Nicola Morgan is an award-winning author of around 90 books for all ages, including the best-selling I Can Learn books. As well as her novels for teenagers, she is known for her universally acclaimed book on the teenage brain, Blame My Brain – The Teenage Brain Revealed, written for teenagers but widely read by adults in schools, social services departments and many professional groups involving young people, as well as their parents. Nicola also speaks, blogs and writes about writing for publication, and is the author of Write to be Published and creator of the renowned blog, Help! I Need a Publisher!
Her original debut novel, Mondays are Red, is relaunched as an ebook on 28th November – priced £1.99 as introductory offer!
I spoke to the lovely Nicola last week, to ask her about her parenting experiences and to find out if she had any words of wisdom for Free Your Parenting readers, and here’s what she had to say:
Clare: Hello, Nicola. This is Nicola, she’s the author of around ninety books and I know her fairly well through Twitter, and I’m really excited to have her on Free Your Parenting. Thank you for coming, Nicola.
Nicola: That’s a pleasure – thank you for asking me!
Clare: That’s OK. Can I ask you to tell us first of all how many children you have and how old they are?
Nicola: I have two daughters and they’re not children any more, they’re 22 and 24.
Clare: So you’ve definitely been there, all the way through it then!
Nicola: Yes, but only two, not four! And both girls, although I’m not sure that that makes very much difference actually. They’re both very different from each other as well, so that was quite interesting.
Clare: Yes, I’ve found that with my four girls as well.
Nicola: Oh you’ve got four girls, have you? I knew you had four, but I didn’t know they were all girls.
Clare: So the first person I like to ask people is who or what in you parenting inspired you the most?
Nicola: That’s an interesting one. I think I would have to say my friends around me, so people who had children around the same age who my children grew up with. My husband and I were amongst the youngest of our friends to have children and I think we only had one couple who were friends and had children before us.
So they were quite influential, especially at first because I thought they were very right-on, amazing parents and I remember when our first daughter was born and, for example, I had her in her cot in the room with us and I was breastfeeding so I would be up many, many times during the night, obviously, and not really getting very much sleep. And I remember saying to my friend, Deborah how little sleep I was getting. And she said ‘for goodness sake, you don’t have to have the baby in the room with you if you don’t want to. Put her in the next room and then you won’t hear the tiny noises, you’ll just hear the major noises.’
And that was quite influential for me because I’d thought this friend of mine was very right-on and having her baby with her all the time, so that freed me to think that I could actually do things how they felt right.
So I think it was my friends who had children the same age as mine.
Clare: That’s really nice -that’s what Julie Cohen said as well, that her friends were really helpful. I was the first out of my friends to have children by a long way, so…
Nicola: And it’s your friends who are going through things at the same time as well. What your parents, your own parents, might remember is possibly misremembered and also coloured by what was going on at the time when they had children. So I think it’s your contemporaries – your contemporaries who you trust as well. They have to be people you trust, and they’re the supportive ones.
Clare: And I think people just slightly ahead of you is helpful. Can you tell me something in your life as a parent that you found particularly challenging and how you managed it? As your children are grown-up, there’s probably quite a few!
Nicola: Yes, but having said that, it doesn’t get less challenging I don’t think. Mine are adults now and there are things that are challenging and you never stop worrying. I suppose one of the things that is challenging, and that isn’t the case now that they’re adults but definitely was the case when they were children, is pressures that you sometimes find from other parents. Not necessarily your close friends, but other parents around you, so say parents of contemporaries of your children at school, who are perhaps sometimes telling you amazing things that their children have done, and you’re thinking ‘oh gosh, is my child supposed to be doing something different?’. It’s the pressure that some parents will put on you.
And I’m thinking of a friend of mine whose got four children aged from about eight to about fifteen or sixteen, who’s finding a lot of pressure from the contemporary parents of his older two children about what results they’re getting and how well they’re doing at school, making you feel inadequate in some way.
I suppose the challenge then is not to feel inadequate, just to realise that sometimes those parents are over-egging things through various insecurities of their own, for example. And that they’re not telling the whole truth. And no one’s perfect, and any child that appears to be brilliant at something is likely to be having more negative issues going on in some other way.
So I think the challenge is to ignore all that, to ignore what other parents are saying about what their children are doing and just focus on what yours are doing and how great they are.
Clare: That is particularly difficult, isn’t it?
Out of all the things that seemed really big and important to you at the time, which one would you pick that, with hindsight, you would think ‘that really wasn’t a big deal and I shouldn’t have lost any sleep over it’?
Nicola: I’ve got no hesitation in answering that question, no hesitation at all, even though you didn’t tell me that question in advance. It’s exams. They just don’t matter.
I remember the moment of hearing the A-Level results, in this case of my younger daughter, and she needed to get certain results to get into the university that she wanted to go to. And we’re not talking straight As here – we’re talking something more moderate. But anyway, she needed to get certain results and we really wanted her to get them and she did! But suddenly we realised that actually it didn’t matter that much.
And there were some of her friends who didn’t get what they needed but they are all, every single one of them now, is doing something that they want to be doing. And it may not be what they thought they wanted to do, because what you think you want to do when you’re at school is a very narrow range of possibilities because you don’t know what’s out there.
So it’s exam results – I just think just don’t worry about them. Yeah, get your kids to do the best that they can do, but they won’t perform perfectly, they won’t perform to their best in the exam – it’s not going to happen. And sometimes they will miss the mark that they think they need and it doesn’t matter. As long as you keep on at it and take the knocks, it works out in the end. So that’s what I’d say don’t worry about – exams.
Clare: Well as you can probably imagine from my background as a home educator, I completely agree. I think the number of stuff that I did in my A-Levels and my degree that has little or no impact on my life now.
Nicola: I know. Exactly. Definitely.
Clare: And the number of extremely successful people who’ve got no qualifications at all…
Nicola: Yes. And I remember when I was at school, I can remember who were the ones who were the academic ones – I suppose in some ways I was one of those as well, but I wasn’t necessarily someone who always got the best exam results – and I remember those people, and they’re not necessarily the ones who are being the most ‘successful’ now. It’s completely – I was going to say it’s random, but that’s not what I mean. It’s not random, but it’s not predicated on what you were good at at school.
In fact, one of the two books that I’ve written on the brain, Know Your Brain, the second one, the one that’s not about teenagers but the one about how brains work, is that the whole premise of that is that the things that people are good at at school are irrelevant to their success and happiness later on.
You’ll get people who thought they were bad at things at school, and were encouraged to think they were bad at things at school, the people who were dyslexic or who had various reasons why aspects of school work were difficult. And they can go on to be incredibly successful in all sorts of different ways, and it’s just very different. Success in real life, after school life, is so different from perceived success at school. I think it’s really important to realise that.
Clare: The other word that I noticed you said there was about ‘happiness’. It reminded me of a John Lennon quote that people have been sending me lately, the one where he said that his teacher said to him at school, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and he said, ‘happy’. And she said, ‘you don’t understand the assignment’ and he said, ‘you don’t understand life’.
Nicola: That’s very good.
Clare: So, last question, what one useful tip would you want to pass onto parents who are right in the thick of it at the moment, or about to step into that slightly older, pre-teeny age?
Nicola: I would say ‘everything’s a phase’. And I remember each stage my children went through thinking ‘oh gosh, this is really hard’, and each time I would forget that this is a temporary thing. Everything is a phase, everything is temporary. Particularly that’s the case, or that’s important to remember, during the teenage years that can be so stressful for the parents, but also for the teenagers concerned. Not always, but often really, really stressful for both sides of the divide.
That being a teenager is a temporary thing, it’s universal, it’s really difficult, and it also has a positive reason behind it. All of this splitting away from the parents and ignoring the parents and not caring so much about what the parents thing as about what your friends think is a really, really important positive evolutionary step between being a child who’s protected by the parent and who has to follow what the parents say, towards being an independent adult who makes their own decisions and makes their own way.
And I think that without those difficult teenage years the independence at the end of it can’t necessarily happen. So I think just remember that everything’s a phase, everything, everything gets better and just hang in there and never forget to show them that you love them.
Clare: Lovely! That’s a lovely thing to end on! Thank you. Thank you very much.
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NB: I just felt I ought to also say that we now know that it’s not safe to have your baby sleeping in a separate room to you in the first six months, because it increases the risk of SIDS (cot death).
Don’t forget our competition to win a copy of Stephanie Casemore’s wonderful book, Breastfeeding, Take Two, which closes on Monday - please share the link to the giveaway with anyone you know who didn’t manage to breastfeed their first baby and is struggling to come to terms with it, whether or not they’re due a second baby.