The most disconcerting aspect about writing books for me is feeling so exposed to other people’s opinions. I find writing a joy and I’d happily read and write all day if I could however I was surprised at how defensive I felt when my first book was released. I only knew one other person who was a published author – the fabulous and prolific Nuala Ní Chonchúir – and the initial reaction among my friends and family to my first book was one of perplexed shock. It was fairly obvious that a lot of people thought I had massive delusions of grandeur to be so bold as to even try to get published. In my world, wanting to be a writer was akin to wanting to be an astronaut –laughably ambitious. And while it’s easy to argue when someone disagrees with you, it’s altogether more difficult to argue when someone is silently sneering.
Various people, some subtly and some straight as a die, wondered aloud who was I to write a book? Well, I would think, it was a long process: first of all, I studied for a degree in psychotherapy and became a psychotherapist; then I noticed certain trends among parents and youths; then I researched the subject and came to certain conclusions; then I wrote a book about this; and then, finally, I tried to get it published. That, of course, is the long answer and, sadly, in real life, we don’t often get the opportunity to give the long answer. And so, more often, I would simply wonder back who was anyone to write a book?
Of course, writing books about mental health, parenting and childhood leaves me open to rafts of criticism about my many, many flaws as a parent. And to be fair to the naysayers, my manifold weaknesses as a parent is an issue that I often blush about myself – even as I desperately try to explain to anyone who will even vaguely listen to me that writing about mental health in parenting and childhood doesn’t mean I’m some sort of Supernanny. You see, I’m a fairly mediocre mother – I’m cross, impatient, completely inconsistent and I need a ridiculous amount of time on my own.
When I feel ashamed, as I often do, about how my faults impact my kids, I often console myself with the words of the poet, Philip Larkin – ‘What will survive of us is love’ – and so I hope that my kids will continue to be able to cope with their volatile mother. As I look at my husband, who is a builder and has never written a word about parenting, I can see that he is the more natural parent – he is cheerful, patient, consistent and he seldom needs time on his own. Yet, as I urgently try to explain to everyone, our personal weaknesses aren’t the be-all and end-all of parenting – what matters is whether we have enough insight and self-awareness to raise our children to be happy despite our flaws, their flaws and the many flaws in the universe. In a weird way, it is being a flawed parent and a generally messed-up human being that makes me a better person – it is as a direct result of my assorted faults that I am more willing to listen, more empathetic, more accepting and, most of all, kinder. Thankfully, it is also these traits that make me a better writer and psychotherapist and so I feel that, finally, I’ve found my path.
My first book Cotton Wool Kids was published by Mercier Press in 2015 and Gill Books have just recently published my second book , Bully-Proof Kids – Practical tools to help your child grow up confident, resilient and strong and with that, I now have more confidence to call myself a writer. I have learnt to take my place in the world and I’ve learnt to feel less defensive of my life and my work. However my recent experiences have brought me around to the view that perhaps these feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness are directly linked to why so many people don’t get published? Maybe lots of would-be writers are too scared to expose their real selves to the world and so they leave their book in the drawer or their writing becomes inauthentic?
Yet, as Paul Theroux wisely pointed out, ‘People talk about the pain of writing, but very few talk about the satisfaction and the pleasure.’ I roamed around the world for the first forty years of my life floundering and feeling rudderless and then, finally, when my first book was published, suddenly I felt calm inside myself. I knew I had finally found the life I was looking for. Writing makes me feel deeply satisfied and when I have spent some time writing well, I know that the rest of the day will go smoothly. Some people meditate, others do yoga and more are mad for Pilates; I write. And I would urge anyone who feels they have unanswered questions gnawing away inside themselves to consider writing as a way to process their thoughts about this bewildering world.
(c) Stella O’Malley
About Bully-Proof Kids:
We can’t always be there to protect our kids as they make their way in the world. What we can do is equip them with the tools they need to ensure they have a positive social experience.
Based on many years’ experience counselling bullies and targets, Stella O’Malley offers concrete strategies to empower children and teenagers to deal confidently with bullying and dominant characters.
She identifies effective ways for families to cope when bullying occurs, including approaching the school authorities, communicating with the bully’s parents and tips to tackle cyberbullying.
Stella’s common-sense approach will help your child, tween or teen to develop their emotional intelligence and will provide relief for families navigating the rapidly changing social environment, both online and in school.
Order your copy online here.