What would like be like if you were kicked out of the house at 16? Where would you live? How would you fend for yourself? Today, Kate shares how she navigated life on her own at 16.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Katie, and I’m 44 years old. I live in New Zealand, with my husband, dogs, and our rescue cat. My two children have left home, but often return for a home-cooked meal and a few loads of washing.
I teach high-school English, but my main passion is my blog. My Sweet Home Life helps women create a home life that supports and nourishes both themselves and their families, regardless of their life experiences to date.
What was life like for you in your pre-teen and early teenage years?
My childhood was turbulent. Mum suffered from depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and was regularly committed to psychiatric institutions.
My parents had a volatile relationship. They split up often and we’d move every time they did. By the time I was 12, they’d split for good. Dad remarried and had his first child with his new wife a year later.
Mum resented this and spent hours writing him abusive letters. Our holiday visits always culminated in an inquisition about his life that, however ordinary, would reduce her to tears.
The summer of 1988-1989, during which I turned 15, I had one such visit. Home had been worse than usual. Mum was getting up at 3.00am to put out numerous rubbish bags and was constantly in the kitchen washing her hands, or counting flicks of the light-switch. No plug could be left in overnight (except the fridge) so every evening was a rigmarole of unplugging appliances.
Mum’s (unwanted) openness about her struggles made me feel deeply responsible for her. After school one day, she told me she’d intended to kill herself that morning by hanging herself in the shower. I started to feel afraid to come home.
So that summer with Dad was a promise of everything my life could be: I reconnected with a holiday friend and enjoyed being a normal teen, hanging out, meeting boys. I wanted to hold on to that feeling of being a child so much, I persuaded my father and step-mother to let me live with them permanently.
What were you expecting life to look like at your dad’s house?
One of the benefits of life with mum was incredible freedom. Consequently, I was very independent and self-reliant. Looking back, I think I thought I’d be able to retain this independence while living in a “normal” home.
However, my doctor Dad worked 12-hour days, nights, and often weekends. My stepmother, then pregnant with her second child, ran the house. I had many rules – curfews, restrictions, the banning of friends – which I tried to get around. I drank and smoked, while still doing very well at school.
Things got a lot worse when my stepmother read my diary and discovered I’d lost my virginity to a 22-year-old. I was grounded more often than not.
What led to you getting kicked out?
It came to a head a few weeks after I turned 16. I’d picked up my friends (illegally, as I was on a restricted license), we’d sat in the hot tub at the neighbors (which I’d been told I could do) and were relaxing at home when my parents returned early from their day at the beach.
My diary from that day reads: “I went inside and Dad was screaming about how there was grease on the carpet, how I’d driven people in the car, and about using the spa. Then he said, “X has said either you go or she goes, so you better sort out something with your Mum or Social Welfare.” My friends helped me pack. Dad came in and made them leave. He said, “If you leave, you don’t come back.”
What did you do on that first night on your own?
My friends were shaken. Because my father was well-known in the community, they didn’t want their families involved. So we pooled our money and paid for me to stay at a dingy motel.
I remember writing my unusual surname on the register. The lady said, “Oh, there’s a doctor in this town by that name.” The only thing I could think to say was, “That’s interesting.”
That night there was an earthquake, and I woke up, feeling frightened and alone, wondering how the hell things had ended up like this.
How did you stay afloat – living on your own and going to school?
After the dust settled, Dad made me go private boarding. That was a weird situation. They all smoked, one of the children worked in a nightclub, and suddenly I was clubbing rather than partying, which was not what Dad had hoped for. Ultimately, I felt like an outsider there. I decided to leave.
My maternal grandmother agreed to pay my rent and a small living allowance. I found a one-room flat to move in to and at the tender age of 16 started living on my own.
Later, I worked at a supermarket for 20 plus hours a week to help survive financially.
Kate’s mom and Kate as a baby, Kate the year after she was kicked out
Did the adults in your life know you were on your own?
My best friend’s boyfriend’s mum took me in for the first few weeks. She was a counsellor and “brokered” between dad and me in those early days.
My high school was also incredible. The two deans for my year level cared for me and supported me. They never commented when I was caught smoking or wagged school. They just encouraged me to keep attending.
I had no financial support from the government, nor involvement with any agencies. To receive the Independent Youth Allowance, both parents had to sign to say they wouldn’t support you, and Mum wouldn’t do that.
Did living on your own affect the way you related to other kids your age?
I already felt more responsible than most kids my age, and this only increased as l was living on my own: I cooked for myself, paid my bills myself, and got myself to school. I started moving away from my high school friends and became involved with older people, with whom I felt I had more in common.
Probably the worst thing as a result of this time was that I started being overly dependent on men, which led to some unhealthy relationship choices.
What’s your relationship with your parents like now?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was a stepparent, so know parenting someone else’s children is challenging. My stepmother had no experience with teens, so I can see why my sudden arrival caused tension.
But I’d be lying if I said I still don’t feel some resentment. This was especially the case when my half-siblings did similar things to those I’d kicked out of home for with no consequences.
I believe my dad has always wanted to do right by me, by all his children – but I also believe he’s hot-tempered and at times rash. We are both fighters rather than flight-ers. I do love him very much.
My mother and I don’t speak – we haven’t for over a year now. She’s back in another cycle of illness and I’m much better at enforcing boundaries these days. It hurts me, but it’s necessary.
Has this affected your feelings about having kids of your own?
I have two children of my own.
When I got pregnant unexpectedly at 19, I decided to keep the baby. I knew what I didn’t want to do as a parent and I backed myself to create my own family. I made plenty of mistakes along the way but I’d like to think I did okay as a mum.
My kids were pretty quiet teens – they made up for it later. I cultivated non-judgement and as a result, they’ve always been open with me. Whatever they’ve done or might do, I would never, ever withdraw my love for them. Voice my disapproval yes – withdraw love – no.
If my kids EVER thought I wouldn’t be there for them, I’d feel I’d failed as a parent.
I also promised myself I’d never have more children and turn my kids into a “first” family. I’ve kept that promise.
What did you learn from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
I’ve learned you truly can make the best of any situation. For example, if I hadn’t been kicked out of home at 16, I might not have coped with becoming a Mum at 19. Resilience is such an important quality and like a muscle, it only develops when used.
Through this and other experiences, I’ve also realized there are always people who will help you. They might not be who you expect, but they will present themselves to you. Let them.
Finally, sometimes you must hurt others to save yourself. Mum was heartbroken when I left, but I made the right choice in leaving. Knowing how it turned out, I would still make the same decision.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Kate. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you lived through something similar?