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Pushing our children too hard

I feel I can write about this subject from the point of view of the mistakes I made with my children and why I wish I could go back and do it again. Despite being a single parent with little money at the time, I was determined to ensure my daughters had the best education even if that meant mortgaging the house again. As a former teacher, I believed the way out of disadvantage was through education.

   My elder daughter, clearly academic, won a scholarship to an independent girls’ school in Birmingham from where she launched successfully into the corporate world. The younger one fought pitched battles with me to attend the local girls’ comprehensive even though she won a much coveted place at one of the city’s grammar schools.

  What’s wrong with all that you might be saying?

  Simply this… I pushed my elder daughter into a career she came to hate and my younger one ended up anxious and terrified of failing at university. It was my fault.

 I hear of people selling up and moving into a catchment areas for the top state schools or borrowing huge amounts of money for private education. Imagine the pressure that puts on those children to succeed. Others have been tutoring their little darlings since nursery and boasting about their prowess to anyone who will listen. The amount of times I sat by the poolside listening to the boasts of mothers who had convinced themselves Little Johnny/Jane would represent the UK in the Olympics. (God help the poor kid if they didn’t).

   We should be helping them develop their qualities rather than their focus solely on their cognitive abilities: resilience, kindness, problem solving and emotional self-control. To be able to accept failure helps develop personal growth and is character building.  To see oneself as having a valuable and unique part to play in society without expecting huge rewards or a lot of ego stroking shapes the child into a rounded human being.

  We are exposing our children to dangerous levels of stress once we plan the course of their lives … notice their lives not yours. You don’t know what the backlash will be until it’s too late. Too many stories of young people committing suicide because they can’t meet their parents’ expectations and worse still, they can’t talk to them about how they are feeling.

  We say we want to protect our children from hurting themselves and being hurt yet pushing them into careers that might be unhappy with is hurting them. Why aren’t we focused on their happiness? Think about the burden of disappointment they might carry if they decide to opt out. My daughter is a highly qualified solicitor with a brilliant legal mind. Aged 28, she couldn’t hack it anymore, saying this is the life I wanted for her and not what she chose. I was shocked at the level of resentment. It took four years, after the sudden death of a colleague, for her to find her way through and out of the wilderness.

  If I could go back, I would not hover, push, cajole or lay an expectation on my children a second time. My daughters have always been self-starters and I believe they would have succeeded whatever role I’d taken and maybe our relationship would not be as strained as it is today.

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The Silent Treatment - emotional abuse and its impact

Most of us have heard the idiom, “Sent to Coventry,”  meaning to ostracise someone or act as if they don’t exist. Knowing that city well, I’ve heard a number of explanations as to the origin of this phrase, all linking back to an historical event involving war. For those who might be interested, click on this link.  http://www.coventry.org.uk/sent-to-coventry/

   In my counselling and training practice over the years, I have come across a number of people who have suffered from the effects being on the receiving end of The Silent Treatment. This is a form of passive-aggressive abuse equivalent to a toddler holding its breath until it gets what it wants.

I’ve seen this behaviour in two year olds in supermarkets who collapse on the floor, to act out an almighty temper tantrum as a way of getting the parent/guardian to buy the forbidden item on the shelves. Too embarrassed to address the issue properly, the parent gives in, reinforcing the idea that bad behaviour brings rewards.

  If this behaviour isn’t corrected, it becomes destructive, long lasting, blame driven and eventually abusive towards anyone who doesn’t “dance to their tune.” Think temper tantrum throwing managers.

   The silent treatment is a way of controlling and showing contempt for another whilst acting blameless through what is known as the sin of omission. I didn’t do anything!

  This extreme form of manipulation instils fear, guilt and obligation in the intended target. I’m not talking about healthy periods of quiet time when two people are getting on with their work or who become so engrossed in their hobbies they lose awareness of those around them.

  There might be somebody in your workplace who includes everyone in their coffee chats except you. You get the “cold shoulder” and have no idea what you’ve done to deserve it. Nothing. Think of a family member who talks to everyone at the birthday party except you. Their plan is to make you feel uncomfortable and want to leave. If you do, they’ve won. Ok, so one excuse or reason might be you’ve upset them but if this behaviour goes on for more than a few days and your efforts to communicate to resolve the issue are ignored, then you are getting the silent treatment. These are powerful mind games and your mental wellbeing can be seriously affected.

   The abuser delights in turning the tables on you, saying, ‘She’s not been well, or ‘You know I’m going to get round to finishing the bathroom.’  I came across a horrendous situation of covert abuse when a husband and wife agreed on the refurbishment of a bathroom. Half way through, he went on a go slow. Only the toilet was installed with the bath and shower still in its packaging in the garage for weeks.

   The silent treatment includes refusal to finish tasks, thus causing distress, not addressing issues of serious financial matters resulting in serious consequences and doing what my ex-husband used to do, wait for guests to arrive for a dinner party then go to bed.

  Out of all the forms of abuse I endured for twenty years, this was the worst. I used to beg him to talk to me, try to sort things out but all I would get back was a knowing smirk. He knew that I was suffering and got a kick out it. His family thought I was the one being abusive. He was their golden boy and believed all the tales of woe he told them.

  As time passed, things got much worse.  For two years he lived in the house, in one room, without speaking to me or his children. His plan was to drive me out or under.      He achieved neither. Having his day in court so he could denounce me as unfit, unstable, un… everything else was all he lived for in the end. This is how far some people will go to achieve their desire to control and inflict psychological injury.

   When he was finally ordered to leave the house by the court because of his abuse, he ignored the order and at the point of being removed by the bailiffs, he walked down the drive one minute before the order expired. He’d made plans to return to his own country and told nobody, not even his own family. It played out exactly as he wanted as in nobody and nothing, not even the law, would tell him what to do.

   So what did it do to me?  It caused irreparable damage to my psyche in the form of post- traumatic stress disorder or as I prefer to call it, combat stress. My optimistic, lively personality morphed into somebody who cowered at the slightest noise – weird considering the house was silent like a churchyard for two long years – and who feared my own reflection which I saw as a reinforcement of the person he said I was. Truth was convoluted, upside down, inside out yet I had to keep it together for the sake of my children who had suffered in a way that didn’t become clear until many years later.

  Every day I live with some horrific memories, the worst being conned into visiting his family in the Middle East then being told we couldn’t go back to the UK.  Our passports were confiscated. During the two months I battled to get us home with the help of his mother and sisters, (for ever grateful to them), he disappeared to his cousins or his friends, ignoring our existence, showing no empathy for our anxiety. No, he relished it. It was my own, “Not without my daughter” moment. Fortunately I spoke the language well and knew how to work within the cultural and religious restrictions.

   Other days I am dogged by insecurity,flashbacks and a crazy  sense of guilt that I couldn’t fix things between us. No matter how much professional help I’ve had, it made little difference but the good news is when I become a novelist, I found a certain catharsis, writing about characters with  dark emotions and behaviours. It is through writing that I am finally on the road to recovery, seventeen years later.

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The Loneliness of the Full Time Writer

  • Published in Writing

Maybe it’s the fact that the flurry of Christmas activity is over, our homes are bare of tinsel and lights and we have to the face the reality of a new year with all its uncertainty, is the reason I feel maudlin.

I was talking to a former business colleague over the holiday who said he envied my life of home-based working.  It was said in the context of the planned rail and Tube strikes and the forecast for Arctic weather.  

‘I’d give anything to be able to get up at 8.30 and be at my desk for 9.00 with nobody nagging, haranguing or standing over me demanding things and to think I’ve got another 2o something years of this…. As he ran the panorama of his future life through his mind, I watched his eyes reflect the fear he was feeling.

‘Working from home is not all it’s cracked up to be,’ I told him, thinking I was being reassuring. ‘In fact, there are many days I feel very lonely with just my imaginary friends for company, my twitter colleagues for exchanges and the odd phone call from a friend or my daughters if they remember they have a mother. Even my husband is part-time. We live separate lives in the week.’

I went on to explain that many people felt the same way as I did after the novelty had worn off and that my decision to work in the local library two days a week reassures me that the  world hasn’t combusted and I’m the only one left. I need to be in contact with people. Not all the time as I can only write in total silence, usually in the mornings but I do miss the camaraderie of the office even if I have to tolerate petty mindedness and ego swaggering.

Writing can be a very lonely business for many of us even if we don’t acknowledge it. For some who live alone during the week without even a cat to talk to it can lead to isolation and with that the danger of depression.

The opportunity to bounce ideas off other people isn’t there when you work alone unless you are part of a remote team when you can have meetings on Skype. This means you lack stimulation which is important to keep writing fresh. If you want to write about realistic characters you need to be amongst people even if it is sitting in a coffee shop making notes. Snippets of conversation between people can be integrated into your story which keeps dialogue real and dynamic.

I’ve struggled with the loneliness and isolation as I no longer live in a big city with buses and trains crossing the network every 15 minutes. There was no excuse to be alone in the day if I didn’t want to be.

I have a few tips that help me if you find yourself disappearing down a plug hole.:-

  1. Go for a walk every day. If you have a dog even better as the dog walking fraternity seem to be particularly friendly. Get out of the house even if it’s to walk round the shops.
  2. Work in your local library on a fixed day (days) of the week even if it is for a couple of hours. Have a coffee. Read the papers. Smile at people.
  3. Do a half day or so as a volunteer. I work in a local charity bookshop. Heaven!
  4. Plan things for the weekend. As I live in a semi- rural area, I go up to Birmingham or Cheltenham where my daughters live or sometimes Oxford to browse bookshops or whatever I fancy. The key is to get out of the house.
  5. Join a group/society. I sing with a local choir and help out the Salvation Army when I can.
  6. Develop a new skill. I’ve taken up Russian and am learning to paint in the style of the impressionists. I find I have a new interest in visiting art galleries to study the work of Monet and co. It’s something with a purpose.

I would like to see the network of work-hubs expand to include the smaller towns. I’d be happy to pay an annual fee to get out of the house and meet new people.

If you would like to share your story of home-working and what works for you please drop me an email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or drop me a tweet @AngelenaBoden

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