Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How Mike King made me a better parent

According to my 17-year-old, he tells me about 70% of what goes on in his life.  I found this out on national radio recently when Ali and I were guests on Mike King's radio show 'The Nutters Club'.  I was pretty happy with that, I was expecting more around the 40% mark!  Apparently we're the exception, most kid-to-parent disclosure ratios are much lower.  I reckon I have my mum and dad to thank for helping me to achieve that 70%  because the biggest thing I learned from the way they parented me was to always keep the communication lines open.  I could talk to my parents about absolutely anything and I did.  Even so, no matter how good a relationship you think you have with your child, no matter how approachable you think you are, it doesn't mean that they WILL talk to you.  These past few months I have experienced first hand how holding in problems and negative thoughts can quite literally make a person implode.  It is the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in my whole life.  It happened in my world and it can happen in yours too, don't think for one moment it can't.

I mentioned in my last blog how spending two hours in Mike's company completely changed my perspective on pretty much everything.  In particular he made me aware of how we as people a) treat one another and b) how we NEED to treat one another.  I cannot begin to stress how enormous this guy's workload is; he and his team have one hell of a mammoth task on their hands and the demand for his help is overwhelming.  I learned more about the minds of teenagers in two hours from watching Ali and Mike interact than most parents could hope to learn in a lifetime.  Ali and me have always had a really tight bond but what I took away from that show has strengthened our relationship beyond belief and resulted in a much happier home.  It's made me think - if I as a 70% parent was able to learn so much, how much could this information help a 40% parent?  I feel that not sharing what I have learned would be selfish.

I'm not telling anyone what to do here, I'm just sharing what has worked for me.  But I do know that if more parents, elders, teachers and friends took this stuff on board, there would be a lot more happy and healthy people out there.  And I do know that Mike is right when he says we need to make it OK to talk about our problems.  Here are the key things I have learned from him, and Ali too:

1. Stop talking, start listening.  As Mike said (and it made me fall about laughing as it's so true), our generation think we know EVERYTHING.  We have a lifetime of wisdom to impart and enjoy nothing better than inflicting it on our offspring.  Whilst our hearts are in the right place, we are so busy forcing THEM to listen to US the moment they try to open their mouths, when what they really want is for US to listen to THEM.  You don't have to have an answer for everything.  Sometimes just listening is enough.  But if you are going to talk to them, make sure you talk WITH them, not AT them, there's a big difference.  Adults are much too good at interrupting kids because we think what we have to say is so much more important when the poor little buggers have barely had a chance to open their mouths.  We need to make a conscious effort to shut up instead of shooting down.  Respect their feelings and opinions. They have them, even if you don't agree with them.  You don't even have to understand them.  The important thing is that they feel able to talk to you.

2. Give them space.  This was Ali's number one tip for parents on the Nutters Club show.  If I ask him what's wrong and he says 'nothing', then there most likely isn't.  And if there is I've learned to simply say 'OK' and leave it there.  He knows I know he's not OK and that's enough; if he needs to talk about whatever is bothering him he will when he's ready.  Getting in kids' faces and asking over and over again what's wrong can just add to the pressure and make them clam up even more.  Besides, nine times out of 10 they don't actually need you and will sort out whatever it is bothering them for themselves.

3. Share your experiences.  Ali says this is one of the biggest benefits when talking to me.  Parents don't have to be perfect, we don't have to be these flawless pillars of society.  It's that way of thinking that could well stop your kids from feeling they can't talk to you for fear of letting you down, or that you will judge, or berate them.  How can kids expect their parents to understand them if they don't even know that we have lived?  The thing is, when you're willing to share your less than perfect experiences as a parent, your kids respect the fact that you know what you're talking about - and I think it's also quite disarming for them that you are willing to disclose those things about yourself.  It doesn't mean you condone that behaviour by any stretch of the imagination, it just makes you human and more importantly, relatable.

4. Never belittle someone else's problems.  This is pretty much the worst thing you can do, unless you actually WANT to stop them from sharing anything with you ever again.  Put yourself in their shoes, imagine you plucked up the courage to tell someone something that was really bothering you and they immediately jumped in and said 'Oh you don't want to worry about that, that's nothing!' - how would that make you feel? Yet we do that in society all the time, especially to kids.  We don't mean to, it's just that we don't want them to worry needlessly, especially when to us the problem is so easily fixed.  But to the person who has the problem, it's not nothing, it's a big thing.  If someone plucks up the courage to talk about whatever's bothering them, just let them offload and if you can't think of anything helpful to say back, just listen.

5. Trust your kids.   This can be bloody hard if they have given you reason not to but at the end of the day it's all you can do.  Don't automatically think that every time they leave the house they're going off to do drugs or get into trouble.  Maybe they are.  But there's a pretty big chance that they're not.  My son knows that all I ask of him is that he keeps himself safe.

6. Remember this mantra 'it's not about you'.  I'll repeat that again for good measure - IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.  This is probably the biggest thing I learned from Mike; it has helped me to understand my son more than anything else.  As I mentioned earlier, we think we have all this wisdom we need to impart when all that matters is stopping the other person from hurting.  If you've got an angry and aggressive teenage boy on your hands, he's not being like that to be an arsehole, he's behaving that way because he's in pain.  Once you get that, you can begin working with it rather than against it.

7. Last but not least - love unconditionally.  I'm sure Mike would say this too but I learned this one from my parents.   When I was 18 I was drinking a crazy amount every day.  I had booze hidden everywhere.  My friends were worried about me (seeing me drunk at college had stopped being funny for them a long time ago) and tried to help me but I kept letting them down.  I wanted to tell my parents but I didn't know how.  I think in the end one of their friends who was a college lecturer tipped them off that she had run into me and the smell of alcohol coming from me almost knocked her out.  I was terrified of what my dad would say but you know what?  He was the one who had the most faith in me.  I sat and bawled in his lap until his shirt was soaked and instead of hitting the roof and telling me what a terrible daughter I was he simply ruffled my hair and said 'It'll be alright mate'. He didn't have the answers - but he believed in me.

Becoming aware of all these things has made me not only a better parent, but a better person.  I would honestly recommend the above advice to anyone.  Or better still, you can listen to it from the man himself in Part 1 and Part 2  of the Nutters Club radio show podcast.  Every day I thank Mike inwardly for what he has taught me and encourage every single parent to embrace and support the incredible work this guy is doing throughout our country.  Who knows, he may well have already helped someone you love.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Broken bits

How is it that a person can be insanely happy, yet impossibly sad at the same time?  Is that even a thing?  Does anyone else ever feel the same, or is it just me?  I'm sorry it's been so long since I last wrote.  I've been suffering from terrible writer's block and the reason I haven't been able to shift it is because I haven't known how to deal with all the crap which has been going around in my head.  I've come to the conclusion that the only way I can move this stuff out of the way so that I can write about the things I'm meant to write about, is to get some of it down.  So forgive me for dumping a whole load of baggage right here.  I have no idea what is going to come out but if you'd rather just read about my latest money saving exploits and don't want to read my jumble of mixed up thoughts that follows, then please stop reading now and wait for the next post when I've moved on :)

Where to start?  I feel a bit of an idiot really because they're hardly earth shattering issues but nonetheless they're my issues and not getting them out has been literally stopping me from functioning. When people share their problems with me, the first thing I always tell them is to write it all down. Doesn't matter what you do with it after that, keep it, burn it, whatever but often the simple act of getting it all out is enough.  My mum told me to do that when I was nine years old and a girl called Charlotte was being mean to me at school.  Getting all the hurt and sadness out worked like magic and I've been doing it ever since.  Writing for me is like therapy so I guess I should stop being stubborn and take some of my own advice!  There are a lot of things I am unable to say in order to protect the privacy of others but I will share what I can.  At least from now on when I disappear and am unable to write you'll know it's most likely because I'm working on one of these things.

Firstly, the relationship between my youngest and his father has suffered a breakdown to the point that they are estranged.  It's heartbreaking, it's exhausting, it's disruptive and gets in the way of every damn thing and I feel completely powerless because I've tried and tried to fix it and I can't.  My baby is hurting so much and I can't freaking well fix it.  Just writing that much has got me crying like an idiot, so in the words of Forrest Gump, 'that's all I got to say about that'.  All I know is love cannot ever come with conditions.

I've also been grieving the loss of my best friend for a few months now.  Except nobody's died, it just feels like it.  At least when someone dies it sucks but you know they don't actually WANT to leave you; they just don't have a choice. Unfortunately in my case, he decided he didn't want me in his life any more.  I wasn't young enough, or pretty enough, or rich enough, or smart enough.  Or anything enough, who knows.  Funnily enough I don't care about any of that.  I'm completely comfortable with myself and happy with who I am.  I think that when you know for sure in your heart that you're a good person, you don't worry about that sort of shit.  I've never taken that stuff personally, it's not my problem.  But I still lost my best friend.  The person who knew me better than anyone, whose company I adored, who I shared a million zillion memories with and loved with every single fibre of my being.  You get the idea he was more than a friend, right?  He was my everything, my absolute everything.  

If there is one thing I've learned the past few years is that I'm not very good at being sad.  I always seem to find far too many things to be happy about!  There's no such thing as a fake smile with me; if you've seen me smiling or laughing these few past months it's been genuine.  I've just been overwhelmingly sad on the inside at the same time.  You see the problem when you've shared a million zillion memories with someone is that they are everywhere.  In my house.  I can do something as simple as opening a drawer and one will pop up without warning.  On the beach.  In my car.  In every poxy song on the radio.  Everywhere, I just couldn't escape it.

And then something happened which completely blew my mind.  You may have seen me post that Ali and I were recently guests on Mike King's radio show, talking about Ali's experiences with depression and suicide prevention among his peers.  At this point I was at my lowest, not least because going to the show and staying overnight in the city meant revisiting so many of the old haunts I used to love.  It killed me but I made myself do it and somehow I managed to survive until it was time for the show without collapsing into a sobbing heap in the middle of Aotea Square and for the next two hours I was sat completely awestruck in the company of the most incredible man I've ever met.  I have never met anyone with such absolute humanity as Mike King.  I can't even find enough words to describe him but I know he had a similarly profound effect on Ali.  During the time we spent with him, he made me question everything I had ever known and somehow managed to change my whole perspective on life; most notably on people and the way we treat one another.  And all I've been able to think since is 'I want to help this man.  I want to help him make a difference'.  I bloody will too, you'll see.

The day I got back from the show I realised something had to change.  I couldn't live in this town with all these ghosts any more, hiding myself away.  I needed to get out of the house, go for a walk and clear my head.  So that's what I did.  I downloaded as many happy songs as I could think of which had no memories attached that I couldn't handle and off I went.  Every day I walked anything up to 15km a day, walking off my grief, walking off the pain.  I can see a whole heap of people reading this now and thinking 'Ahh, so THAT'S why she walks everywhere!'  It was like a compulsion and during this time I didn't give a stuff if I got nothing else done all day, as long as I did that.  You know me, if there's a positive to come out of anything I'll always find it and I realised that so much good has come out of this horrible time.  I have learned to be kinder.  I have learned to be more compassionate.  I have learned never to judge.  I have learned that an opinion is just that - an opinion.  I have come out of this a far better person now than I ever was before.

My daily walks are still a compulsion.  But now I just do it because it makes me feel good.  I love the music, I love the sunshine and I love everything and everyone I see when I'm walking.  I'm not on auto pilot anymore - in fact I feel more 'me' than I ever have in my whole life.  Just to seal the deal the other day I finally did something I've always wanted to do - I got a tattoo!  Before I was always worried about what people would think but not any more and I absolutely love it.  I don't think anyone can understand what an intensely personal thing it is until you have one.  The only downside is I can see I'm going to spend the rest of my life explaining to people what it means!  Which is this - I first learned the word 'attraversiamo' and its meaning when I read 'Eat Pray Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert.  It's one of my favourite books and thanks to her I'll probably go off and climb a mountain in Tibet and hang out with some monks one day.  Anyway, there are many ways you can interpret 'attraversiamo' - it's direct translation is 'let's cross over' but the philosophy behind it is more like 'transform yourself'.  I figure that word sums up what I've been doing these past few years pretty well. As for the little swallow?  That's for my dad.  He passed away at 57 and he loved swallows. Anyone who knew him well associated him with the little birds, he was always fascinated by them and would watch them migrate south every year from my childhood home in England and watch and wait for them to return.  He was the kindest, most gentle man to ever walk this earth.  I feel like he's always watching over me and having him represented on my arm reminds me of the fact that he was taken much too soon so I should really make the most of every day because my life is a privilege.  

To anyone still left reading this ramble, thank you for letting me spill my soul everywhere.  I'm in a good place now, really good and I have all sorts of things I can't wait to tell you about and show you! I just really had to get this out of my head first.  I remember reading a little while ago something which said 'One day someone will come along and hug you so tight all your broken bits will stick back together'.  At the time I felt so dead inside I laughed, what a crock!  But now I believe it.