The Middle Years: When the kids grow up... and everything goes tits down
By Liz Fraser
Indispensable and hilarious* notes on midlife (*possibly)
Publication date: March 2020Buy
Lunch With the Author: Round 1
Lunch with the author: Round 2
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Good news: this is not a book about parenting. There are already 1.3 billion of those, and the main thrust is, ‘don't be a shit parent; be a good parent.'
Instead, it’s a book about us. You and me. The knackered humans, flailing about in the Middle Years when our babies have grown up and everything has gone a bit...tits down.
It’s the book I wish someone had written for me years ago – it would’ve saved a LOT of wrinkles, vodka and therapy bills. Cheers for that, everyone.
Because one day, deep in the crusty elbow-skin of midlife family chaos, listening to my teenagers’ doors slamming, fielding yet more unpaid bills and missed work deadlines and realising my sex appeal was now more of a Blue Peter crisis fund, and I suddenly thought…
Excuse me, but WHAT THE F**K IS THIS??
Why is nothing even vaguely as I expected it would be at this stage in my life?
Why did everyone say everything would get easier when my kids kindly sodded off to school, when it actually feels like my life is going through a blender every hour, while being set on fire and eaten by wolves?
Who are these hormone incubators loafing about my house in a cloud of deodorant, growing zits and an attitude, Facetiming each other at dinner and staying up later than me?
Why don’t they giggle any more?
Why can’t I understand what they say to each other?
How am I supposed to help with their GCSE maths when I was shit at it the first time round?
Why can’t anyone else in my house carry things from the bottom of the stairs to the top?
And who the heck keeps nicking my eye-liner?!
How on earth haven’t I become a self-made entrepreneurial millionaire or won three Oscars yet?
Why do I immediately assume career death when I get a perfectly professional email from a colleague with no smiley emojis on it?
Why am I suddenly scared of lifts? In fact, why am I suddenly scared of loads of things I never worried about before?
Am I . . . going mad?
Why do I feel so out of love with the person I made those once-cute hairy giants with? Is divorce really more painful than listening to Donald Trump talk about climate change?
And excuse me, but what the bloody hell has happened to the skin above my knees?
With all this new-found freedom that comes with school-age kids, why don’t I feel….happier? More confident? More…me?
Who even is ‘me’ now?
And . . IS ANY OF THIS NORMAL??!
Following a comprehensive rummage through the Rotting Salad Drawer of Midlife Parenting™ I have discovered that all of this is indeed entirely normal.
Despite the giant Carrot of Bullshit dangled before our weary eyes during the crippling early years of parenting, willing us to Keep Calm and Carry on Bum-wiping, our problems don’t go away when our children hit school and get limitless free childcare on Instagram; they just become different.
Instead of nappies and sleepless nights we juggle A-level options and puberty; relationship breakdowns (theirs and our own) and unfathomable sadness; teenage eye-rolls and 3-hour queues for the bathroom; career catastrophes and a creeping, deepening sense of loss as the little people we’ve been trying to get a break from for fifteen years suddenly start to pull away from us, and we realise we miss them terribly, and…
Jesus, is that CHIN HAIR??
Everybody goes through this shit.
IT IS NOT. JUST. YOU.
This, my friend, is golden information. If they could make watches or dental fillings out of it, they would. Thus, this book is the opposite of a how-to guide to happiness, sexual fulfilment and Steely Buttocks (which, incidentally, is the name of my band.)
Instead it’s an honest, life-saving word-raft sent by the Gods of publishing to keep you afloat, and says,
‘Come here. Sit down. You are among friends. Despite being a reasonably capable, successful adult, I, too, have eight pairs of pants gathering dust on my bedroom floor, half a kilo of soggy granola in my bag and no clue how to refill the dishwasher’s rinse aid thingy without YouTubing it. I can store half a Sunday roast in the gap between my teeth, I still get acne, and I feel confused and sad sometimes. And scared. And a bit lost. And that’s all OK.’
I wish someone had told me all this.
I wish someone had told me honestly about the unexpected sadness so many of us feel when our children become more independent, and we enter The Next Phase of our adult lives;
how my mind would change as I stumbled my way into my 40s – and how to understand it better.
what it’s like to finally admit you’ve arrived at the end of a long-term relationship, go through a divorce, not live with your children every day any more, and how to handle the epic fall-out;
that there is enormous joy in the teenage years, and in watching our children grow into awesome adults whom we love even more than they loved Peppa Pig;
that it DOES all get a lot better, eventually, if you know what to look out for, and how to handle life’s sharp corners.
They didn’t – so I’m telling you instead. You are hugely welcome.
So come! Let’s stagger on together and laugh heartily at all the things nothing but surgery and excessive masturbation can cure.
When we’re done, come and see me in the pub.
Please bring grapes and porn.
"I am reading this and crying with laughter!" Professor Tanya Byron
Liz Fraser is one of the UK’s best-known writers and broadcasters on all aspects of modern family life, appearing almost daily on national TV and radio with much bigger hair than she has naturally.
Her internationally best-selling books about the realities of being a parent re-moulded parenting forever by finally allowing it to be funny, and accepting that we all get most of it wrong – which is just as it should be.
A columnist, social commentator Liz has three teenagers, last seen taking money out of her wallet and wearing her mascara.
She took Lifeshambles to the Edinburgh Fringe for a full run of one-woman stand-up shows, to critical acclaim by at least three people, one of whom was actually conscious at the time.
Liz has a degree in Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience from Cambridge University, and is the Director of Headcase, a multi-media platform to completely rebranding mental health issues faced by millions of normal people every day.
She has written for The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Red, Grazia, Glamour, The Daily Mail, Mother and Baby, Marie Claire, Junior, Woman, and many others.
And now she is writing this 4th book for YOU. You are welcome. “ @lizfraser LizFraser.com
These extracts were supposed to be short.
Turns out I’m really bad at short extracts. So here are some long ones, to
give you a flavour of the book.
If you like it, and want more, all you have to do is pledge.
It’s like shopping, only…IN THE FUTURE.
No really, it’s my pleasure.
*** LIVING IN LIMBO
Limbo was originally a place, not a back-breaking dance made popular by the
unexpectedly bendy Chubby Checker in 1962, and best performed at a party
after 12 tequila slammers and a bet.
This place, ‘Limbo’, derived from the Latin 'limbus', meaning either ‘no,
I’m fine thank you, I’ll just sit here and watch you all collapse under a
low stick’, or ‘edge’, was situated on the highly sought-after border
regions of Hell.
The Limbo Years, where we find ourselves the moment our children head off
to school to collect other people’s bad habits and nits, are exactly like
living on the borders of Hell, only without the perks.
On the home front I find I’m no longer wanted or needed on a
minute-to-minute ‘Help, Mummy, I have glitter in my nose’ level, because my
children have selfishly taken over my Primary Parenting Duties such as
putting food into their mouths, making sure they don’t drink bleach, and
discouraging them from mooning out of the front window when the postman
To add insult to redundancy, even though it’s almost impossible to get any
of my children to take a break from sending triple-chin selfies to their
mates on Snapchat long enough to talk to me, here, in actual real life 3-D,
I’m not free to go off and do my own thing. I’m still responsible for
looking after their wellbeing, dental emergencies, mysterious 24-hr
vomiting bugs and incessant emails from the school about trips I never knewv they were going on.
And thus it is in these Middle Years;
Nobody wants us, but everyone wants us to stick around just in case they do.
*** I AM A TEENAGER’S WORST PARENT
There are 87 million Great Ironies of parenting. And that’s just the letter A.
Number 7398 of the Great Ironies is that the worst people to parent
teenagers are the parents of teenagers.
Someone really should have thought that one through when designing the
whole Life Arc thing. It’s inexcusably poor.
We can’t possibly be of any use to our children at this stage of their lives, because our own are in such a bloody mess we can
barely get dressed without having a major existential crisis.
As a result, we make a god-awful pig’s ear of the whole thing.
It’s OK. It’s how it’s supposed to be. it’s just important to know this.
It’s not you, it’s…..you.
And them. And all of it.
*** NOT GOING OUT
Going out in the Middle Years is almost as difficult as it was in the Early
Years, except that instead of needing a babysitter, 3 weeks of notice and a
Masters in Logistics, you now have to be back home on time to make sure
your children haven’t invited 75,000 Instagram followers they don’t even
know round to drink all your gin, AND remain sober enough to drive them 15
miles home, with occasional chunder-stops.
It also requires having friends who are not a) exhausted b) exhausted c)
booked up for 3 months with marriage counselling sessions and d) exhausted.
Once every three billion years, the stars all align: Venus goes retrograde
and grows sideburns, Saturn does something special with Uranus, usually
only reserved for birthdays, and
*** YOU. GO. OUT. FOR. A. DRINK. WITH. YOUR. FRIENDS!
After years of dedicated research I can reveal that the formula for how
long it takes a hangover to go away when you are in the Middle Years, is
T = x (v+g+4w) - 5s + c^9
T is time in hours
x is your age
v is vodka
g is gin
w is embarrassingly cheap wine, best consumed through a straw
s is number of hours of sleep you got the night before
c is the number of your children who woke you up during the night to tell
you that their football kit needs to be washed BY TOMORROW, and by the way
Mum I have a VERY IMPORTANT Maths test which counts for half of my marks
this year and will go on my University application form, and I need a new
calculator for it. NOW.
Accordingly, if you go out on a Saturday night you should be starting to
feel a little better some time towards the end of Wednesday, two weeks
ROCK. ON. You crazy lovely Middle Years superstars.
*** WHO HAS NICKED MY EYE-LINER?!
You know you have teenaged girls in your house, when;
· All your favourite items of clothing have disappeared.
· Ditto eye make-up remover, nail varnish, hair bands, black ankle socks,
· There is a permanent trail of crumbs from the cereal cupboard to the kitchen door.
· You can’t get into the bathroom before 8.30am, or between 8 and 10.30pm.
Or all weekend.
· Even though you went shopping yesterday there is no food in the house,
except for half-empty packets of Oreos and something that promises to make
your thighs smaller.
· There are five razors on the side of the bath, none of them either blunt
or sharp, or claimed by anyone.
· There’s face-pack residue all over the bathroom taps.
· You could build a hang-glider from all the sanitary towel wrappers
gathering dust behind the toilet door.
· All your carpets are covered in an inch of brushed-out hair.
· At certain times of the month it’s best to move out for a few days to
avoid Oestrogen Death.
· At any given moment somebody in your house is shouting ‘WHO’S GOT MY
· Your purse develops an invisible cash-portal, through which the
five-pound notes you KNOW you put there, vanish inexplicably. Unfortunately
it doesn’t work in reverse.
*** MISSING: JOY. REWARD OFFERED.
When my children were young it was hellish in all the expected, sleepless,
chaotic, exhausting, snot-wiping, vomitty, hellish ways.
Many times, I wished those years were over. Over and over.
And over again, as I crawled from cot to high chair to ball pit to gallows.
But what we Humans don’t appreciate, because Humans never do about anything
until it’s too late and it’s gone (most love songs are all about this, by
the way) is what we have, while it’s there.
We don’t know how lovely the early years are until they are replaced by
lonely silence, teenage attitude and an empty hallway.
And what every parent of older children I know misses, is JOY.
The joy you can only get when your three-year-old giggles helplessly and
throws their squishy arms around your neck.
When this joy - and with it the feeling of being truly needed, and wanted,
and loved - goes, it feels like a bereavement. It really does.
We don’t really wish the early years all back, of course; not
being woken up with a nappy on one’s face every day or by being whacked in
the eye with the corner of a baby’s board-book is actually rather nice.
But it doesn’t mean we don’t miss aspects of it. A lot.
It can take years to realise what this new, exhausting heaviness is that
can descend at the very time we were expecting NOT to feel exhausted and
heavy, for the first time in a decade.
It’s a difficult stage. A lot of things that were, just…aren’t any more.
And part of it is just extreme, unspoken grief at the slow, drawn-out loss
of something so magical and beautiful, pure, unashamedly, freely HAPPY, as
our children when they were young and giggling and had chubby knees and jam
all over their chin.
**We interrupt this page to bring you Very Important Information!**
In the Middle Years it’s no longer good enough to look at your face
straight on in the mirror.
No. You need mirrors and lights on all sides, including underneath.
Terrifying things lurk, fester and grow in places you’d never have looked
before, but must now monitor with Eagle Eyes, and possibly a helicopter
One such place is just under your chin.
For there, sprouting like an antenna sending distress signals to the mother
witch-beacon, you will find your first chin hair.
Thick. Black. Devastating.
When you’ve stopped screaming and ordering broomsticks on Amazon, do this:
get tweezers; pull it out; do not look at it; throw it away;
never tell anyone about it.
And now let us never speak of this again.
*** SIBLING CIVIL WAR
Rivalry is defined as,
“Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”
Sibling Rivalry is defined as,
“OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE WILL YOU TWO STOP WINDING EACH OTHER UP?? JUST GIVE HER THE SODDING iPad, WILL YOU?! JESUS!”
Move forward into the teenage years, and early sibling rivalries seem like
(Mainly because they are, but let’s gloss over that embarrassingly weak
choice of simile).
Teenagers don’t have quick-fix spats. They have serious long-term
hostilities and painful, silent stand-offs.
They have Great Wars, and harboured resentments.
They have jealousy, rage, hatred, sadness and unwanted tagging on Facebook.
It not only drives me mad much of the time, it tires me.
Silent warring is heavy. It lumbers along, dragging the issue out and
infecting the whole house until the air is weighed down with its hate-laden
pauses and unspoken bloodbaths.
It also saddens me to watch it happening. These children who once
used to play together so well and be best friends, now attempting to kill
each other with Death-sighs.
But happen it will. It’s normal. Sometimes they still get along
beautifully. I am assured by those who have much older children that they
will grow out of it, and be friends again one day.
Just hope the door hinges survive that long.
*** BREAKING UP
According to Neil Sedeka, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.
Neil was right. It is. But allow me to add a few extra lyrics:
Breaking up when you have kids, a mortgage, huge numbers of mutual friends,
a joint bank account, a career you largely sacrificed in order to raise
your children while your partner rose steadily up the career ladder one
‘drinks and dinner with clients in a hip hotel in New York’ rung after the
other while you were breastfeeding or helping with a History project about
the Vikings, shared ownership of a car, a dog, a Virgin media account and a
15-year-old yucca plant given to you both by a now deceased grandmother, is
very very very very fucking hard to do.
In fact, it’s the hardest thing most people will ever do.
I never intended to do it.
Amazingly enough, almost nobody intends to do it either.
Despite the fact that we whose marriages sadly come to an end are still too
often portrayed as weak, selfish, lazy, careless, and not having tried hard
enough to ‘make it work’, most of us did try. Really hard. For years.
But eventually many once loved-up couples come to the horrible conclusion
that it’s just not going to work any more.
That trying to be happy, pretending to be happy, ‘working on’ being happy,
buying books about being happy, creating Instagram accounts to make us look
happy, desperately trying to be happy for the sake of the children, the
dog, the convenience of that shared credit card, our parents, and the state
of our increasingly parched under-eye skin, is just prolonging the actual,
unshakable, profound and life-sapping unhappiness.
And so we, like many others, opted for the hardest thing, and did a Neil
Not just a break-up, but the total, monumental, irreparable decimation of
everything we had built, worked on, loved and believed in. And everything
our children believed in too.
It took me a full two years to even START to come out the other side, and
I’m pretty sure I’ll never quite get over the physical and mental scars it
But you can do it. And you can survive. And you CAN be happy again.
I am now. Very.
I just wish I’d known a few things about marriage break-up, the practical
and emotional realities of it, how to deal with it, what I’d feel, what my
mind and body would go through, what my children would go through,
what vile and hate-filled things it would drag out of us both, that we
would say and later regret, and how to re-pot a 15-year-old yukka plant,
much earlier than I did.
So here’s what I learned . . . to make it easier for anyone else going
I truly hope you don’t. But in the Middle Years it’s very common, and just
as for unexpected post-picnic haemorroids or entering a public toilet in
Paris, it’s best to be prepared.
- 23rd September 2017 *Coughs* . . .
A RATHER MAJOR UPDATE
ANYWAY . . .
Those of you who pledged for this book, umm….2 or more years ago, might well be wondering where exactly your copy IS.
You would be entirely justified in wondering this. The postal service certainly can be lacking at times, but even Royal Mail can generally get things delivered within the decade.
So I thought a little update might be in order…22nd October 2014 Flyershambling, 1.
The cheeky Lifeshambles flyer is on a journey to....wherever the heck it ends up.
Here starts a series of pictures of its (hopefully) short life from idea to flyer to BOOK!
If you want a Lifeshambles flyer, let me know.
I only have 20,000 of them, but I'm prepared to share them with you.
Then we can do that thing they used to do in OK Magazine (or possibly still do, I'm not sure…21st October 2014 I bloop.
I decided to shoot a spanking new video for Lifeshambles.
So off I went to London to shoot it in a setting that's more 'me' and more relaxed - outside.
Within thirty seconds I realised why nobody should ever try to shoot a video in London outside. . .
Basically we laughed. And swore. Non stop. For an hour.
It was all VERY professional.
Here are the bloopers*:19th October 2014 Lifeshambles goes to...NOT Leicester.
Ooooh, hello my lovely Shed Friends.
I’ve missed you.
Lifeshambles continued its Global tour of… a very small patch of the globe, with a visit to the Off the Shelf Writing Festival in Sheffield, which it turns out is not the same as Leicester.
This trip was for my Part 2 of the big Writing Motherhood series organized by Carolyn Jess-Cooke, (below, left, next to the…17th October 2014 It's a GOOD time to be a writer.
I wrote this blog today, in the hope of inspiring any writers out there who are sitting at home, writing and writing, and struggling to get a book published, and feeling down about the Whole Damned Thing....to get out there, take control and DO IT.
This is just my story, of how I came to Unbound. There are thousands like it.
So if YOU want to be published, and you have a book in you that…14th October 2014 And the word is...
Authors all have their own routine, and their own way of working, or 'not working' as it usually spelled.
Some get up at 6am, write for 3 hours, polish off 3000 words and spend the rest of the day looking smug.
We hate these people.
Others faff about all morning in their pyjamas, drink tea, read the paper, think about writing, go out, come back, think some more about writing, read…13th October 2014 Lifeshambles goes to....DURHAM.
It's always somewhat terrifying to stand - or in this case sit - in front of an audience and read from one's own book.
It feels like getting undressed very slowly under a glaring spotlight and being forced to do a can-can, and hoping nobody throws up or leaves the room.
And this is especially true if the book is supposed to be FUNNY.
Because if there is no sound of laughter, it's the…8th October 2014 LAUNCH DAY!
Lifeshambles went live on Saturday, and launched at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
Basically this is the MOST EXCITING THING EVER, except for re-sealable bags of couscous.
I did the world's first reading from Lifeshambles, and at least five people laughed out loud. Some even lolled, but I woke them up eventually.
In true Lifeshambles style I dropped all of my notes on the toilet…
These people are helping to fund The Middle Years: When the kids grow up... and everything goes tits down.