a family photo in front of the Christmas tree, as it just never happens. Every photo is more highly scruitinised than CCTV after a robbery and by the time any photo has been examined by 4 teenagers, it rarely gets approved for social media. This one got through. They didn’t even remove the tags – a small victory for me.

Teenagers still love Christmas. They still wake early – not 2.30am early but it is a bugger having to set an alarm to put out their stockings, because they are still up when you are going to bed. They continue to insist on traditions being upheld and get cross if you dare try to skimp. The worst thing about teenagers at Christmas is that they can no longer be fobbed off with: if you don’t do what I ask, Santa will bring you vegetables. No, Christmas with teenagers is far more about truth and honesty and it is quite refreshing not having to spend December perpetuating a lie.

*they did buy us some good pressies too (in case they read this)

Burn, Santa Baby, burn

Many of you reading this will have young children. You may well be shitting yourself as we speak, because it’s nearly midnight and you’re yet to think of what the Elf on the fucking shelf can get up to in the night. Because the pressure is most certainly on to make Christmas for your little ones as magical and memorable as you remember yours were. Because of this and only because of this, you will happily be woken up at 6am tomorrow, iPhone at the ready, to record your little ones discovering that the naughty elf has emptied out the sugar and in it are drawn the words: ‘I’m bloody knackerd, ok? This is all I could manage.’ Not one for the boast feed on Facebook or the Instagram photo perhaps. Don’t worry though, there are 17 more days to make up for it (gulp).

When my kids were younger, I too can remember thinking to myself: make the most of this really mind-blowingly, hyped-up excitement, because when they are teenagers, they won’t give a shit. They will have long discovered that Father Christmas isn’t real, they’ll want a lie-in on Christmas morning and won’t have any money to buy Christmas presents, because they will have spent it all on make-up brushes.

Well you know what? I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My teens are rocking Christmas! My god, they’ve been rocking it since October. Packages from China have been coming thick and fast! They have been excitedly showing me what they have bought each other and almost giving it away. Presents have already been wrapped and hidden in drawers under beds. Christmas music has been downloaded onto their phones and Christmas songs are hummed at breakfast. Last night, daughter 3 harangued me to put up the Christmas decorations, until I was beaten into submission by her pleading. We now have two trees, tinsel everywhere and even a star hanging from the front door. Christ these teens know how to start a Christmas party!

So for those of you with little ones, who may be concerned that you have limited time to make your children’s Christmas special, I have one word of advice: don’t burn yourself out, because trust me, you have many, many years of this ahead.