Lauren Marks-Clee, mama-in-chief of The Parenting Chapter and her husband Andrew offer advice to their son in an open letter to be read in 2029, when he will be 13 years old. As critics of the male/female stereotypes that society has created, the letter addresses some of the taboo areas that young children tend to avoid talking about for fear of not fitting in.
You as a 13-year-old. What a scary thought. Not because that means you will no longer be our baby. And not because we will both be a decade older (now that is a scary thought!), but because we have no idea what the world will be like for you. We’ve got a fair bit of life experience between us (69 years to be precise) and so here is some advice to better arm you to cope with all that life throws at you.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Neither of us was very good at communicating when we were young. We both tried to brush things under the carpet and forget about them. This got us into trouble and finally, we realised that communication is key. Ask questions, be curious and explore. And if anyone ever says you’re too nosy or inquisitive, ignore them and carry on. Life is for living, and expressing yourself is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.
Treat women as equals
We both believe this to be the route of many evils. Your job is to inspire and correct others – both men and women – about how you are all equal. Society may not have caught up with this attitude, but here’s hoping that the gender pay gap isn’t so wide in 2029. Have girl mates and try to promote confidence in them; learn what the world looks like through their eyes and teach them what it is like to see through yours.
Don’t be afraid to be straight, gay or a bit of both. We just want you to be happy and we will always love you and support you. If you’re ever confused about feelings or thoughts, talk to us. If we’re too cringeworthy by this point, talk to your grandparents. They’ve been an amazing support to us and you will always walk away with a smile on your face, especially as Nanny doesn’t always have quite enough tact, but she has a heart of gold.
Where to start? When we were your age, we didn’t know anyone who carried a knife around, let alone a gun. But more and more this is becoming the norm. Safety is key and that will mean, at times, us not letting you go to places or do things you want to do. You will hate us for this, but we’ve been in those situations and wished somebody had stopped us. And this will be tough, especially as a boy, but don’t let the pretence of being hard, the joker or the desire to be popular, drive you. We can’t protect you forever, but we can guide you in the right direction.
We could write a book on this area. We’ve both been through a lot and could’ve had an easier time of it if we hadn’t been pressured by conformists: people who create norms, use the words “should be” and encourage you to just get on with it, despite your mind telling you something isn’t right. We hope that by now all schools will educate children about mental health as part of PE lessons and illustrate how physical activity can aid the mind in moments of sadness, stress and despair. We hope that our many hours spent learning CBT will mean that you will learn about emotions and how to deal with them in the right way. But, we’re realistic and know that hormones and societal pressures will override some of what we teach you. Don’t be afraid to tell us, or anyone, if life isn’t what it seems. As a boy, the pressure will be on to man up and appear strong (something your Dad has struggled with), but that attitude is archaic. The best type of man is one who can admit his problems and failings, and address them with an open mind and heart.
For goodness sake please live your life before you have children. If you have a girlfriend, be careful. Mum will no doubt be quite open about sex (!), and by all means, have fun, but be safe. Having children is wonderful, but it changes your life in ways you can’t even imagine. Don’t think having a child solves a failing relationship – you need a strong foundation to start a family and deal with the pressures that having children brings.
One of the most important things, especially for a boy or a man, is respect for yourself and others. Whatever situation you are in, always have respect. This means realising your worth and putting a stop to something or avoiding it altogether if your gut tells you to. Don’t undersell yourself for anything or anyone. For others, this means treating people and animals as individuals regardless of their skin colour, sex, sexuality and beliefs; you will encounter people from all different walks of life. Always listen to others and try not to judge them.
And we’re not talking about the size of your stomach! We mean that feeling deep in your gut when something is wrong, or very right. Us humans tend to ignore our gut instinct. Maybe because we often want things that actually aren’t right for us, which our gut told us in the first instance. You will probably ignore this one for a while until the penny drops that your gut never fails you. Even if everyone is telling you the opposite to what your gut tells you, still listen to it – believe in yourself.
Finally, don’t forget that we’re here. We’re individuals and not just your Mum and Dad. The world is scary, but it is there to be explored and we as parents must let you go at a suitable time, so you can do this with freedom. Don’t ever be scared to feel afraid or to want your Mum and Dad. We both still need our parents and that will never stop.
Be cool, happy, safe and smart and you won’t go wrong.
Love Mum and Dad x