My pushy parent didn’t ‘ruin my life’ – she made it
I wasn’t allowed to just ‘give up’, and I’m so glad
When I was a pre-teen I honestly despised my parents for making me do so many extra-curriculars, and making me actually stick to them.
There was nothing worse than seeing all my classmates go and hang out with each other after school, knowing that they were chatting to guys they fancied on MSN and updating their Bebo skins – whilst I was off to one of my many, many after-school activities.
Monday was swimming, followed by guitar. Tuesday was singing lessons and theory training. Wednesday was acting and street dance; Thursday was ballet, jazz, and then piano. Friday: drums. Then at the weekend I had my harp lessons, and I competed all over Wales. And I somehow still managed to do my homework, keep up good grades and have some sort of a social life. Bloody hell.
Looking back, I did a lot. And at the time I found it so irritating. My parents were “ruining my life”, as I liked to put it. But what I didn’t realise back then is that they were doing it all for me and my future. I’m from a working class family and my parents, specifically my mum, went without a lot in order to provide me with all the opportunities she possibly could.
It all started when I was five. I was entered by my primary school into The Urdd Eisteddfod, which is a national competition for literature, music and performing arts (it’s a pretty big deal in Wales). After many rounds of competing I made it to the final – where I had to stand on a stage and sing in a huge pavilion full of people, with bright lights and cameras pointing at me, filmed live for TV. I was so young it didn’t really phase me, I just sang my little heart out, and thought that was that. Then I won it.
From there on I guess my mum thought, “we may be on to something here…” and started paying for singing lessons and entering me into small competitions all over the area so that I could earn some “pocket money” from it. Making about £30 to 40 every weekend was a lot in 2003 when I was six or seven years old.
By the time I was nine, I had picked up piano, harp, guitar, swimming, drama and dance. I’d suggested “having a go at” all of them – but after one class, my parents would channel everything into me doing well, despite the fact I typically wanted to quit after every lesson. “Do it well or don’t do it at all” was the motto – pretty extreme, but it worked, and I still follow by it now.
For example, when I was 11 and started high school, I decided I wanted to try my hand at drumming. I mentioned this to my parents one day and for my birthday, I got a drum kit, and weekly lessons. I was going to be the next Phil Collins. (The first song I learnt was ‘In The Air Tonight’.) It was at this point I also started becoming involved with the media. I developed a passion for being on-screen, and took part in TV show after TV show, and you guessed it- my parents supported me every step of the way.
Now don’t get me wrong- I’m not spoilt. I never demanded anything, my parents simply encouraged any activity I wanted to try my hand at, and they wanted me to be the best at it. They gave me the opportunities that they never had, and they wanted me to have skills that would benefit me when I grew up. When other 12-year olds’ parents had gotten them Motorola Razr flip phones, on which they would text late into the night, my parents had paid for my singing lessons, and I practiced for my Grade 5 classical singing exam with The Royal School of Music. My mum and I sat in the living room, and she helped me learn the words to a variety of songs in Latin, Italian, German, French, Spanish and so on. Then I practiced until it was perfect. She made sure of that.
My intense lessons stopped at around age 14-15. I started dropping them one by one once I hit puberty. Drama was “cringy”, ballet was “sad”, harp was “old-fashioned”. By this point I was sassy enough to just not turn up if I couldn’t be bothered with it, and that I did. My parents had enough in the end and just let me stop the ones I couldn’t bear doing – after all, it was a less of a drain on their finances. Singing stuck though, and although I stopped all the other lessons, I’ve kept the instruments and still enjoy making music with them.
Now, I’m 19-years old and I’m reaping all the benefits from my slightly intense childhood. Of course I have the qualifications and the ability to play a number of instruments, but what’s benefitted me most is how it’s shaped my outlook on things. Being constantly busy with activities and in competition as a child made me driven. It gave me a competitive streak, and it made me love proving people wrong when they doubted me. If I want to do something and I’m passionate about it, then I will do it, and I’ll do it bloody damn well.
If standing on a stage performing to a crowd of strangers near enough every weekend for over 10 years hasn’t made me confident, then I don’t know what has. People have always commented on my confidence, I still get it now, and I know it’s derived from my mum making me do things I wasn’t always comfortable with. Yes, there were nights where I had screaming tantrums and strops about how my life was “so horrible” and my parents were “so mean” for not letting me stay out late underage drinking and instead making me practice my “boring instruments”. But at the end of the day – it has left me better off than I would’ve been if they just hadn’t cared.
I’m so glad my mum cared enough to basically force me to learn these skills, they’re such a part of me now I can’t imagine myself without the arts. I’d be so boring if it wasn’t for my mum. I may have way more strings to my bow than are strictly necessary, but I wouldn’t change anything. The stress and tantrums and all the “missing out” I did was well worth it, it made me who I am, and I like who I am.
Watch a really embarrassing/ugly video of me here.