There is no map for the future

When I was fourteen years old I had no idea what career I wished to pursue, what I did know was that I wanted independence. As I grew up in a family oriented, conservative community, independence meant getting away. Had I stayed close to my family home I would have been unable to live my life in whatever way I chose because my family would have considered that those choices reflected back on them and would have been distressed that I did not show them the consideration that they deserved.

It took me nearly a decade to achieve my goal. I remember the first time my parents came to visit me in the small flat I had bought in Wiltshire, a few months after I landed my dream job across the Irish Sea. My mother was in tears within a day because I was not cooking as she suggested. I had given my parents the only bedroom to sleep in while I kipped on the sofa, and mother went through my wardrobe commenting critically on my new clothes. It was a tense visit. I love my parents dearly, and know that they love me beyond measure, but I need to be free of the restraints within which they would still try to hold me.

I have now lived with my husband for longer than I lived with my parents. Sometimes I find him trying to steer me in a direction that he sees as right because it is right for him. I feel the same resentments welling up that I felt all those years ago when my parents were urging me to live in a manner that they believed was best for me. I feel myself pushing against the restraints.

Self determination matters to me. For the years when I was raising three young children, they were the focus of everything I did. Now that they are old enough to be making many of their own choices, I find that I am at a junction in my life. I need to ensure that I go forward from here in a direction that suits me. I need to speak up for what I want and am finding it hard to convey this to my loved ones.

For now, my younger son accepts me for what I am. My daughter gets it most of the time. My elder son is more focused on moulding me to fit in with his perceptions of life in much the same way that my parents did.

I am fortunate that my husband is willing to support me, he allows me to be what I want even if he cannot always understand why. I am surrounded by love, but I need to find the words to explain to my family that I still require freedom to live within our nest in whatever manner I choose. I still need my independence.

At fourteen I knew where I wished to go but not the details of how I would achieve my goals, I feel that I am at a similar stage now. I am putting out feelers with my writing but am still finding my way. I am moving between writing sites, between fiction, book blogging and random posts such as this. I am active on social media but flit between building my presence as reader, writer, reviewer, commentator. I have been welcomed by so many on line communities, yet am unsure where best I fit. It is exciting, it is daunting.

Looking back on my life, many of the significant choices were made with no real idea of the impact on my future. My choice of job led me to my husband which led me to this life I lead now. I would not change where I am for the world. I will continue to fight for the detail, for my right to be the person I need to be. I will trust God, as I have always done, that where this leads me will be for the best.

I have no idea if my writing is good enough, if it is worth pursuing as anything more than a hobby. I am unsure if I am ready to devote the time that would be necessary to make it more than this. My family will always come first, but they will need to accept that I am a being in my own right. It is challenging stepping out into the unknown, especially as this time I wish to bring my loved ones with me.

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Rebuilding

I wake up feeling happy and rested, then life happens and somehow it is my fault. Sometimes it actually is, but not always. Sometimes I am just being treated badly. So why do I allow that to happen? Do you see what I did there? I swung the blame back around to me.

The blame game is one that will always be lost. I didn’t start to play it until I became a mother in my thirties. As a teenager I would feel guilty that I wasn’t growing into the person that my mother wanted me to be, but I knew for certain that this was okay with me. I knew that I didn’t want to hurt or upset her but neither could I be the person she was trying to raise. I didn’t want to be that person even if it would please her. It was not someone I could ever be satisfied with.

In my twenties I was focused, determined and fiercely independent. I wasn’t always happy but I had autonomy. I was often in a relationship where I was naturally the submissive, but that was my choice. That was where I felt comfortable. If I didn’t like the direction that I found myself heading in then I bailed out. I left a few casualties along the way but I still recognised that, ultimately, I had to please myself. I had to find contentment with what I was and where I was going. This was more important than trying to fit in, I did not feel a need to be what other’s wanted or expected.

My husband made me very happy. He made me laugh with his wicked sense of humour and dark observations. He was clever, witty and unfailingly kind to me. It was not all springtime and roses but we had a solid base to build on. We were a team and accepted each other for what we were.

So how did all of this change?

Motherhood. I could not have foreseen the impact those amazing little people we chose to create would have on my aspirations and outlook. I did not foresee the impact their arrival would have on how the world treated me. Suddenly I was inundated with unasked for advice and criticism. Suddenly everything that happened was assumed to be my fault.

I trained as a computer programmer. To get a computer to perform a function the programmer writes a piece of code. The computer will then do exactly as it is told; good code achieves the desired result. Children are not like that. No matter how closely the child rearing instruction books are followed those little people retain their character, personality and free will. Of course there is a correlation between genetics, upbringing and societal interaction, but the way the mother is treated suggests that it is all down to her. It is not, not all of it.

Somehow I wasn’t able to act on this knowledge as I had managed in my earlier life. My mother and my various spurned boyfriends may have made me feel guilty for the way I treated them but I knew that, in the long term, it was the right think to do for all of us. Somehow I allowed motherhood to subsume my independence, confidence and autonomy.

When I say motherhood I do not mean the children themselves but the society in which we lived. I allowed the views of wider family, friends, acquaintances and educators to make me feel that I was falling short of the ideal to which I aspired. My kids were developing into exactly the sort of individuals that I could admire, but they were not always behaving as other’s thought that they should. I allowed myself to become a victim of the blame game and it made me miserable.

So now the children are older and I have time to reflect. I have recognised where I went wrong and am trying to move on. I am trying to retrieve my autonomy and allow myself to be the person that I can live with. I am finding barriers in unexpected places.

Friends are chosen and can accept change. Those who cannot will move away. Again, there have been some casualties, but those who have accepted my shift can be valued all the more for having done so. Closer to home the task is harder. It turns out that my biggest critics are now my family.

Looking back at my teenage self I can understand where my children are coming from. In their eyes I will look very old. They have never known my intelligent, independent self. They see me at my worst; for this I recognise that I am indeed to blame. If I wish them to hold me in any sort of regard then I need to offer more than mothering. I need to show them a side to me that is nothing to do with them, and that is hard. Their ingrained preconceptions of me as nothing more than a cook, housekeeper and chauffeur may be impossible to change. They have their own lives to lead and are unlikely to be particularly interested in mine.

The wider family do not always understand what I need from the life I lead, that I do not wish to be what is expected from a typical, middle aged housewife and mother. I want to stand atop a mountain and drink in the view, ideally with my husband by my side. How I look, how I am seen matters far less to me than what I see.

This is the next shift that I need to make. I need to stop living my life as an attempt to gain credits from others, including my family. I need to stop participating in the blame game and return to moulding my life around what I can feel comfortable with.

Does that sound selfish? If it were all about me, me, me then it would be. I am, however, still the submissive. I want to be a good wife and a good mother. What I also need is to be the sort of person that I can relax with, and she is not a doormat. She does not achieve great things that others admire, but she does make her own decisions. If I can be happy with what I am then those around me will benefit. Nobody wants to live with a misery, especially one who does not appear to have anything to be miserable about.

I have had a difficult year but feel as though I am moving towards a better place. I feel as though I have worked through what was going wrong. The next step will be to ensure that I do not shut out those I love as I move forward.

As the New Year approaches and I reflect on what has gone before I can see that I am not to blame for all that has happened, but that I should not have accepted the role of victim so passively. First and foremost I must be able to live with myself. As I work towards that I will do what I can to ensure that I do not climb the mountain alone.

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Nepotism

I am not a blogger who plans and prepares ahead. I tend to just type in whatever I am thinking at the time and hit publish. Sometimes I get an idea and want to write about it but don’t have time. I might set up a few prompt lines in a draft and try to come back later to flesh it out. More often than not these unfinished posts end up in trash.

One thing I would like to do more often is write about light hearted things. I don’t think of myself as negative and do not wish to be considered so. Today, however, I am going to cover a topic that is making me feel annoyed, frustrated and despondent. I am going to write about student work experience.

My daughter would very much like to be a doctor, which does of course require that she gain a place at medical school. When she first started talking about this aspiration I thought that the big challenges would be producing a noteworthy personal statement, impressing the university at interview, and gaining outstanding exam results. Whilst all of this is still necessary, and a tough enough challenge for any aspiring medic, it seems that she also needs to have proof of regular work experience in a variety of medical settings prior to applying.

Having obtained good enough GCSE results to keep her dream alive, in September of this year she started writing to local hospitals and doctor’s surgeries about the possibility of them accepting a work experience student. It seems that our home county has very strict data protection rules that preclude such schemes. As most of the recipients of her letters and emails failed to respond it took her some time to find this out.

In October she started writing to hospitals outside of our home county. She was comfortable with the idea of travelling by public transport and staying over in a cheap hotel or B&B for the week or fortnight that she would be working. Between fifty and a hundred missives later she finally got an explanation as to why nobody would take her; she lived out of county. If she could find someone to personally accept her for shadowing then that would be acceptable, but the Trusts would not take on a student from out of county except on this basis.

November has been spent writing to everyone we have ever known who has some link, however tenuous, with the health service. With one exception, who we have still to hear back from, these people do not work directly enough with hospitals to feel able to help. We are running out of ideas. It seems that to become a doctor you need to personally know a doctor. Or not live in Wiltshire.

I have family and friends whose children have won places at medical school. Their kids worked hard to get the exam results, impressed at the tough interviews, and got work experience through family friends or school contacts. They also went to fee paying schools, the sort of schools that doctors send their children to. My daughter attends a state school.

This is why I am annoyed. Nepotism is alive and well and it appears that I do not know the right people; I feel as if I am letting my daughter down. If she failed to gain a place because she didn’t get good enough grades in her exams, or bombed her interview, that would be unfortunate but her call. It seems that getting work experience is down to the parents. Either they somehow find the money to pay for a school that will help with such pupil aspirations, or they make sure they befriend the right people. I have managed neither so it seems that my daughter will struggle to fulfil her dream.

Even our local care home for the elderly has ignored her. I would have thought that a care home would welcome a regular, volunteer helper. I have read so many times about how the elderly are supposedly lonely in these places, yet my daughter’s requests to meet with someone to discuss the possibility of volunteering go unanswered. There are other care home options to explore but I am now wondering if we need an inside contact for that as well.

I have a Facebook friend who is vocal in her belief that writers and other creative types should not work for free. With the proliferation of internet news sites and amateur bloggers who welcome exposure she is finding that, as an experienced journalist, there are outlets who are unwilling to pay her fees. If too many people are willing to work for free then this trend will increase. She believes that content quality will deteriorate and talented, creative people will be exploited.

Last week I noticed that she was raising this issue with a sixteen year old aspiring journalist. The young lad was writing for, what I understand to be, a respected publication. He was working for free and trying to recruit other young people to do the same. Whilst I can sympathise with her argument, I think that in this particular case the young lad was to be applauded. He had managed to get his foot in the door of a competitive industry and was gaining experience. That experience is worth more to him than any pittance that young people can earn. I mean, have you seen the level of the minimum wage for a 16-18 year old?

A lack of work experience may prevent my daughter from even being considered for medical school. No matter how good a doctor she may make, because her parents don’t have the contacts, she may not be able to get that all important proof of interest in her chosen field of study. Sometimes it is not about the money; experience and contacts now seem to be the vital ingredients if a competitive industry is to be entered.

There are way more people wanting to get into medical school than there are places available. No matter how good my daughter may be she will not be missed (although if she ended up in the field of medical research who knows what she may achieve).

At an individual level though, through no fault of her own, she will miss out on attempting to achieve her dream. As her parent, I think this system sucks.

School-of-Clinical-Medicine-University-of-Cambridge    ‘The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.’