Sunday 18 March 2018

Senator Lynn Ruane on becoming a mum at 15- 'At 13 I felt pressured into becoming sexually active because everybody else was'

Teenage actress Jordanne Jones is having a very different life to the one experienced by her mum, newly-elected senator and former Trinity College student union president Lynn Ruane

Senator Lynn Ruane was a mum at 15 to her actress daughter Jordanne Jones. Photo: David Conachy
Senator Lynn Ruane was a mum at 15 to her actress daughter Jordanne Jones. Photo: David Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

By the time she was her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Jordanne's age, Senator Lynn Ruane was already a mother. Although it makes her uncomfortable admitting the pregnancy was planned, the new little life helped Lynn heal from the pain she was feeling as a troubled teenager. She was grief-stricken over the death of several pals, including her friend Jenny, whom she witnessed being knocked down and killed by a bus when she was 13.

Lynn dabbled in drugs, robbing cars and shoplifting as a young teen, but ultimately pulled herself back from going down the wrong path."I don't want to paint a picture that being a teenage mother will fix things if you're having a difficult time," says the articulate and driven senator. "I had given up on life though, so having Jordanne helped to ease the pain and gave me a purpose."

Lynn recalls how supportive her mum Bernie, late dad John and brother Jason were when she had Jordanne at 15. She was unhappy at school, but is grateful to the guidance counsellor at her school in Killinarden, west Tallaght, who fought for her to go back and sit her Junior Cert. "Jordanne's school hugely invest in her, so thankfully she hasn't had the same negative experiences as me," she says. "I thought I was confident, but I see a huge difference in how she is in her skin, compared with how I was in mine."

Lynn split up with Jordanne's dad Alan when she was 16. He has had addiction problems so there have been ups and down, but their relationship is pretty healthy now.

Senator Lynn Ruane with her actress daughter Jordanne Jones (16) at Leinster House
Photo: Tom Burke
Senator Lynn Ruane with her actress daughter Jordanne Jones (16) at Leinster House Photo: Tom Burke

"We have quite open conversations about drugs," says Lynn, who also has a lovely daughter Jaelynne Wallace, 9, from a subsequent relationship. "I've tried to teach her that they can be used as an escape, or to put reality off because you don't want to be in the moment you're living in."

Lynn did her Leaving Cert through a young mothers' education programme. As she approaches her own Leaving Cert, talented actress Jordanne's life is very different. She attends Bow Street Acting Academy under a full scholarship, and took the leading role in I Used to Live Here, for which she was nominated as 'Best Actress in a Leading Role' at the 2015 IFTAs. She also played sex worker Minnie in RTE's 1916 drama Rebellion, and Jaelynne played her younger sister Sadie. Jordanne is also highly artistic, and has already won a scholarship to study art at NCAD.

Lynn worked in the field of addiction for years, but when austerity policies caused cutbacks to public spending, she decided to further her education to help her become an advocate for addiction services. In 2012, she entered Trinity College via the Trinity Access Programme, which helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is now in the final year of PPES - philosophy, political science, economics and sociology.

Her first foray into politics came about when she became student parent officer with the students' union. Then, encouraged by the 2014/15 Trinity SU president, Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne, she successfully ran for president for the 2015/16 academic year. She loved the job, although it involved a lot of juggling, as she, Jordanne and Jaelynne had to move onto the campus.

Lynn decided to further her political career nationally by running for the Seanad, and was elected in May. She's on the education committee, and is keen to work on the issues of drug usage, education funding, teacher training and homelessness. She will also complete the final year of her degree this year, but with the determination she has shown, there's no doubting she'll be successful.

While Lynn admits to being "strict and regimented" as a mum, she worked hard to prove that even though she was a teen mother, her child would turn out fine. "I was hard on myself as well, because I was obsessed with us being the perfect image of mother and daughter," she says. She is proud that Jordanne thinks for herself, such as when she turned vegetarian aged ten after the family went on safari in Africa.

Jordanne was allowed to get her belly button pierced with her Confirmation money, and she has since got her nose and hip done. She's allergic to hair dye and henna, which means that tattoos are probably out for her.

Lynn believes parents should talk about issues freely with their children. She and Jordanne separately attend counselling, and feel it's really important to ensure good emotional and mental health. "I've had counselling since my teens," says Lynn. "Jordanne and I have great communication and are very close, but your child is never going to be completely comfortable talking to you about everything. They might be afraid something is going to upset or anger you or let you down, so I want to make sure she has someone else to confide in that she can trust."

Lynn Ruane pictured with her daughters Jordanne and Jaelynne at her home in Tallaght
Lynn Ruane pictured with her daughters Jordanne and Jaelynne at her home in Tallaght

While Lynn is currently single, Jordanne has been dating her boyfriend Jack for six months. He's in a band and they share a lot of the same interests and love going to art galleries. She likes to go for coffee with pals as she hasn't taken a drink yet, and finds it sad that some teens take selfies holding alcohol to prove to others that they drink. "You're cool if you hang out with certain people, and there are things you have to do to remain on the popular chart," she explains. "You almost all have to look the same with make-up and how you talk, and that comes with the pressure of drinking and everything else. My mam said to me that there's a big difference between going out for a glass of wine with your friends at 18 and drinking in a park at 16, and the first option appeals to me much more."

Lynn laughingly recalls how Jordanne lasted five minutes at the Trinity Ball when they lived on campus, because the realities of student partying freaked her out so much. They now live back in Tallaght, where they have two dogs, Jersey and Biscuit, and Jordanne's pet corn snake Rivera, named after Mexican artist, Diego Rivera.

Although she felt slightly ­awkward initially, Lynn began talking to Jordanne about sex when she was 11. She believes we should speak to our children about positive sexual experiences, instead of solely focusing on scare stories about pregnancy and STIs. "I was 13 when I felt pressured into becoming sexually active because I knew other people were," she says. "I don't think anyone really enjoys their first sexual experience, but my hope for Jordanne was always that she would put some thought into it, and for it to be a negotiated experience that she would be able to look back on fondly."

Jordanne isn't into stuff like nails and tan, and feels a lot of girls are under huge pressure around body image. "Some of my friends get quite upset about it," she says. "I have fallen into that trap a few times and got caught up in it, but then I realise that there is more to life. The thing that annoys me most is that some of the girls who complain about it are also judgemental about other girls' bodies, and instead of empowering each other, they bring other girls down, which makes no sense at all."

Lynn understands the pressure on young women around physical appearance, because she isn't immune to it either. "I'm guilty of the body image thing myself and I know it's wrong," she admits. "I'm healthy and I work out, but if I gain four or five pounds, I'm running around like a lunatic trying to shift them."

When asked about bullying, Jordanne says that while boys can be openly harsher, girls can be more judgemental behind the scenes and practise subtler forms of bullying, such as excluding people. The teenager feels that mental health is a big issue for her peers, and believes that people should try to seek help if they are struggling. She find her weekly counselling sessions invaluable, and also spends time doing things she's passionate about, like art, acting and writing.

Lynn's hope for her girls is that they experience all that life has to offer in the most positive way. Her hope for herself is that she will relax and learn to stop and smell the roses occasionally. "I have been so driven for the past few years," she says. "I've only recently realised that I don't need to battle as hard with life any more."

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