The ‘masculine mystique’ why men can’t ditch the baggage of being a bloke

Far from espousing the school run, most men are still trapped by rigid cultural notions of being strong, dominant and successful. Is it leading to an epidemic of unhappiness similar to the one felt by Betty Friedans 50 s homemakers?

Back in the 90 s, it was all going to be so different. Not for our generation the lopsided approach of our parents, with their quaint postwar the idea of father-breadwinners and mother-homemakers. We would be equal; interchangeable. Our young lady would run companies, embassies, hospitals and schools, while our young men , no slouches themselves, would punctuate their careers with long, halcyon spells dandling newborns and teaching toddlers how to build tiny volcanoes out of vinegar and baking soda.

That equality would have formidable knock-on effects. The gender pay gap would constrict. Sexual harassment wouldn’t vanish, but decoupling professional power from gender would do a lot to erase it from the workplace.

A generation or so later, it is clear: this is the revolution that never happened, at the least not in the UK. The home-dad innovators among us who once flamed a trail , now look on aghast as successive waves of men scurry past and say:” Right. Back to run .”

What happened? Latest statistics for England demonstrate more than 80% of fathers still run full period, rising to virtually 85% for papas of very young children. This rate has hardly changed for 20 years. The ratio of part-timers has flatlined only above 6% throughout this decade( having risen through the 90 s and early 00 s ). Just 1.6% of men have given up run wholly to take care of the family home. New rights for fathers to share parental leave with moms have poor take-up rates.


You can glimpse this paternity gap at 3.30 pm on weekday afternoons at school gates up and down the country. Far from being overrun with gaggles of enlightened humen in clothes covered with baby sick and badges saying ” World’s greatest dad”, the father quota is, in my own limited experience, disappointing. There are often more grandparents doing the pickup than dads.

At the same time, there is no deficit of surveys discovering legions of men saying they want to find more time for family life. So exactly what he stopping them?

In 1963, The Feminine Mystique, a seminal volume by Betty Friedan, helped launch the second wave of feminism by positing that American females faced” a problem that has no name “: they had basically become typecast as uber-feminine moms, home-makers, cake bakers and sexual slaves to their spouses. Forcing girls to live up to this idea of femininity left an entire generation depressed, frustrated or hooked on Valium.

The question is this: 50 years later, are humen facing their own” problem with no name”, a” masculine mystique” which imposes rigid culture notions of what it is to be male- superior, dominant, hierarchical, sexually assertive to the point of abuse- even though society is hollering out for manhood to be something very different?

Men who do change their working lives to accommodate their children generally say it can feel tough, lonely, incongruous, even emasculating. When, 15 years ago, I gave up run wholly for a year to do childcare, it took a while to get used to being the only daddy in the park; the strange human arguing with a difficult child outside the library on a damp Tuesday morning. People stared.

David Early and his son Jonah …’ There is a stigma when people see you doing a role that isn’t traditional .’

Little has changed. Father-of-two David Early, 31, from Glasgow, says he still feels in a minority when he is out and about with his toddlers.” When I’m with the children, and I have her in the sling and him in the buggy, I have people looking and thinking:’ What’s that guy doing with two children strapped to him ?'” says Early.” There is a stigma when people see you doing a role that isn’t traditional. It can impact on your professional life .”

For Early, it certainly did. When he asked for additional parental leave after his first child was bear, his directors for his data management task were not impressed. He eventually quit and detected work elsewhere to be able to balance his work and family in the way he wanted.

Paul Cudby, 36, was luckier. A business analyst for the National Grid in Leicestershire, he found his director more receptive, and worked out a highly flexible work pattern that leaves him free to do the afternoon school running before turning the laptop back on again in the evening.” There comes a few moments in every dad’s life when there’s a choice. You’ll find yourself missing something at home and the question is: what do you do about the emotional ache? Do you say:’ I’m just going to have to suck it up ,’ or do “theyre saying”:’ Something’s got to change ‘?

” I get plenty of little gibes about being a part-timer. They are well entailing, but I can understand how some people get offended. I think there possibly is a knock-on consequence on my career .”

And that’s just it- humen are finding out what girls have known for years: that parenting properly is necessarily upend your career. For many men, so thoroughly programmed to identify who they are with the work they do, this can seem like an existential threat.

Tormod Sund …’ The traditional human … breadwinner … those various kinds of notions are rooted in the past. Photo: Mark Rice-Oxley for the Guardian

Tormod Sund, 42, is a parent, an anthropologist, a charity worker, a Norwegian and a Londoner- and has been the primary carer for his son for more than 10 years. He says he still feels like” a little bit of an oddity” in a society that still expects men to be alpha.

” The traditional man … breadwinner … those various kinds of ideas are rooted in the past, but you don’t get rid of them in one or two generations ,” Sund says.” Those notions are still quite strong socially .”

” When you satisfy new people, the first thing they ask is:’ What do you do ?’ I would say:’ I work from home .’ The notion of what is successful and normal if you’re a man is that you should have a career. It’s less acceptable for a man to say:’ I’m staying at home with the children .’ We work. Our identity is connected to that .”

The barriers are not just psychological. They are professional and fiscal as well. Jasmine Kelland, a human resource analyzes lecturer at Plymouth University, interviewed scores of fathers and managers, trying to find out more about the male reluctance to reduce hours. She found that of all the working permutations- part-time, full-time, humen, females- the part-time human was held in lowest consider on a range of metrics including proficiency, commitment and even ability.

” In the workplace, parents do not get as much supporting as mums ,” Kelland says.” When they say, for example, that they need time off because a child is unwell, organisations are less supportive. There are quite a lot of negative perceptions about fathers who want to work part-time .”

Dr Alpesh Maisuria has experienced this first-hand. The 37 -year-old London-based academic says that even in more “enlightened” parts of the economy, boss are not always understanding.” My value as a bloke in this country is to do with my productivity and output, much more than being a parent ,” he says.” I proposed to in many instances, even as an academic, the fact that I’m a parent might be a obstacle to my boss .”

The” part-time paternal penalty” is not just a British peculiarity. A 2013 US survey found that men who engaged in childcare risked a workplace backlash.” Men who lack complete focus on, and dedication to, their work and who do the low-status’ feminine’ run of childcare and housework are likely to be seen both as failed men and as bad workers ,” research reports found. At the other end of the scale, however, Sweden incentivises all parents to take at least three months paid paternity leave. The result has been a far more even-handed approach to” latte pappas “.

Dr Alpesh Maisuria …’ The fact that I’m a parent might be a hindrance to my boss .’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

” When I take him out to playgroups or cafes in the UK, I’m usually the only bloke in there ,” says Maisuria.” In Sweden, you’ll find a whole loading of these blokes alongside you .”

There are, of course, financial considerations: a great many households won’t be able to afford to sacrifice even part of a father’s wage. With the gender pay gap persisting, the default stance tends to be humen working full-time while women do the childcare and perhaps work part-time.

” Involved fatherhood is quite a middle-class idea ,” says Dr Helen Norman at Manchester University’s school of social sciences.” It’s only really accessible to middle-class men who can afford to change the performance of their duties; the fathers on lower incomes don’t have that[ option ].”

A support worker with a housing association in the West Midlands, Richard Watkins, 32, ran all the hours he could, until separation from his partner and problems with their children forced a rethink. Now, his six-year-old son lives with him and Watkins felt he had to cut back his hours to nurture his child.” We came very close to relying on food banks ,” he says.” The only route I can survive doing this on my budget is to have it[ all] mapped out for the next two years .”

Ultimately, he says, he will have to go back to work full-time. Which is a shame. The benefits of full-on fathering- the dad dividend if you like- are both obvious and subtle. There are no end of advocates agitating for progress, from Fathers Network Scotland and its” Dad Up” campaign to Working Families and the Fatherhood Institute.

Martin Doyle, 37, a Bristol-based communications manager for Lloyds bank , noticed that, after “hes been gone” part-time, there was a big a difference in the son that he and his husband had adopted.” It’s been massively beneficial- our son is a lot more determined and a lot more relaxed than he was ,” he says.” His confidence has grown, his self-belief has grown. I’ve been able to be there to support him .”

Engaged parents can also liberate females to resume careers- indeed females will never get close to true equality until humen bend over backwards to meet them halfway. And according to Norman, there can be a positive effect on relationships, too: in households where humen do sole childcare a few times a week in the early years, this will have” a positive effect on the relationship over period”, she says.

But could it be that the biggest recipient of all would be men themselves?

From his office overlooking the Royal Festival Hall terrace in London, Ted Hodgkinson is putting the finishing touch to a celebration that is all about the male predicament.

The Being a Human celebration, running from 24 -2 6 November, aims to get under the skin of the masculine identity, prod it around a little, see if it falls apart. The furore over sexual harassment will tinge some segments, particularly a session called ” Standing Up for Her Rights “.

But the event aims to be far broader than a single news story. Novelists, performers and musicians, including Robert Webb, Alan Hollinghurst and Simon Amstell, will explore the relentless levels of expectation heaped on men and assess whether this is responsible for statistics that indicate it is truly dismal these days to have a Y chromosome.

Suicide is a predominantly male tragedy( a human takes their own lives every minute somewhere in the world ). Ditto gambling, drug overdoses, rough sleeping or merely disappearing. Rape, murder, terrorism, war, people trafficking and domestic violence cases: all are predominantly masculine disgraces. Wherever you go in the world, men always make up more than 90% of jail populations. Flick through today’s newspaper and the opportunities are it will be full of all the bad things that humen are doing. Of course, recent weeks have been dominated by sexual harassment, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Mass shootings and sickening murders , not to mention terror attacks and the brutality of war.

Then there are our role model: misogynist presidents, groping politicians, narcissistic sports starrings, self-satisfied billionaires, airbrushed performers, heroic superheroes, alpha humen, all of them. Even the average shape of a man has changed in 20 years: firearms, pecs and necks wider than heads in some cases. There is no room for the winsome, the vulnerable, the uncertain.

I ask Hodgkinson if he guesses a” masculine mystique”- a cultural insistence on” strong, dominant, successful” kinds as the only valid show of manhood- is inducing us unhappy in the same style that the feminine mystique depressed women in the 50 s and 60 s.

” In one sense it seems as though men are holding all the cards ,” he says,” but the statistics prove otherwise: three out of four suicides are humen, 73% of adults who go missing are humen. They feel they have to walk out of their own lives for one reason or another. We have to look at what masculinity means to understand this. Often it equates demonstrating emotion with weakness. There is a bottling up of disgrace; not wanting to let people down .”

The good news is there is no shortfall of volumes, documentaries, artists working to challenge old patriarchal notions, from Professor Green’s acclaimed documentary about men and suicide to Grayson Perry’s 2016 volume The Descent of Man.( The downside: two-thirds of men say they don’t read much .)

” There is an awakening around these things. There is a shift there ,” says Hodgkinson.

Jonny Benjamin concurs. He became a mental health campaigner after contemplating his own suicide on Waterloo Bridge and being talked down by a stranger. He says he sees changes coming through in the new young generation.

Jonny Benjamin …’ We need more sports superstars, more footballers to talk about their vulnerabilities .’ Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

” The good thing is that now it’s being questioned ,” he observes from his own work talking to young people about mental health.” There is work in schools challenging this whole kind of’ big-boys-don’t-cry’ position .”

Benjamin says it is notions of pride, disgrace and accolade that still do men such damage. Men need to know that it’s OK to show vulnerability, subjugate every now and then, lose, shout, express their emotional commotion. It’s not just women who suffer from comparing themselves to the perfection they see in the public space.

” We need more athletics superstars, more footballers to talk about their vulnerabilities ,” he says.” Just to say:’ I do struggle sometimes, I do get anxious. Life isn’t all money and autoes .'”

There are nascent campaigns calling for a more honest dialogue about the connection between maleness, depression and suicide, most notably the work done by the Campaign Against Living Miserably and the Movember foundation.

But will that ever build into a full-blown motion that reforms maleness from the inside and changes its relationship with the world? It’s hard to say. Thus far “masculinism” has shown itself principally in niche areas such as detention law or male victims of violence, or simply as strident misogynist voices pushing back at feminism.

And it’s hard to see how to make a movement when you are essentially still in control of much of society. As Sund says,” we are not a minority who the hell is oppressed in any shape or form, so it’s hard to find that moral space “.

The crisis of manhood, if it exists, is very different from that faced by women in the 50 s and 60 s. In some senses, it’s a mirror image. Women- some at least- were saying:” Some of us might want to work .” Men- some at least- are saying:” Some of us might want to work less .” Women were saying:” We want to be taken seriously in public life .” Men- some at least- are saying:” We want to be taken seriously in our private life .”

Both sexes are trying to live up to cultural projections rather than satisfy their own complex human needs. Man today may have greater selection than women did half a century ago, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Women had an oppression to rail against; the outcome was a broad awakening that would not be subdued. The “oppression” of men is far more subtle, even self-inflicted.

The awakening has barely begun.

Being a Human celebration runs from 24 -2 6 November at Southbank Centre. More info and tickets available here: being-a-man

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at .

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Babies may be able to link certain words and concepts, research suggests

Study indicates babies as young as six months old may realise certain words are pertained and that interaction with adults boosts understanding

Babies as young as six months old may have an inkling that certain words and concepts are related to each other, say scientists in research that sheds new light on how infants learn.

The study also found that newborns who were more often exposed to adults talking to them about items in their proximity did better at identifying a picture of an object when the item was said out loud.

” What this is saying is that it is always a good notion to talk to your child and to show interest in whatever they are interested in, and it looks like the more you do that, the better- set very simply ,” said Dr Elika Bergelson of Duke University in North Carolina, who co-authored the paper.

In the first part of the study, 51 healthy six-month old newborns took part in an eye-tracking experiment in the laboratory. Sitting on the lap of a parent, who was unable to see the computer screen, each infant’s gaze was recorded as they were presented two images on a grey background, for example “car” and “juice”.

The parent, prompted through a decide of headphones, uttered a sentence containing one of the items. The squad then tracked how long the newborns looked at the item that the mother had mentioned.

The trial was carried out 32 periods, with half of the instances showing pairs of items related to each other, such as juice and milk, and half the time presenting unrelated items such as auto and juice.

The results, published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that the newborns appeared more at the image of the item that was mentioned by the mother when the other item on the screen was unrelated to it.

” The logic is, if newborns look more at an image after it gets named than they did before they heard anything, they know[ something about] what the word entails ,” said Bergelson.

“[ The findings indicate] babies know something about how words and concepts are’ related’ or’ go together ‘: if they had no notion that milk and juice had anything to do with one another, they would have performed similarly with the two types of displays ,” she added.

In the second part of the study, the team investigated whether the babies’ overall success at looking at the correct word was linked to their home surrounding, by recording the interactions between the newborns and those around them using video and, more extensively, audio recordings. These were then analysed by researchers for mentions of any objects or things, such as a spoonful or starrings, and it was noted whether the items were likely present in front of the newborn at the time.

The results from 41 newborns, of whom 40 had both audio and video data, reveal that the more babies were spoken to about objects that were present, the very best they did overall at looking at the correct term in the lab experiments.

” Even though they are six months olds- they are not doing much yet-[ they should be treated] as real communicative partners ,” said Bergelson.

Marilyn Vihman, prof of linguistics at the University of York who was not involved in the study, described the research as excellent and greeted the move to conduct research in the home environment. But she stressed that the study did not mean that six-month old babies “know” that words are linked.

” All the food words come in the same meal-time situation, all the clothing words and body-part terms come in the same nappy-changing and clothes-changing situation. All those words are going to be related to each other in the child’s experience and they haven’t sorted them out yet ,” she said.

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10 ways to help the parent of a child with autism

I have a child with classic autism, another with Aspergers and a third with learning difficulties. Having a friend to support you can be invaluable

My newborn didn’t call. Instead she peered, owl-like, at her new surrounding. Instantly, I fell in love. She was adorable, her face and shoulders were covered in down-like peach fuzz. Her blue eyes were almond shaped and her mouth was tiny. Over the next few days in hospital, while I recovered from a caesarean, various professionals came in and out. I well remember the third evening. I was forcing my tired eyes to read a novel that I had been enjoying before Daisy’s birth. Along came the junior registrar, hovering over my sleeping baby’s cot, his furrowed brow far easier to read than my book.” Is there something wrong ?” I asked eventually.

” This baby isn’t normal ,” he answered.” I think there is some kind of a syndrome .”

” Down’s syndrome ?” I asked. In those days, I only knew of one syndrome.

” Yes, or something similar. The muscle tone seems to be low, and the feet are too small. Ensure ?”

I felt as if I had been dropped into a dark pit. It was lonely in there. A thousand questions bubbled inside me, but the registrar had disappeared. I wanted to talk to my husband. Instead, I scooped up Daisy and examined my sleeping daughter. Whatever the future keep, I knew we were in it together.

Looking back, I realise that, even if the brutal news that Daisy was ” not normal” had been given while my husband was there to supporting me, the question that was closest to my heart could not have been answered by anyone.” What will life be like now ?”

Daisy’s official diagnosis, Kabuki syndrome, came via geneticists when she was 12 months old. Symptoms vary from person to person, but for Daisy it involved low muscle tone, joint hypermobility and severe learning disability. By the time we were given the full diagnosis, I was pregnant with my third child, who would complete our family.

From birth, Lenny clearly wasn’t disabled in the way that Daisy was. He was perceptibly muscular and very strong. Intensely interested in his environment, Lenny was almost too able for his own good. His one true love, Mother Nature, called him constantly; he outfoxed any security system that we put in place to stop him get outside. But despite his physical ingenuity, he didn’t talk. And he didn’t point at things that interested him or play with action figures. Instead, he would spin the wheels of plaything cars, staring at the talks as they whizzed around.

At three, Lenny was diagnosed with classic autism and I had to tell my eldest daughter, Rosie, then seven, that she had not one but two disabled siblings. Rosie was bright, academic and inquisitive; I had noticed that she was a bit different from her peers, but had put that down to her being an old spirit who liked adult company. But she was struggling socially at school and, at the age of nine, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

There was a period of retreat while I processed the fact that all three children had challenges. Eventually, though, I braved the world. We attracted curious gazes everywhere we went: Lenny wanted merely to perch on adult shoulders or run off at dazzling velocity, Daisy required functional specialists pushchair, and Rosie garmented bizarrely and would often appear to be in her own imaginary world. I learned to transform strangers’ curiosity into an opportunity to share information and make friends. If their directness left me lost for words, I could rely on Rosie. She was funny, quick-witted and loved to chat:” Daisy doesn’t walk yet because she has Kabuki syndrome. It doesn’t matter though, because she is beautiful as an angel. And this is my brother Len-Lens- he has classic autism, which means he is brilliant at spinning .”

I have learned so much in my two decades of being a mother. My children have been my best teachers, especially Rosie, who can often offer insight into what her younger siblings are feeling but cannot say. I wish there had been a wise friend to supporting me in those early days.

So, if you know someone who has a child with autism, here are 10 routes you can help 😛 TAGEND

1. Encourage your friend to seek out whatever supporting is on offer from social and educational services. When parents and services work together in a mutually respectful way, everyone is a winner.

2. Support your friend to advocate for her child. Medical professionals and school staff often focus on what the child can’t do. As a mom, I need to feel positive about my children and want those involved in their care to see their strengths as well as challenges. Having a friend who knows my child come along to a difficult meeting to support me is invaluable.

3. Much advice can be gleaned from local parents’ groups, and it is a great convenience for a mother to satisfy others in the same barge. But if your friend is feeling overwhelmed entering the world of special requires, she may need you to accompanied her to initial meetings.

4. Strangers’ curiosity is often unwelcome. An inquisitive gaze or an ill-judged remark can be the last straw. Having you by her side to fend off unwanted interest, or offer calm explains will make all the difference.

5. Broken sleep is often a huge issue for children with autism. Their mothers’ physical, mental and emotional health can suffer from many sleepless nights. If you know her child well enough, offer to stay in the house occasionally and be the one to get up instead.

6. Occasional respite care can be a godsend, allowing your friend time to invest in her matrimony, spend time with her other children or simply recharge her batteries. But the thought of letting strangers to care for her child may fill her with guilt. She may need you to help investigate what local services can offer in the way of respite care.

7. As the child grows older, their differences may become more apparent. Behaviours such as rocking, flapping hands or ricochetting( often called stimming) may mark them out. Because it draws attention to their child, some parents find stimming acutely embarrassing and try to stop it. But stimming isn’t just some annoying habit; it often devotes a good show of how a person with autism is feeling. It can show their distress or their elation, it can be a convenience or confuse them from something intolerable.

8. Family functions, such as parties and long, celebratory dinners, can be tricky with an autistic child. Be on hand to help out. Pack a goody container filled with distractions. This does not required to expensive; spinners, balloons and stretchy dolls can be great diversions. A preprepared goody suitcase can be the difference between your friend being able to stay at the celebration or having to leave early with a distressed child.

9. A mom of an autistic child may say that she can’t come for an evening out, as it is simply too difficult for her to leave home. Maintain asking, maintain reminding her that she is a valued friend, and that her company is very much wanted.

10. I firmly believe that dealing with today’s problems is quite enough. Discourage your friend from trying to plan too far ahead. Energy spent are concerned about the future will drain her energy for today. Our young person with autism can astonish us, developing in ways that seemed impossible when they were children. Calm mothers, love and unconditional acceptance are vital ingredients for ensuring happy adult autists.

* How to Best Help an Autism Mum by Sharon King is published by Austin Macauley, PS8. 99.

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My family is great, but I feel as though I have no real friends | Dear Mariella

Mariella Frostrup responds to a lonely mom by admitting that, having relocated to Somerset, she is struggling with the same problem

The dilemma I am 38, blithely marriage with two children and have a task I enjoy. However I have found myself plagued by nervousnes about friendships and impressions of loneliness. Since having children I seem to have been on a roller-coaster of friendships. As our lives have evolved, people have drifted away. I now feel I am leave behind acquaintances( chiefly school mums) rather than actual friends.

I find WhatsApp groups stressful and can’t go on Facebook, as I feel jealous when I ensure events where I haven’t been included. Some of my pre-children friends remain, but busy lives and distance entail I merely consider them a couple of times a year. I’ve given up on phone calls, as people only seem to want to text! I merely don’t know how I can get out of this spiralling anxious mindset. Will it improve when my children are older, or without play dates will my social life dry up altogether?

Mariella answers So glad you wrote. Only the other day I was meditating this very topic, brought on by the fact that my phone hadn’t echo for five days. I fell prey to that most 21 st-century malaise, the realisation that despite my means of communicating having multiplied in unquantifiable routes, my connection to my fellow human beings feels downgraded. Whether it’s a natter with a friend or solving the conundrum of my council tax, having a person actually talk to me constitutes a rare treat.

It’s not that I don’t have friends, 57,000 of them on Twitter alone at the last count, new pals every day on Instagram( all resulting the enviable lives you mention) and heavens knows how many I could tempt on to my Facebook page if I could just find is high time to upload my vacation snaps for their delectation. Yet there I was, wandering” lonely as a cloud” and impression wholly unplugged from my species.

I haven’t yet regretted our decision to relocate to the Somerset coombes, but I wish I’d been better aware I was perpetrating metropolitan social suicide. After decades of social investment( organising girls’ weekends, family gatherings and dinners ), I had the help feeling that I now had only birdsong to keep me company. Is that the rustle of Kleenex I hear out there in cyberspace or only the echo of my own self-pity?

Reading your letter, there just seemed too many parallels not to indulge in a rant, but you’ll be interested to hear there’s a plus side for you. With no inspiration greater than self-interest, I’ve given this dilemma my very focused concentration. The answer regrettably lies not in blaming others or the advent of new technology, but in taking individual action against the arrayed forces-out of novelty and disconnection. You’ve heard it here first: I’m going to start phoning people again, and I think you might want to follow suit. Not just when there’s no alternative but as an actual choice, based on a selfish desire to hear the cadence of a friend’s speech and entertain the possibility of a conversation about something unanticipated.

There’s no question that parenthood and relocation, lifestyle changes and the passage of time take their toll on our relations. Bringing up children is a fairly time-consuming occupation in itself, and if you’re trying to combine it with a career then period savings have to be made in other areas, all too often at the cost of friendships. None of our relationships are fixed in perpetuity, so letting people run is as important a lesson to learn as keeping them close. Friends drift in and out of our realm, and our own wants vary depending on the direction of our lifelines – it’s important to keep the door ajar so that those we once cherished can wander back in.

You talk about being left behind, but you’re just travelling in a different direction. It’s all too easy to fall prey to the mythology of other people’s glorified lives, seeing your own as lesser, greyer and even underpopulated. But we’re all fighting in this fast-changing, upwardly clambering society, and feeling adrift is no excuse to allow yourself to be driven off course.

You mention being left with” mainly school mums”, but they’re not to be disparaged; you’ll find support and empathy, a helping hand and a ready ear for the most mundane of problems among the throng at the school gate, all of which are priceless during child-rearing years. Ultimately we don’t need to collect friends like trophies; instead we need to value the handful who enhance our lives and bring a smile to our faces. They’re the ones who are worth pursuing, forgiving and keeping tabs on.

Thank you for entrusting me with what may feel like your personal problem, but is actually a universal dilemma. You’ll merely be lonely when the kids move out if you lose sight of the people that truly matter. So don’t be bullied into meaningless communication, pick up that phone occasionally and allow your friendships to ebb and flow as you are carried along on life’s currents. For all of us, they ultimately converge in the same spot.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup @observer. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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A very private grief: the parents breaking the stillbirth taboo

Stillbirths are 10 times more common than cot deaths, yet they are rarely spoken about. But a new project seeks to end the silence

Chris and his wife Danielle were delighted when she fell pregnant, and he recollects “getting to know” the baby in the womb.” I talked to him and played him music. I got stuff for him .” All seemed well and the couple had several scans until, at 25 weeks, Danielle became aware that the baby was not moving. When the couple ran for a scan, they learned there was no heartbeat. Danielle vividly recalls the shock and suffering of being told her baby had died, and that she must give birth to her stillborn son, Mason.

The staff cleaned up the newborn, dressed him in a tiny suit and took him to the mothers in a moses basket. They expended the whole of the working day with Mason until he was taken to have a postmortem done and then later moved to the funeral home. Danielle visited him every day.” He was just disintegrating in front of my eyes … But it didn’t make any difference to me. That was my little son, I didn’t care what he looked like .”

Danielle and Chris had not even heard about stillbirth- the UK definition is a newborn born with no signs of life at 24 or more weeks of gestation- when she became pregnant. They believed that once they had get past the vulnerable first three months, everything would be fine.

They are not alone, says Emma Beck, co-creator with Nicola Gibson of the audio archive Stillbirth Stories, which launches today. Stillbirth is still” shrouded in silence, even though it is about 10 times more common than cot death”, she says. Out of every 1,000 babies born in Britain, approximately 2.9 are stillborn. In 2015, nine babies were stillborn every day, placing Britain at 24 th on a listing of 49 high-income countries.

When Beck, whose daughter Mary was stillborn, did talk about her experience and heard those of other women, she realised how familiar and similar their emotions were, even when the stillbirths had been a long time ago.” The magnitude of the loss, the impressions of responsibility and guilt expressed by many mothers and the different ways mothers and parents express their grief struck me ,” she says.

This realisation led Beck, a television producer, and Gibson, who worked as a documentary producer and director for the BBC for 12 years, to generate Stillbirth Stories, which is funded by Wellcome, as a resource to help parents share the experiences of others who have had a stillborn child. Here, the women and fathers talk about getting pregnant, learning something was wrong and that they would lose their child. They describe giving birth and coping afterwards; the importance of caring supporting from clinicians and how significant it was to have a funeral ceremony. Their stories are intimate, profoundly moving and a hugely valuable insight into what stillbirth means. And they remove the taboo around the subject.

One couple who share their narrative via Stillbirth Stories are Sam and Martin, whose first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. They rapidly conceived again, but their son, Guy, was stillborn at 25 weeks and five days. The following year, they had a second miscarriage. Their interviews are heart-rending but is a possibility deep comforting for someone experiencing a similar situation. Sam tells of her nervousnes when she became pregnant the second day:” When I had the 12 -week scan, I was waiting for them to say,’ Oh no … there’s no heartbeat .’ But he was waving his little hands on the screen. Then we felt safe .” However, at the 20 -week scan, the couple were told that, although the organs were developing well, Guy was very small. At a scan three weeks later, it was discovered that liquid had been leaking and there was a poor blood flowing from the placenta. Guy would almost certainly not survive.

The government has set a target to cut these deaths by 50% by 2030. About half of all stillbirths result after 34 weeks, says Prof Alex Heazell, clinical director of Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre in St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester. He also resulted the Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study, which recruited more than 1,000 women and looked at babies’ motion patterns and moms’ sleep habits, diet and smoking. Few girls realise that if they give up smoking before they are 16 weeks pregnant, the health risks of stillbirth becomes the same as for a mom who never smoked.

Heazell’s role also includes overseeing the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust’s Rainbow Clinic, which cares for women bereaved by stillbirth when they become pregnant again( there is evidence that they might be at higher danger of having a subsequent stillbirth ). He has watched the importance of being aware from the moment there are signs that something is not right. So far, out of the 500 births since the clinic was put in , none has been stillborn. Heazell says:” About half of stillbirths occur after 34 weeks, means that these are babies who, if we knew about them earlier, could be expected to survive. A prevalent faith in society is that these babies were’ not meant to be ‘, but that is certainly not true .”

Parents need to realise, he adds, how important it is that they get checked immediately if a newborn seems not to be moving, so that a heart tracing or ultrasound scan can be done.

At the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists, vice-president Edward Morris describes the Every Baby Counts project, which looks at how different types of care can make better outcomes for babies who may die towards the end of pregnancy. Meanwhile, an analysis of 512 stillbirths based on hospitals in five US nations was published in March by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The analyze found that testing the placenta established cause in about two-thirds of stillbirths, and fetal autopsy helped in roughly 40% of cases. Genetic testing helped pinpoint a cause in 12% of cases.

While Stillbirth Stories recounts the experiences of couples, Gibson and Beck also thought it was important to hear how clinicians themselves cope with the emotional strain. As Morris says:” I challenge any obstetrician who diagnoses a newborn dead in utero not to feel emotion. If you didn’t find these things affecting, you would need to reflect on whether it was the right work for you. But there is a reward in successfully managing your feelings .”

Jane has been a midwife for 17 years, and, for the last 14, has worked as functional specialists bereavement midwife in an inner-London hospital.” I offer care as soon as we are aware that a newborn has passed away ,” she says. She talks mothers through what to expect about delivery, and what happens afterwards.” I am a phase of contact and an area of support. Some families require a lot, others don’t need so much. So I offer almost every family a different thing .”

The hardest portion, she says, is strolling into the room and not knowing what feelings to expect from a family.” I can be the ultimate professional in a room, and that doesn’t mean I don’t scream, but it’s not in an inappropriate sobbing way; it is kind of reflecting their grief rather than it being my own .” Afterwards, she says, she may sit in a chair and sob.” And that’s my personal various kinds of heartbreak coming for them .”

The support Jane herself needs to do the work comes from professionals and colleagues who are also friends:” We talk a lot about it. I share an office with people who exclaim as much as I do during our conversations. If I didn’t have that support at work, it would be very difficult .”

Eileen, a junior registrar at an inner-London hospital, recalls the distress she felt with a very distraught mother which has recently delivered:” The mom only maintained wants to know why this had happened. And I had to give the honest answer, that we didn’t know. It’s so hard because you have to try and not get upset. And if you say the incorrect thing in that moment, that can go on to shape how they view that whole event … which is petrifying .”

One of the hardest things can be asking mothers who, understandably may feel very upset at the idea, whether they are happy for their child to have a postmortem, the results of which would go towards research. Sam and Martin recall struggling with the idea, but wanting any information possible about what might have been wrong with Guy.” We simply kind of signed the form … I don’t remember it other than[ thinking] we need to have this done. It was a massive thing for Guy to do … for his future siblings, actually .”

Stillbirth Stories shows the different ways that households may mourn and suffer, but many are comforted by watching the stillborn child as part of their family. Rick and Sarah say, as one:” Although the death of Lily Rose has taken our dream of a child living with us, we have been helped to celebrate that we had her, that she exists somewhere and that, whatever happens, “weve been” mothers .”

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First same-sex couple to marry in Germany celebrate after long wait

Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende, the first to take advantage of the countrys new statute, strolled down the aisle in Berlin

As they entered the golden room of Schoneberg town hall to the stress of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, Bodo Mende and Karl Kreile were only doing what tens of thousands of other couples had did before- tying the knot in front of friends and family in the southern Berlin district.

But they were also making history as the first same-sex couple able to marry in Germany, after a new statute came into force which eventually puts gay and lesbian couples on an equal legal footing with heterosexuals.

” After 38 years together, this is a day we’ve waited a long time for ,” 59 -year-old Kreile told the Guardian ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.” We’ve actively campaigned for decades for the nation to recognise us as equals. and finally we are able to celebrate a day we once guessed may never come in our lifetimes .”

Mende, 60, said it was a” huge accolade” for the couple to be the first in Germany to marry.” I recollect the dishonor we felt when we were turned away from a registry office 25 years ago when we confronted the registrar as part of an organised protest. They constructed us feel like second-class citizens .”

Instead of feeling like pariahs, Kreile and Mende were on Sunday elevated to the status of heroes. Many of those who had campaigned with the couple over the years clapped and cheered alongside them as they kissed after saying their vows and signed their matrimony documents.

Germany has now become the 14 th European country to legalise lesbian matrimony, and the 23 rd worldwide following an historical Bundestag vote in June.

Gordon Holland, the registrar overseeing the ceremony, said Schoneberg was proud to be” firing a symbolic starter handgun “. Since the 1920 s, the district has been a centre for gay and lesbian life, its free-spirited culture immortalised in the fictions of Britain’s Christopher Isherwood, who lived in different districts. It has also been the centre stage, over the decades, of strident battles for homosexual rights, a reputation it first earned when it held the world’s first gay demo in 1922.

” Schoneberg has been shaped by the way it has stood up for gay rights for the best part of a century ,” said Mende, who has lived there for years.” The world’s first homosexual and trans bars started here, and it has survived two world wars and many attempts to eliminate it ,” he added, remembering the thousands of homosexuals from the district who were murdered by the Nazis.” So it’s fitting we’re here again today to mark this historic moment ,.”

Since 2001, same-sex couples in Germany have been allowed to register civil partnerships. At the time they were introduced, Germany was praised by campaigners for its trailblazer role. But it went on to lag behind other countries that subsequently introduced gay wedding. When Ireland induced it legal in 2015, German campaigners called it highly embarrassing that Germany had been beaten even by a country with strong Catholic roots.

In June, apparently caught off-guard by a question on gay marriage fired at her at an event hosted by a women’s publication, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she believed same-sex partnerships were” just as valuable” as heterosexual ones. The U-turn following years in which she had defied devoting the questions her supporting was confiscated on by the Social Democrat( SPD ), junior partners in her government, who called a snap vote on it ahead of the summer recess. The motion considered 393 voting in favour of its adoption, to 226 against. Merkel, who invited MPs to vote according to their conscience, voted against the move.

Mende said he still did not know whether he should feel grateful towards Merkel.” Was it political calculus, to take the wind out of the SPD’s sails, or was it one of those things that just happened by accident, like the opening of the Berlin Wall ?” he said, referring to the gaffe made by East German functionary Gunter Schabowski that unwittingly led to the opening of the wall.

But, he added, amid the political upheaval caused by Germany’s election last Sunday, in which the far right Alternative fur Deutschland won 94 seats in the Bundestag, lesbian rights campaigners were under no illusion that such a vote would be as easy to push through under the future government.

Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende cutting their cake. The slogan reads” matrimony for all “. Photograph: Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images

Jorg Steinert, head of the Berlin branch of Germany’s lesbian and lesbian association LSVD said now couples would be able to adopt, to enjoy equal tax and inheritance rights and the right to determine end-of-life care for a partner. Some issues still remain unresolved however, including women not having motherhood of a lesbian partner’s child automatically recognised.

Following their rite, Mende and Kreile cut into a huge wedding cake decorated with a rainbow and the phrase” Ehe fur alle”,( wedding for all ). The reception was to be followed by a short break for the two bureaucrats in Vienna.

” We partied big when we celebrated our civil partnership in 2002, so we don’t feel the need to do so in quite the same style this time ,” said Kreile.” Since then we’ve referred to each other as’ husband ‘, but the state has not insured it that way. We’re relieved they came here round eventually .”

But one obstacle still remains for the couple. Their union cannot yet be entered in the wedding register because the software has yet to be updated to allow for two entries with the same sex.

” Having built such a leap in other ways, it’s a bit embarrassing for the German state that they couldn’t rise to such a straightforward digital challenge ,” said Steinert.

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Warnings over shock dementia revelations from ancestry DNA tests

Companies have been told to accept moral responsibility and offer counselling for people who unknowingly detect health risks

People who use genetic tests to trace their ancestry only to discover that they are at risk of succumbing to an incurable illness are being left to suffer serious psychological problems. Dementia researchers say the problem is especially acute for those found to be at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which has no remedy or effective therapy. Yet these people are stumbling upon their status unknowingly after trying to find their Viking, Asian or ancient Greek roots.

” These tests have the potential to cause great distress ,” told Anna Middleton, head of society and ethics research at the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge.” Company should stimulate counselling available, before and after people take tests .” The issue is raised in a paper by Middleton and others in the publication Future Medicine .

A similar warning was voiced by Louise Walker, research policeman at the Alzheimer’s Society.” Everyone has a right to know about their risk if they want to, but these companies have a moral responsibility to make sure people understand the meaning and consequences of this information. Anyone considering get genetic exam outcomes should do so with their eyes open .”

Alzheimer’s is linked to the build-up in the brain of clumps of a protein called amyloid. This triggers severe memory loss, disarray and disorientation. One gene, known as ApoE, affects this process and exists in three variants: E2, E3 and E4. Those possessing the last of these face an increased chance of getting the disease in late life.

” About 3 % of the population has two copies of the E4 variant- one inherited from each mother ,” Professor John Hardy, of University College London, told.” They have about an 80% opportunity of get Alzheimer’s by the age of 80. The average person has a 10% danger .”

The link with ApoE was attained in 1996 and Hardy recalled the reaction in his laboratory.” We ran around testing ourselves to watch which variant we possessed. I observed I have two low-risk E3 versions on my genome. But if I had found two E4 versions? By now, having reached my 60 s, I would be facing the prospect that I had a serious opportunity of getting Alzheimer’s disease in 10 years. I would be fairly fed up .”

The ability to find a person’s ApoE status has become even easier as a result of the development of genetic tests that provide information about a person’s ancestry, health risks and general traits. Dozens of companies offer such services and adverts portray happy individuals learning about their roots- 43% African or 51% Middle Eastern- often to the voice of Julie Andrews singing Get to Know You or a similarly happy-sounding track. All you have to do is provide a sample of spittle.

The resulting information about predilections to disease is not emphasized- but it is given. Kelly Boughtflower, from London, took a gene exam with the company 23 andMe because she wanted to prove her mother’s family came from Spain. The results provided no evidence of her Iberian roots but exposed she carried one E4 version of the ApoE gene, which increases her chances of get Alzheimer’s, though not as drastically as a double dose.

” I didn’t think about it at the time ,” told Boughtflower.” Then, when I took up run as an Alzheimer’s Society subsistence worker, I learned about ApoE4 and the information has come to sit very heavily with me. Did I inherit the ApoE4 from my mother? Is she going to get Alzheimer’s very soon? Have I passed it on to my daughter? I have tried to get counselling on the NHS but that is not available for a person in my particular quandary, I was told .”

Other examples appear on the ApoE4 Info site, a forum for those whose gene tests depict an Alzheimer’s susceptibility.” Have stumbled upon my 4/4 ApoE status. I’m still in shock ,” writes one. Another nations:” I get paid a $50 Amazon gift-card to take part in a genetic survey. I was naive and unprepared .”

There is no drug or treatment for Alzheimer’s and although physicians advise that having a healthy lifestyle will help, the baseline risk for E4 carriers remains high.” That is a real problem ,” told Middleton.” Genetic test companies say they offer advice about counselling but that usually turns out to be a YouTube video outlining your risks. Affected people needed one-to-one counselling .”

For their portion, gene exam companies say outcomes about Alzheimer’s and other such as breast cancer and Parkinson’s are often concealed behind electronic locks. A person has to answer several questions to show they “really” want to open these and is informed of potential risks. But Middleton dismissed these precautions.” You know there is medical information about you online and so you will go and find it. It is human nature .”

Margaret McCartney, a GP and author of The Patient Paradox , agreed.” What worries me is the aggressive style these tests are marketed. People are told all the advantages but there is no mention of the downsides. The NHS is expected to mop these up.

” Meanwhile, the gene exam company has made its gain and strolls away from the mess they have created. I think that is immoral. They should be made to pay for advising for their customers .”

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15 Things Younger Siblings Dont Know Their Older Siblings Did For Them

1. Bearing the role of being the guinea pig, and having all the strict rules enforced on them instead.

As the firstborn, you will paradoxically always be your mothers’ newborn. Everything they do with you, they will do with kid gloves.( Opportunity are good you also find the Luvs commercials as funny in that bleak, depressing, bitterly’ why me ?!’ various kinds of style as your mothers .) No dating , no cell phone , no alcohol, God forbid no weed, and did I mention no dating? At least until you’re 18, if not married.

2. And having to watch every single rule that maintained an older sibling under lock and key beunceremoniously abandoned with any subsequent offspring.

By the time your younger sibling rolls around, your mothers will have learned one crucial thing: kids are going to simply, and it’s frankly usually not worth the headache to try to slow them down. To the older sibling’s point of view, as long as your younger brother or sister isn’t teething on an extension cord, your parents think they’re get the job done just fine. We put the slack on that leash for you. You’re welcome.

3. Taking the fall for for

Because even though you’re still a kid yourself, you should know better, or at least know enough to stave off what seems like the greatest and most imminent of disasters.

4. Not always getting the first and best of everything.

Your siblings is often get your hand-me-down clothes, but you’ll be the one with the hand-me-down car that breaks down just in time for your little sibling to start driving.( Either that, or your mothers will grow so tired of you griping about your ride that they’ll merely cut the middleman and arrange for your sibling to have a slightly better vehicle. Your mothers will eventually capitulate, it’ll just never be in the direction you want them to .)

5. Navigating a lot of things on their own and then teaching their parents how to handle it with the younger siblings.

Even if you weren’t the first member of your family to go to college, the application process changes so much between generations that you’re going to have to try to figure out deadlines and tests and fees and processes all on your own. Chances are good you will always be the first to experience homesickness, the first to deal with hormones, the first to move away from home. And truly , not having somebody who understands is going to suck a little. Older siblings do best when we find an older cousin, call them up, and hug them tight when you can. Older cousins were our surrogate sibling. They showed us the way

6. Being groomed into the family’s resident Oprah.

( No offense to Mom’s heart-to-hearts, or Dad’s chummy pep talk .) With age comes being a know-it-all, or however that saying runs. But still, you are going to be pro at wresting your way into your sibling’s room when Mom and Dad refuse to cross that roadblock, perching yourself on the foot of their bed, and telling your heartbroken, devastated little sibling that this too shall pass. Because it will.( Chance are you survived whatever it is that’s crushing their world, too .) It would be cruel for you to stand idly by and not try to help ease that ache. Besides, that’s your built-in best friend who’s hurting.

7. Sharpening an unrivaled ability to pass judgment.

Whether it’s the new love interest your little sibling brings home, the music and manner tendencies that are gripping their peers, or anything in between, you’re going to have something to say about it.( I grew up on; my sister was raised on. Neither of us will ever see eye to eye on this, but dear God, I know in my heart of hearts that I am right, and that is all that matters .) As the older sibling, the bar you expect your younger siblings to jump is fairly high and your seems of judgements can be withering but you do this in the name of teaching them how to have standards.

8. Reliving all of the worst parts of adolescence like a torrid, perpetual Groundhog’s Day.

Whether or not they mean to, younger siblings making such a older siblings revisit all of those impressions of puppy love and heartache, bad grades and bullying. The scars of adolescence running deep, however, and it’s going to crush any well-meaning older sibling twofold because they might not be over their own stabs and meanders and rancours. Still, suffering loves company, and as much as it kills us to see younger siblings suffer, at least now we both know we’re not alone.

9. Dealing given the fact that the high expectations for older siblings to settle down is always at a premium.

Older siblings are a lightning rod for that holiday collecting topic everyone hates. Nobody ever makes a beeline for the little sibling who’s been dating someone since middle school at vacation parties. It is always the oldest sibling who gets asked,” So, when are you going to have a family of your own ?!” After all, they’ve been out in the real world longer( theoretically ), they’ve gotten the most experience babysitting their little siblings( theoretically ), and they’re the ones who are( theoretically) bound to do everything first all over again. And when your siblings do eventually get married and have kids of their own, if you have yet to do this, you’ll still be asked the same topic but now, it will be tinged with pity and that knowing sense that yes, dear, there’s still day for you.

10. Being called ” bossy” while younger siblings” assert themselves .”

These are two sides to the same exact coin, but everyone loves an underdog. Not everybody is have the euphemism. This is the cross older siblings have to bear.

11. Doing the grunt work of getting mothers to acquiesce to a request.

They would beg for a puppy, for Gushers in the lunchbox, for a playdate … whatever it was, chances are the older sibling had their sights on it for a very long time. They’d work at that request like your parents merely needed to be worn down for some reason, every older sibling I’ve ever met is the kind of person who does not take kindly to ” no” and bring in the younger sibling with a well-timed request for the same thing. Usually, your mothers were so tired of being asked that they’d crumble at the fear that the second kid was now in on any such requests, too.( This is how your older sibling teach you about the magical that is teamwork. They were the bad policeman. They took that rap for the lil’ good cops everywhere .)

12. Protecting their little siblings fiercely.

This is twofold in that most older siblings learned how to throw a punch in case the younger child ever required somebody to stand up to a bully for them, but they were also the ones who put two and two together and understood when to protect their younger sibling’s innocence. Older siblings would make their little siblings sing and read narratives when their parents got into a fight, or would corner dubious significant others in confrontations worthy of Hollywood rom-com plot twist.

13. Dealing with being the” less cute” kid.

It doesn’t matter who is ostensibly more conventionally attractive the younger you are, the cuter you’re going to be.( Google” Chris Hemsworth Liam Hemsworth” if you don’t believe me. Go on. I’ll await .) This begins when the older child is shunted to the side when the new newborn comes into the fold, and it never really leaves. The older child was never the precocious one after all, they were older and wiser, so any tricks they had up their sleeve were simply assigned to age. Little siblings could get away with murder since this is cute. Do you know how much your older sibling would give for that kind of trump card? All. They would give all.

14. Easing their parents into the unknown world of an empty nest.

After all, they’re the one who are usually given the chance to leave home first. They’re the one who have to deal with those first soul-crushing parental tears about the newborn growing up. And while the older sibling doesn’t have to worry about your mothers catching empty nest disorder at your departure finally, something the younger siblings have to manage on their own! at least the younger sibling’s room isn’t the one that get changed into a guest room. At least your bedroom is still the shrine to a younger yesteryear, regardless of how embarrassing that shrine may be.

15. And at the end of the day, usually being the ones who have an indestructible sense of home.

No matter how far they moved, or how much of their own lives and family they’ve crafted for their own, older siblings will always know when to fly home, and how to bumrush a plane counter to do so. They’re the ones who wax most nostalgic on Throwback Thursdays, all those people who do the most elaborate birthday posts, and the ones who scheme big on doing things for Mom and Dad. They might not be there for every holiday, but they will always recollect what it feels like to bringing the gang back together like no time has passed at all.

Read more about love, family, and the bond between siblings here.

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My son’s tattoo hurt me deeply

When Tess Morgan &# x27; s son came home with a tattoo, she was griefstricken. She knew her reaction was OTT( he &# x27; s 21) but it signalled a change in their relationship

Put out the bunting, crack open the beers, stand there in the kitchen smiling from ear to ear, because hes home our student son is home and the family is together again. And after supper, after the washing up is done, the others his younger siblings drift off to watch television, and he says: Would you like to see my tattoo?

I tell, Youre joking.

He says, No, Im not.

But still I await. Any minute hes going to chuckle and say, You should see your faces because this has been a operating gag for years, this idea of get a tattoo the hard man act, iron muscles, shaved head, Jason Statham, Ross Kemp. Hes a clever son. Maybe during his school years he supposed a tattoo would balance the geeky glory of academic achievement.

His father says, Where?

On my limb, he tells, and touches his bicep through his shirt.

His lovely shoulder.

In the stillnes, he says, I didnt think youd be this upset.

After a while, he says, It wasnt only a drunken whim. I thought about it. I went to a professional. It cost 150.

150? I think, briefly, of all the things I could buy with 150.

Its just a tattoo, he tells, when the stillnes goes on so long that we have virtually fallen over the leading edge of it into a cavity of black nothingness. Its not as if I came home and said Id got someone pregnant.

It seems to me, unhinged by shock, that this might have been the better option.

His father asks, Does it hurt?

Yes, I say, cutting across this male bonding. It does. Very much.

For three days, I cant speak to my son. I can hardly bear to look at him. I choose this is rational. The last thing we need, I believe, is an explosion of white-hot terms that everyone carries around for the rest of their lives, engraved on their hearts. In any case, Im not even sure what it is I want to say. In my intellects eye I stand there, a bitter old woman with pursed lips wringing my black-gloved hands. Hes done the one thing that Ive said for years, please dont do this. It would really upset me if you did this. And now its occurred. So theres nothing left to say.

I know you cant control what your children do. Why would you want to, anyway? If you controlled what they did, youd merely pass on your own rubbish tip-off of flaws. You hope the next generation will be better, stronger, more generous. I know all you can do as a parent is to pack their suitcases and wave as you watch them go.

So I weep instead. I have a glob in my throat that stops me from eating. I feel as if someone has died. I keep thinking of his skin, his precious scalp, inked like a swine carcass.

My neighbour says, Theres a lot of it about. So many teens are doing it. I stare at pictures of David Beckham with his flowery sleeves, Angelina Jolie all veins and scrawls. Tattoos are everywhere. They seem no more alternative than pierces these days. But I still dont understand. Sam Cam with her smudgy dolphin, the heavily tattooed at Royal Ascot these people are role model?

My niece had doves tattooed on her breasts, tells a friend, And her parent said, you wait, in a few years time theyll be vultures.

Its the permanence that induces me weep. As if the Joker had stimulated face paints from acid. Your youthful passion for ever on display, like a CD of the Smiths stapled to your forehead. The British Association of Dermatologists recently surveyed just under 600 patients with visible tattoos. Nearly half of them had been inked between the ages of 18 and 25, and almost a third of them regretted it.

I look up laser removal. Which is a possibility, I suppose miserably, that merely runs if you want a tattoo removed. And Im not in charge here. My son is.

My husband asks, Have you ensure it yet?

I shake my head. Like small children, I am hoping that if I keep my eyes tightly shut the whole thing will disappear.

Its his body, he says gently. His choice.

But what if he wants to be a lawyer?

A lawyer?

Or an accountant.

Hell be wearing a suit. No one will ever know. And he doesnt want to be a lawyer. Or an accountant.

I know. I know.

I satisfied a colleague for lunch. He knew how much it would hurt me, I say, tears running down my face. For years Ive said, dont do it. Its there for ever, even after youve changed your intellect about who you are and what you want to look like. Youre branded, like meat. It can damage your work prospects. It can turn people against you before youve even opened your mouth.

She tells, Tell him how you feel.

But I cant. For a start, I know Im being completely unreasonable. This level of grief is absurd. Hes not succumbing, he hasnt killed anyone, he hasnt volunteered to fight on behalf of a military totalitarianism. But I feel as though a knife is twisting in my guts.

I get angry with myself. This is nothing but snobbery, I believe latent nervousnes about the trappings of class. As if my son had deliberately turned his back on a light Victoria sponge and stuffed his is confronted with cheap doughnuts. I am aware, too, that I associate tattoos on men with aggression, the various kinds of arrogant swagger that goes with vest tops, dogs on chains, broken beer glasses.

Is this what other women feel? Or perhaps, I guess, with an uncomfortable careen of realisation, just what older women feel. I stand, a lone tyrannosaurus, bellowing at a world I dont understand.

Tattoos used to be the preserve of crooks and toffs. And sailors. In the 1850 s, the corpses of seamen washed up on the coast of north Cornwall were strangely decorated with blue, according to Robert Hawker, the vicar of Morwenstow initials, or describes of anchors, blooms or religion emblems( Our blessed Savior on His Cross, with on the one hand His mother, and on the other St John the Evangelist ). It is their object and intent, when they assume these signs, tells Hawker, to secure identity for their bodies if “peoples lives” are lost at sea.

Tattoos, then, were intensely practical, like brightly coloured smit marks on sheep.

Perhaps even then this was a style statement, a badge of belonging. Or just what you did after too much rum. Afterward, the aristocracy flirted with body art. According to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich( they know a lot about tattoos ), Edward VII had a Jerusalem cross on his arm while both his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York( subsequently George V ), had dragon tattoos. Lady Randolph Churchill, Winstons mum, had a snake on her wrist.

But you can do what you like if youre rich.

On day three, still in a fog of sadnes, I say to him, Shall we talk?

We sit down with beakers of coffee. I open my mouth to speak and end up crying instead. I say, You couldnt have done anything to hurt me more.

He is cool and detached. He says, I think you need to re-examine your prejudices.

I think, but I have! Ive done nothing else for three days! But I dont say that because we arent really talking to each other. These are rehearsed lines, clever insults flung across the dispatch box.( This is what comes of not exploding in indignation in the heat of the moment .)

I tell, Why couldnt you have waited until youd left home? Why now when youre living here half the year?

Its something Ive been thinking about for a long time. There didnt seem any reason to wait.

Which attains it worse.

Im an adult, he tells. I paid for it with my own money. Money I earned.

But were supporting you as well, I believe. As far as I know, you dont have separate bank accounts for your various income rivers. So who knows? Maybe we paid for it. If you dont want to see it, thats fine, he tells. When Im at home, Ill encompasses it up. Your home, your rules.

In my head, I believe, I thought it was your house, too.

He tells, Im upset that youre upset. But Im not going to apologise.

I dont want you to apologise, I say.( A lie. Grovelling self-abasement might help .)

He says, Im still the same person.

I look at him, standing here, my 21 -year-old son. I feel Im being interviewed for a chore I dont even want. I say, But youre not. Youre different. I will never look at you in the same way again. Its a visceral feeling. Perhaps because Im your mom. All those years of looking after your body taking you to the dentist and building you drink milk and worrying about green leafy vegetables and sunscreen and cancer from mobile phones. And then you let some stranger inject ink under your skin. To me, it seems like self-mutilation. If youd lost your arm in a car accident, I would have understood. I would have done everything to make you feel better. But this this is sacrilege. And I detest it.

We look at each other. There seems nothing left to say.

Over the next few days, my son always covered up talks to me as if the row had never happened. I talk to him, too, but warily. Because Im no longer sure I know him.

And this is when I realise that all my endless self-examination was altogether pointless. What I believe, or dont think, about tattoos is irrelevant. Because this is the point. Tattoos are fashionable. They may even be beautiful.( Just because I hate them doesnt mean Im right .) But by deciding to have a tattoo, my son took a meat cleaver to my apron strings. He may not have wanted to hurt me. I hope he didnt. But my impressions, as he made his decision, were completely unimportant.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.

I am redundant. And thats a legitimate cause for sorrow, I think.

Tess Morgan is a pseudonym

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When You Love A Person Who Comes From A Broken Family

When you fulfill someone who comes from a broken household you probably wont is well aware right away. Theyll do their best to blend in, to watch their words, to make sure they seem like everyone else. Its a habit theyve picked up over the years. How easy it is to look like all the rest. How easy it is to perform the same dance and routine.

And what is missing? Its the issue that continues to haunt them. Was it losing their mother at a young age? Was it the divorce, the abuse, the memories that can’t seem to go away? Was it because they had to grow up faster than everyone else? Not every broken person shares the same narrative and their story lives inside of them triumphantly defiant, an anchor holding the weight of their heart down, but the hollowness feels eerily similar all the same. They dont know how to quite pinpoint when it all seemed to fall apart. All they know is that they fell. Hard.

When you start dating someone from a broken family at first it might all seem too easy. That’s because it is. You’ll ask them about their upbringing, their background, what their family’s like, and without blinking they’ll gloss over the ugly details with just enough relevant information you’ll actually believe you’re getting the real tale. It’s not that they’retrying to be deceptive or deceive. They just know it’s easier this way. For both of you.

They know no one wants to hear about the long nights spent in the hospital waiting room wondering if their father’s okay and no one wants to talk about how their mom fucked them up or how their sibling was an addict or about how the pain from a broken home still persists in the back of their mind regardless how many times they will it away. No , none of these are great first date topics. Even second, third, fifth dates just never seem appropriate for this kind of insight into their life. They’ve inherently always felt unusual, in a way they don’t know how to communicate, in a way they hope won’t make you walk away from them and deem them unloveable forever.

Inthe beginning they’ll keep it up- this nervous charade. Letting you in just enough to know the way their lips savor when they get drunk enough to kiss you in public but just far away you’ll never know what they’re like in the morning when their hair is messy and they’re quiet in their motions. It’s the game they play keeping you close enough to the wall but never so close you might actually get the chance to break through. It’s not fair, they are aware, butthey aren’t sure how to love person in any other way.

By now they’ve learned the subtle way to bite the inside of their lip and let the blood flow when you mention your family, the home you grew up in, the holiday traditions you’ve known for years. These things induce them uneasy, jealous, even a bit threatened, in a manner that is you’ll never be able to understand. They don’t know what that’s like -to know you can go back to the same address you knew as a kid. They don’t know what that’s like- to know you can go back to the same people you knew as a kid. Stability has always come at a cost to them and because of that they’ve learned to never expect anything from anyone.

They’ll keep it up and keep it up until you’re both depleted and weary, rolling around in bed sheets, giggling about something completely mundane, when they realise in a moment they’ve let their guard down. A moment that means nothing to you are able to mean everything to them. They’ve been longing for this- this undividedness and sense of belonging they can actually touch. So they suppose for a few moments perhaps this is a place they can get comfy- the space between you and them isn’t that far, actually, when they think about it. They wonder for a few moments if they could even call this space with you home, and if, for once, they might actually have found something real, something tangible in another human being. Immediately they push the gues away and remember they’re not good enough for something like that. A home. Love. A relationship that could actually work. No, these are not the things that happens to bad people, to violate people, to people who come from an unconventional home.

So that’s what you must remember when you love a person from a broken family- there will be days when they simply feel like they don’t deserve you or your love or this beautiful life you’ve created together. It’s the feeling deep down on their darkest days that they’ll never be enough. When you love a person from a broken family don’t try to fix their issues or understand everything about where they came from- just a little bit of space for them flourish isall they need to grow.

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