Parenting Lessons Learned From an Unconventional Upbringing

05/08/2016 16:50
Nora Bo via Getty Images

thriving families

I've heard a lot of guff spoken about the importance of the traditional nuclear family unit, usually from right wingers. I remember this from Iain Duncan Smith in 2009:

"We now know that children suffer hugely if they don't get the balance of two parents in their upbringing. Those with two parents are less likely to take drugs, more likely to do well at school, more likely to get jobs."

Hmm... I'm not so sure myself. I was raised by a single mum. Not only that, but a single mum with a serious heroin habit. And miraculously, I have a well-paid job, a degree (albeit in the performing arts) and not even the slightest hint of a drug habit, yet! I'm not even sure that the notion of a traditional family unit even exists anymore. In fact, in my experience, one-parent families are just as likely to produce bright, intelligent and emotionally stable children as other clans are.

So what did I learn from my upbringing that I can pass on to my daughter?


Most importantly (and probably most unsurprisingly to half the population), being surrounded predominantly by women - as I was when my mum checked into a woman only rehab - only seems to have had a positive influence in my life. I think I managed to relate to women easily from a very young age, and this can only bode well for my daughter. Growing up as a young adolescent surrounded a ragtag bunch of eccentric, damaged, emotional and at times dangerously unhinged women has given me a highly developed emotional intelligence too, something that I feel has been invaluable to me.


Growing up around drugs has also given me a more balanced attitude to vices -recreational drugs are ok (if a little boring) and personally I much prefer a negroni. Therefore, I can't see myself being overly protective of my child when the time comes for her to experiment with various substances, as this only seems to engender rebellion or curiosity in children. Perhaps this is the greatest legacy that has been passed down to me?

A healthy distrust of authority

Or how about the fact I'm not afraid of being different? Both of these traits are admirable and I'll certainly encourage my daughter to inherit them. Fuck you I won't tidy my bedroom!

The meek shall inherit the earth

I'm also not particularly aggressive or competitive - traits that I'd assume usually come from the male side of the family, and ones that might be harnessed positively in certain situations, but I fear they usually aren't. If growing up without a father figure resulted in me being one of the kids to be picked last for team sports at school then I can live that. Who wants a child that's going to be a truculent little shit?

Unconditional love

Ultimately though, despite some truly turbulent events in my formative years, there was always one constant in my life, and that was the unconditional love I received from my mother. I'm certain that this was the difference between me going completely off the rails as a teenager and the (I would hope) well-rounded, wise and emotionally developed person I am today. So even if I can't promise my daughter the world, she's going to be loved to within an inch of her life, and surely that's the most important gift any parent can give their child?

This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.

We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email to get involved.