I really wanted to write something because I haven’t written in a while and well…I was looking over the events for this month…but there are no events in July. There’s the 4th of July but that’s for America’s Independence from the UK and I didn’t know if that was something that we could talk about. You know…because we’re from the UK and what with Brexit and everything it might be a little too heavy of a topic!
by Roopa Metha, Young Voices editor
So I got thinking and just because I don’t feel I can talk about America’s Independence doesn’t mean we can’t talk about independence in general.
As someone who went through the care system and someone who comes from an Asian background independence was something that was really hard to come by. I wasn’t even allowed to ride the bus until I was 16 and even then I had to go with my brother every morning. The same brother who had been going on the bus by himself at the age of 15. Other kids my age were starting to look for work, going out on dates and shopping and I was waiting, every day, for someone to come and pick me up and take me straight home.
For a long time I fought my parents for the right to go to school by myself. You see they had a lot of fears, most of them centering on the fact that I’m a girl and they were worried about something happening to me, but their other major concern was that I might skip school. I never did (too scared!) but it still worried them. By the time I was halfway through my final year in secondary school they let me go on the bus by myself. I always made it home on time but they still found it hard to trust me. So when it came to going to friends’ houses I was only allowed to go if the friend was a girl, there was a guarantee that I would stay inside their house (with parental supervision) and that my parents had to drop me off and pick me up.
So yep…you guessed it! I fought against that again; it led to many arguments and sometimes even violence, but my independence meant the world to me. It was my escape. People in school thought I was lucky getting picked up and dropped off every day but I didn’t. I wanted to be able to walk, I wanted to be able to take the bus, go wherever, see whoever do whatever. By the time I got to 17 I had run away twice, stayed out late, and rebelled. I didn’t do anything wrong or illegal – I wasn’t drinking or smoking and I wasn’t taking drugs. I was just doing what other girls at my age were doing. What I thought was normal…going to the park, eating at restaurants, spending time with pets and going out with friends.
Then my independence reached a whole new level. After repeated visits to social services from the age of 10-18 and being placed in care a couple of times I got a permanent placement within a scheme. I lived with a lady who gave me a lot of independence, although she still wanted to know where I was going and I told her when someone was coming over. It was like being in the place I’d always imagined. I never thought I’d get there.
Now we come to the part where I felt overloaded with independence…I got put into shared accommodation. I had to pay rent, bills, make complaints about our living situation, deal with a subpar landlady and an even more useless estate agent. I handled it for about 2-ish months but I was getting into debt, I was depressed and it all felt too much. When the eviction notice came around it was a relief. I moved back into my mum’s’ house and all that independence I’d worked for was slowly stripped away.
My mum wanted to know where I was going, who I was spending my time with and what time I’d be back. I’d been away from the home for 2 years but had already fallen back into this restrictive routine. I wasn’t and still am not allowed to bring people home. It was like an itch I just couldn’t scratch away. It made me feel worse. I was 20 at this point, an adult who has her own money, pays for her own things and I was still being treated like that scared 16 year old. Summer rolled around and when I wasn’t living at home I wore shorts, because I get really bad heat rash. By the age of 21 my mum finally allowed me to wear shorts when she saw how bad my heat rash was getting. Now I kind of have my independence back. My mum still finds it hard to let me do certain things alone but it’s because she cares.
I think the years of dependency left me unable to learn what I needed to learn. I could clean, cook and look after myself, but I had no idea how to manage money or run a home, I wasn’t streetwise (and to some degree I’m still not). It’s difficult for parents and even carers to teach their child or charge about independence because it’s hard for them not to feel needed. The thing that I want to put out there is that the caregiver (whoever that may be) will always be needed in one way, shape or form. But you have to teach your children to be independent because they need to know these skills to make it in life. I also understand that there is a point when there is too much independence and in that case boundaries must be set, but they need to be reasonable and there should be an open line of communication between the caregiver and the care-receiver.