Note: a version of this appeared at the end of the Be A Free Range Human book – it’s a piece that I almost didn’t include, thinking it wasn’t quite a fit because it is so personal… but (unexpectedly!) it quickly became one of the most responded-to parts we get messages about. So I’m posting it here for easy access. Thank you for being a wonderful free ranger. Mx
10 years ago, my Mum died of cancer.
Anyone who has lost a Mum you’ll know that no, it doesn’t get any easier, and yes, 10 years on I still miss her.
Mum was the mum everyone wanted. She loved everyone. Once you walked into the house, she wouldn’t let her broken Mauritian-accented English hold her back from letting you know how special you are.
If you’ve read even one Free Range post then you’ve heard Mum somewhere in there. She’s the real ‘free range mum’, the secret powerhouse behind this movement.
So, today, I’m stripping back the layers and giving you a full whoosh of Mumness with the 5 lessons she taught me, and that she would tell you if she was here today:
1. Be wonderful
My school-friend Claire called her Smiley, because she was.
Mum expressed love through hugs and listening – deeply listening to what you were saying, not just thinking of what she would say next. That’s rare.
Mostly, she cared through food. My friends came over after school, and she would make the thinnest crepes served with nutella, or lemon and sugar. The bottom slightly browned, the middle yellow and chewy, rolled up just right. Hungry or not, come into her house and you would leave well fed.
There was always someone over with a cup of tea in her flower patterned cups. She assumed the world was a good place, believed people were nice at heart, and did her part to make that a reality.
Free Range Humans lesson: Care. Genuinely care. Don’t assume the world is out to get you (it’s not, you know)
2. Learning is better than receiving
Mum loved kids and was passionate about education – when she was younger she started up the first Montessori preschool for disadvantaged kids in Mauritius (and kept it for the poorest kids even though the rich were clamouring to get in).
At the age of 3 Mum took my education into her own hands and taught me how to read.
By 3 and a half I was reading fluently (there’s a tape somewhere to prove it!). By 5 I was a speed-reader with a reading age of 10, thanks to Mum. I’ve had my nose in a book (or a Kindle) ever since.
But get this: Mum never read a book out loud to me: never.
She knew the gift was not in hearing the stories but in showing me how to read and write them myself.
Free Range Humans lesson: Learn how to do it for yourself – that’s the ultimate freedom. Education is the best investment, period.
3. Be your own boss
Mum never told me to do my homework.
Don’t get me wrong, she made it clear that I would do well in school, failure was never even an option. But she never once told me to do my homework and she certainly never did it for me. Turns out that was a pretty smart move.
Never having associated school work with being ‘told what to do’ , I didn’t have the usual school-kid resistance to doing the work (who would I be rebelling against after all?). More to the point, it meant that I grew up a total nerd (thanks Mum).
Seriously, I didn’t understand when kids complained their parents ‘made them do it’. Were they babies (thought the grown up 10 year old me)? Didn’t they want to do well for themselves?
One day, Mum thought she should be more like the other parents, so she told me to do my homework as soon as I got home. I kicked up a stink and that was the first time I didn’t do it. She never asked again.
At that point it should have been clear I would be a crappy employee.
Now, it’s blindingly obvious that without knowing it, Mum taught me to be an entrepreneur (do well because you want to). while the school system told me to be an employee (do things because you’re told to, stay out of trouble because we say so, toe the line).
Free Range Humans lesson: Be your own boss. It’s not enough to lose your boss, you have to learn how to take on that role starting now.
4. Inhabit your quirks.
Mum grew up speaking French – one of a colonial Mauritian family of nine. Despite marrying my firmly mono-lingual English father, and living most of her life in Anglophone countries, she never quite ‘got’ the English language.
Heavily accented English with smatterings of French – excruciatingly embarrassing Mum for a young kid who just wants to fit in in Australia
Luckily, Mum never paid attention to my childish wish to be more ‘normal’.
Mum created her own unique way of speaking and it was part of her charm and accessibility. You can’t be scared of someone who says loolipoop.
Free Range Humans lesson: inhabit your quirks. Trying to be someone else will only make you unhappy anyway.
What if you believed that those characteristics that the beige army (or an 8 year old kid) say are ‘too weird’ are the very things that deserve to be treasured?
5. You’ll win. Of course you will (now it’s time for you to believe that)
From a young age Mum and I would play board games together. (That’s what you do when you’re an only child).
When I was really young she let me win every time, so I grew up with the assumption I could never lose. Mum said that when I got older, she stopped letting me, and started playing me properly.
Thing was, by that time, because I never had an experience of losing I just kept on winning – I didn’t understand how someone could possibly be better than me, so I just didn’t let that be the case.
This is going to sound odd, and I don’t say it often because it sounds really weird, but I want to tell you the truth: To this day I literally don’t understand why you would not think you’re good enough.
– Why on earth SHOULD anyone be better than you?
– Why should someone – not so different to you- be able to create what you can’t?
– Tell me again: do you have one good reason WHY ANYONE SHOULD BE MORE ENTITLED TO THIS THAN YOU?
The question is so confusing my mind explodes at the thought (yup, told you it was a weird one!)
Someone once told me I had a massive sense of entitlement – and I don’t think it was meant as a compliment. But I took it as one (well, of course I did, what with a massive sense of entitlement and all that :).
Want to know why it’s a compliment?
Without a sense of entitlement you don’t have an inkling of what you deserve. In fact, you probably don’t think you deserve anything more than you have.
The reality is that there’s little chance you’ll go for something you don’t believe you deserve.
You may dabble and toy with the idea but if you don’t believe – truly believe – that you deserve what you want, then nothing anyone says will count. Nothing.
Mum gave me that confidence and entitlement to the best possible life.
Want to know a secret?
When I write these posts and the occasional Free Range emails that’s what I’m trying to give you too.
I spend a lot of time joking and writing sharp pithy messages but I just want to share something with you today:
I pour my heart and soul into some of these messages – sometimes they flow out in 10 minutes, other times I spend a day writing and throw away 5 different drafts before one hits your inbox (often I get emails says “that sentence in your message made me cry”. It’s ok, I was probably welled up with tears at that line too).
Despite that, I know Mum would have done a better job at this than me, and I guess I’m just doing my best to do what she would have done for you if she could have.
When I write these emails and make videos (like this one), it’s not just me. It’s the care and love I got from Mum, coming through, spilling out across the world, and landing in its rightful home: with you.
I wish she was here to tell you that you can create your own life. I wish she could show you you’re as special as I believe you are.
You’d have got served up perfect crepes in the process.
Mum died 10 years ago but left behind enough firepower and care to change the world
While the naysayers are lining up to point out the flaws in your dreams, I know you can do this.
I believe in you. And Mum would have too.
Now go out there and make us proud.
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