Who the Hell Am I?

My eldest daughter, the Hippie Child worries, she’s 15 and doesn’t know what she wants to do for a career. The pressure starts early now. My hollow reassurances that she will figure it eventually are of little comfort.

The process of discovering yourself, creating a life, establishing a career is a never-ending cycle of success, failure, regret, optimism, defeat, getting it right, royally stuffing it up – but probably not what she needs to hear right now.

I worry I’m pushing her into a creative, arty life, after all that’s what I like. She’s good at art, textiles, writing (although spelling remains an area of concern she’s certainly a child of the spell check generation).

Then I remember some 13 years ago standing in the Montessori pre-school while the teacher demonstrated the maths equipment and I had a light bulb moment “oh my god I would have understood maths if it was explained like this”. Later the teachers would be concerned because Hippie Child had no interest in learning letters and sounds and reading. Wrapped up in imagination she turned every lesson into an exercise of creative storytelling “this letter is P what starts with P?” “Princess starts with P, the princess lived in a beautiful castle on the top of the really big hill and the man on the horse came to rescue her …” it was a tedious process trying to get her to focus. If she wasn’t making up stories she could be found in the practical life corner, grating soap, peeling boiled eggs, pouring water between containers – it’s the first stage in the Montessori system and by your final year you really should have moved on. But Hippie Child liked to go back and help the little ones and most days could be found there. Eventually the teachers discovered she didn’t mind maths so that became her focus. By accident one day I discovered she could do basic sums in her head, she was confident and correct. Then she went to school and poor teaching, coupled with a pretty inflexible education system led to her deciding she “was no good at maths”, that label has stuck.

We were all surprised when in the first year of high school, she did well at Science, and really enjoyed the subject. The interest has waned a little in the past couple of years, it is clear that she responds to individual teachers, she likes it when they tell stories, fire up her imagination, she wants to know why things are, how they work, she’s kinesthetic and visual. Exams, and deadline driven assignments, pressurised homework  to a set criteria tend to dull her enthusiasm for subjects, yet left to her own devices to read and explore she will spend hours working stuff out.

What if? What if I had got her maths tutoring? What if I had been more proactive with her teachers? What if I had sat down with her and continued teaching her maths the Montessori way? What if her Science teachers had continued to inspire her? What if I had chosen a school that didn’t have such an emphasis on homework and exams? What if I taken the Tiger Mother approach and just refused to accept the “I’m no good at maths” and drilled, and practised until so help me god she was good at maths?

Perhaps she would end up a nuclear physicist? Or an accountant? Oh please not an accountant. See putting my own prejudices into the scenario.

Throughout life choices get made, your own and other people’s, shaping who you are and what you do.

At 44 the woman standing here has worn countless labels through the years,  daughter, sister, wife, mother, student, secretary, researcher, producer, executive PA,, coordinator, unit leader, partnership broker. How many were truly representative of who I am? Probably none, because your personality is a complex mix of circumstances, genetics, talents and foibles.

I know my picture of who I am is still a work in progress. However, it is clearer now than what it was as a starry-eyed teenager who believed everything was going to end up perfect. I know it’s much, much clearer than the murky years of the 30’s when a tired, overwhelmed mother didn’t know which way was up and had no idea how she was ever going to find herself again.

Along the way through adulthood you encounter things which make you tougher, you figure out there are lots of things you can handle, because you’ve dealt with worse in the past.

The elusive search for identity continues but you know yourself better. You know where you are strong, you know where you are weak.

The appearance of who you are can alter and recalibrate in different groups, different environments. But the core of who you has probably been assigned in those childhood years, your sense of right and wrong, your talents, your beliefs, have all been shaped during the years over which you have no control. Even the bad experiences can remodel into good when you take those lessons to the essence of who you are and make yourself stronger, more empathetic, kinder.

Right now who I am is predominantly a mother, an employee and a woman using her mid-life crisis to try to recapture a childhood dream of being a writer – hello blogging! But tomorrow that could all change.

You own free will allows you to reinvent yourself many times in a single lifetime, life would be very dull if we didn’t grow and change with new experiences.

How do you convey that to a 15-year-old? Obviously, you can’t. You have to let her go out and figure it all out for herself, with the hope she can find her passion early and get to nurture it for life, with the wish the rocky patches aren’t too bad and the happy days outnumber the sad.


Eden posed the the question “Who The Hell Are You” at her blog. Click the icon below to see how others took to the theme.

9 thoughts on “Who the Hell Am I?

  1. Your daughter sounds exactly like mine in every way!Dont beat yourself up about what ifs.
    We did get our girl maths tutoring which did help her but she is now 18 and still doesnt know what her lifes passion is.She is now at uni studying Bach Science (loves working out how and why) & Bach Arts doing Philosophy(finds this fascinating) and Italian(been studying Italian since grade 3).
    She is super creative and gets so frustrated that she doesnt have a goal to work towards as hasnt found a strong passion for one path to follow.
    As mums it is so very hard to sit back and let them find their way.I believe my girl would be truelly happy doing something in the creative fields,writing or using her hands and her mind, but I cant make her I can only support her along her journey.
    So many times I look back and think is there some things I could have done different which would have helped my girl at this point in her life.Then I have to remind myself I did what I believed was right at the time.We need to be more gentle on ourselves.
    I so get what you are going through and wish you and your daughter all the very best at this challenging time.
    While she has you understanding,guiding and supporting her she cant go wrong.xx

    • Oh gosh she does sound exactly like mine, I’ve often thought she would do really well in Philosophy – she’s always been really good at thinking about things and wondering “what if”, I think she probably would have done well in languages if she had continued with it – she did well at German for three years in primary school but then we moved the new primary school didn’t really do a language and by the time she got to high school it was French and she wasn’t that keen. I’ll take comfort from your words of advice!

  2. You are so right – we reinvent ourselves continually. I’m sure your daughter will figure it all out. 15 is so young to feel all that pressure.

  3. You ask some very wise questions, Janine. I don’t think labels are representative of who I am. They may influence aspects of my life, but for me identity runs so much deeper than that. I love that you care for your daughter so much. I am sure the freedom you give her will help her find her path smoothly. x

  4. We feel the pressure younger and younger I think. But really, I don’t think anyone knows! I found motherhood a very challenging thing in terms of my identity- and I’m beginning to understand that I may never know who I am. Because we are always changing!

  5. hello janine – i love to hear about the montessori school, and using the math materials and the pouring, etc. you can’t go back, but someone told me once that a year of montessori is a gift that can never be taken away. so however much she got – i’m happy for her. i teach montessori in a combined first, second, and third grade class. we do keep using those materials. it’s a joy to watch children learn.

    your child will find her way. just don’t take any “i can’t”s. tell her if she works hard enough, she can!

    • Both girls went to Montessori from 2 1/2 years old to just before their sixth birthdays. It was a wonderful education for them and even today I can still see the results in action. They both remember kindy as a very happy place and even now will occasionally mention things that happened there.

  6. We all want the best for our children; I think the best we can offer them is our belief in them and encouragement in whatever they chose to do. We model the way in our own behavior. I think I’m coming to realize that children have their own personalities that has been pre-programmed and the environment they are in is just a part of what shapes their personal program.
    Sounds like you are doing great for your daughter. A very good model of identity and success!

  7. I remember my mother told me not to get married before I was 25 because what I want at 18 will be different to what I want at 25. It’s such a rapid personal growth period. So deciding on what you want to do for the rest of your life at 18 also seems a little premature.

    Having said that, I knew I wanted to write when I was 9. But I had to go through a few ‘testing times’ to really make sure that is what I wanted to do. All you can do is wait and see how the cards falls.

    As for ‘what if’ moments… well there are so many uncontrollable variables in our life how can you determine the one thing that would have made a difference? Your daughter is and will become the person she is meant to be.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

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