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Muddy Meets: Lorraine Candy

“All teenage girls think their mums are a bit rubbish”. Journalist and now author, Lorraine Candy gives a pep talk to Muddy about being a mother of dragons, fighting the inevitable descent into middle age and where she seeks out first when she comes home to Cornwall.

If you’ve teen daughters you’re going to want to get your mitts on a copy of Lorraine Candy’s new book, Mum, What’s Wrong With You? 101 Things Only Mothers of Teenage Girls Know, pronto – luckily for you, we’ve a copy to give away to not one but three readers.

When she’s not in London, Lorraine lives in north Cornwall so we shared swimming and surfing stories, then I quizzed her for tips on raising teens, plus that crucial Cornish question as to which beach is her favourite.

I loved the book – but why now? What prompted you to start writing?

I have been keeping a diary since I had children 18 years ago and also writing a parenting column for more than a decade and I felt it should all go in one place. It isn’t a how to or indeed a book of advice, it is more a gentle reassuring guide for mums of teen girls who find it all a bit of a shock and a surprise as I did. So many mums told me to put it all in a book because I had access as a journalist to so many experts who helped me reframe my thinking with my girls  which made our lives easier together.

Who did you write it for?

It’s for anyone who is thinking they can’t do this mothering bit during adolescence, anyone questioning what they are doing wrong – there are so many things, small things, small changes you can try to keep a connection which will make it all better in the long run. Between the ages of 12-17 teens go through giant brain changes. If you understand that, and the effect of hormones on them, then you can give them and you a break. I also wanted mums to realise they could take care of themselves better and that they are doing a good job. We often forget the good bits when we focus on the trauma and challenges we face and we ignore our instinctive skill. 

Who is the reader you had in mind? Is it just for mums of teens?

You should buy this for mums of teens girls; you should read it if you have a child aged 8 onwards; you should read it if you are planning kids … really it is for anyone who is becoming a mum. It is also about helping women in midlife, so when their kids hit their teens, they know about the advantages and (usually) low risk of HRT, a medicine that can really change their lives. I explain all the midlife and teen biology via experts. It’s a connection most parenting books ignore as women are made to feel invisible in life when their brains and bodies are undergoing great change too. And, I would buy it as a gift for other mums too. 

Writing a book in lock-down must have been a bit different to your previous role at The Sunday Times (Lorraine was editor of the Style section). How did you manage to get the book finished?

I haven’t written a book before. I am used writing big think pieces, big cover interviews or small weekly columns – writing a book was so so much harder. I wrote in during the pandemic and I had to get up at 5am most days to get it done. It was so much research and fact checking and then making sure my family was comfortable with their privacy and the stories I talked about in the book. It was very emotional too, as I was also saying goodbye to my eldest as she left home in autumn 2020 to go to Bath University. It really was quite a roller coaster. 

So what do your kids think about it now it’s published and no going back?

Hard to say as they think I am an idiot – all teenage girls think their mums are a bit rubbish. It’s a way of separating from us in the least painful way possible for them (though it is quite painful for mums!). My 14 year old son isn’t interested but my 10 year old says she is very proud of it. My parents live in Liskeard and are quite pleased about it going into the local book shop

How do I get ahead with pre-teens – my daughter is nine and I want to be prepared! Any tips (other than read the book!)

Keep talking is the best way, stay connected, slow down and just enjoy being in the room with her. No need to ‘do’ stuff all the time, just being makes kids very happy. Learn to actively listen when she speaks and not to try and fix everything for her. Keeping connections is key and this is a very small and easy thing to do. Also let her be her. Reign in your expectations and really do talk to her about love, sex, intimacy from an early age. And learn about her hormonal changes, some girls need a lot of support and GPs don’t alwasy realise this, so you have to ask the right questions.

Talk to me about the clash of hormones — my daughters and mine. Sounds like one of the things I can best prepare for teenage years is get on top of my own mental health and manage my own hormones and well being?

If you take care of yourself your daughter will see that. You are her biggest female role model as she grows up and she will learn that taking care of yourself is a good thing, so she will care for herself. Also, she needs to know she is not responsible for your happiness; you are, so do what makes you happy. If she feels she has to be or do things to make you happy that is a huge pressure to place on a young girl, so don’t do it!

Sounds like talking about strategy and boundaries with your partner is crucial when raising teens. Any advice for keeping calm and consistent when you know you’re out of line (either to husband or teens).

We all lose our temper, we all get it wrong, we all do things we regret. The important thing is to learn from it and remember tomorrow is another day. You can also try to work out what is causing you to feel this way from your own childhood. In the book there is a wonderful exercise that (counsellor) Phillippa Perry makes her clients do which is around family relationships and that really helped me figure out why I get so angry some times. 

How do I stop my own midlife unravelling? Is that possible?

You go to your GP and ask for HRT. It is that simple. Unless you are one of the few women who can’t take it, you research the relative risks (which are much lower than previously mistakenly reported) and develop a lifestyle alongside this which helps you look after your mental health. Watch the Channel 4 despatches documentary on the Menopause and it will give you the right facts, then work out how you stay happy and healthy so you have energy for your teens.

I know that the book is about teen girls, but do you think this advice also relates to sons? Do sons and fathers have such tense periods, or do you think the hormone clash between mother/ daughter and the desire to carve out a separate identity is the crucial issue here?

Identity is the key issue for parenting teenagers – their need to create one of their own. Their brains get rebuilt through their teens and it is an overwhelming drive. This effects both boys and girls. Someone once described it to me as this: you are holding a rope and your child has the other end. As the child starts to grow and hits their teens they are suddenly thrown into a whole new set of feelings, a whole new body, the world is much darker and more confusing for them and they will thrash around all over the place on the rope. Your job is to remain patient and just hold the rope. Not rescue them or save them or grapple with them, just hold the rope until they calm down again. That’s what it felt like for me. 

You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner? And what about for your teens?

I am not a great cook and I am a veggie. I keep it really simple but try to get some veg, and protein in there. My teens have turned out to be good cooks, I have been careful not to make food a big issue at home and I make sure we all eat together once a week. Eating together is the best way to stay connected according to many experts I spoke to.

Let’s chat Cornwall! Where do you go with teens – what do yours enjoy doing?

Teens seem to love the quarries where the water activities keep the occupied, and surfing is worth a try though only two of mine enjoy it. They don’t like a walk but they do like ice creams and there is a lot of that in Cornwall.

We have spent most of our summers at Camel Ski school too either on their giant inflatable banana or water skiing badly. Big walks across Bodmin Moor always start reluctantly with teens but there is so much to see and Golitha falls (above) is always impressive

What makes Cornwall special to you?

I grew up there, my family live there. I love the moors and the seas and the endless horizon and the dark mizzle that descends every now and again

Any favourite places?

I love Daymer Bay, Trebetherick on the north Coast and Looe (below) on the South east coast. I swim in the sea for long distances, watch the sunset on the beach, surf badly and collect those small cowrie shells.

I love the Rum Bar at Polzeath, because it is off the beaten track and has no roof! We have a home in Polzeath and it is where I spent my childhood holidays.

Choosing a favourite place is hard! Heligan gardens is my favourite place to visit to see the magnolias in spring, and I also love the Minack Theatre. But Rock beach for a summer picnic at sunset is also very special. We got married at St Enodoc church (below) so we always visit this tiny building and sign the visitors book. 

So your first job, was that in Cornwall?

My first job was a trainee reporter on The Cornish Times, in Liskeard. I was doing my A-Levels at the local comprehensive but dropped out after interning at the paper over the summer as they offered me a job. From there I went on to be woman’s editor at The Sun, features editor at The Times and then to edit Elle, Cosmo, The Sunday Times Style as well as write a weekly column in Femail at the Daily Mail.

What else keeps you busy?

I am really proud to be an ambassador for Women in Sport (below) via my open water swimming – the aim is to get all women and girls active, and I also work with the global education charity Their World to help spread the word of the importance of getting all girls access to schools.

I really enjoy being on The Tate art galleries members committee especially given the Tate St Ives Cornish connection and I am also on the media committee of the newly launched Menopause Charity.

And some quick-fire questions to finish!

What is your career highlight so far – aside from the book? 

I think interviewing so many amazing women. Attending the UN He For She conference in New York for ELLE as editor-in-chief with actress Emma Watson and then interviewing Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (executive director of the UN Women) who is extraordinarily brave and accomplished.

Do you have a favourite writer?

So many. Probably the female reporters who broke the mould – women like Edna Buchanan of the Miami Herald, Joan Didion, Martha Gellhorn and Nora Ephron.

Favourite book (is that even possible)? 

I like Winnie The Poo. It anchors me.

Favourite podcast (that’s not yours!)

Fortunately

What’s next?

Who knows! I hope to do more podcasting for Postcards From Midlife and perhaps another book and some radio work.

Lorraine’s book, Mum What’s Wrong With You: 101 things only the mothers of teen girls know was released yesterday – head over to reader treats to win a copy.

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