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#What25MeansToMe – Stephanie Calman

June 13th, 2021

“My Dad was my mentor. Whatever I wanted to do, he’d say ‘Just Go For It'”

Redthread speaks to Stephanie Calman, an author and broadcaster who is constantly amazed by the emotional intelligence of her grown up children. She writes about her experiences of growing up including her parents divorce, the impact of sexual assault and the importance of supporting each other.

*** Content warning: Sexual assault ***

Tell us about yourself

I’m 60 with 2 grown-up kids – that seems very old! I write non-fiction – i.e. true – books for a living and love talking to my children and their friends. They’re so funny and thoughtful. The way they look out for each other is fantastic. For me, family life is based round the kitchen table, just chilling with people. I didn’t go to university – it’s important to mention that, as people think you need a degree to be a writer. You don’t: you just need a voice.

What obstacles have you had to overcome during your adolescence?

I largely lost interest in school once I got to 14 and used to bunk off a fair bit and hang around with my friends in cafés and shops. There was always this sense of wanting something to happen, but we didn’t know what. We didn’t realise it was we who had to make something happen. Compared with teenagers now we were so lazy! My nephew has started an Equality Committee at school; we would never have thought of anything like that. We didn’t appreciate how much freedom we had: no phones or websites with relentless commentary on how you’re doing, no photo ratings, very little judging. You could be any type of girl without having to conform. I was depressed from about 13 onwards, but that was my home life.

My parents were divorced and I swapped homes every Friday and Sunday. Life with my Dad and stepmother was so stressful, with them arguing so much, when I was 15 I walked out and went back home. My Mum was with her boyfriend in Kent at weekends so I had the flat to myself for two days a week and felt much calmer.

Who helped you get to where you are now?

My Dad was my mentor. He gave me huge encouragement and whatever I wanted to do, he’d say Just Go For It. He taught me how to talk to anyone, anywhere. Secondly I was at the Anna Scher Theatre, an after-school drama club which not only enabled a lot of kids to express themselves through improvisation, but was also a pioneering integration initiative. It taught me we are all the same under the skin. We were all teenagers, wanting to do our own thing.

What advice do you wish you could have given your younger self?

To my younger self I would say: don’t blame yourself for the sexual assault. This happened on the floor of a room above a nightclub when I was 17. I thought I’d brought it on myself by flirting with the guy. He was in a band. Telling my husband, and his compassionate response, made a big difference. Finding out I wasn’t the only one also helped.

My website, Bad Mothers Club, is no more – but a lot of what we achieved could be helpful now, particularly to young parents. When I launched it in 2003, the number one thing women said was:

‘I thought I was the only one who sometimes just can’t do this, who hates my kids, and can’t cope.’

When all these women started posting: ‘Me too’ there was such relief.

How can society better support young people going through the challenging transition from adolescence to adulthood?

It’s still a bit taboo so say so, but being left alone with small children day after day can literally drive you mad. Everyone needs help. The celebrities who say they do it all are lying. The key thing about Bad Mothers Club for me was the incredible support the women gave each other. When one of our members had a breakdown, some of the others went to her house to make sure the kids weren’t taken into care. Every young parent should have someone they can call when things get too much.

Confessions of a Bad Mother – The Teenage Years is published by Picador, you can buy it here

Redthread supports young women and girls affected by sexual assault through our Young Women’s Service. You can support our work by donating here

You can download the full blog here

This is part of our ‘What 25 Means to Me’ campaign. To celebrate Redthread’s 25th year, our blog series provides different perspectives on the eclectic experience on ‘growing up’ and how society can better support young people going through this transition. 

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