Behind every great pop icon there’s a mother. In Justin Bieber‘s case, her name Pattie Mallette. And with over 2.4 million Twitter followers and 290,000 likes on Facebook, it’s clear she’s already developed a following of her own — particularly after her autobiography Nowhere but Up: The Story of Justin Bieber’s Mom hit the New York Times bestseller list. In the book, the still-youthful mom recounts her tough early years growing up in Ontario, Canada. Those years included experiencing sexual abuse as a child and teen experimentation with alcohol and drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD. She also got involved with petty theft, vandalism and drug dealing. It all contributed to feelings of depression that led to a suicide attempt. It was during her stint in a psychiatric ward that she embraced Christianity.
But her problems weren’t over. After getting out of the hospital, she rejoined the same circle of friends, including a relationship with Jeremy Bieber through whom she soon became pregnant. She resisted pressure to have an abortion. She gave birth to Justin on March 1, 1994 at the age of 17. Though Jeremy Bieber was a supportive father, he and Pattie did not marry and she essentially raised him as a single mother struggling mightily to make ends meet.
Needless to say, things have turned around for both she and her now-famous son. These days, she devotes much of her time to helping struggling young people understand that — no matter their present difficulties — with faith and perseverance, things do get better. She elaborates on her story and her message in the new teen edition of Nowhere but Up which went on sale on July 2nd.
I recently caught up with Pattie following a Q&A she had with a group of young people at the New York base of Covenant House, an organization that for decades has served as a sanctuary for homeless teens. The group assembled definitely related to her struggles and seemed to draw enormous encouragement from her current success.
JWK: Between writing books, speaking at places like Covenant House and being a rock star’s mom, you juggle a lot of balls in the air.
PATTIE MALLETTE: Yes, I do.
JWK: Nowhere but Up was a big New York Times bestseller and now you’re out with a version aimed squarely at teens. What do you hope they get out of it?
PM: I’m hoping the teen readers get a sense of hope and inspiration to get through whatever difficult circumstances come their way. I mean, I went through a lot of abuse and a lot of really difficult things growing up — depression, anxiety, attempted suicide — and I really think that a lot of teenagers today can relate.
JWK: Because you have been through so much, was it a difficult decision to literally turn your life into an open book?
PM: It’s hard to be vulnerable in front of the whole world because everyone’s a critic — but I know why I’m doing it and I just have to keep remembering why I’m doing it.
JWK: Why are you doing it?
PM: I really want to help people. I really want to give somebody that hope that they need to keep going. I’ve had incredible responses so far. People are saying “You saved my life! I was suicidal!” They’re showing me their arms and where they used to cut (themselves) and they don’t anymore “because of you and because or your story and because of your courage. Thank you so much for sharing your story.” And that’s why I wrote it. That’s what keeps me going.
JWK: Your story begins with you being abused as a child and your teen years were also very difficult.
PM: My dad abandoned me when I was about two years old. So, he wasn’t around to protect me the way I needed to be protected. I started getting sexually abused from the time I was about five years old to the time I was ten. It really messed with my sense of self worth and my sense of all that was good with the world, almost. You know, I suffered with a lot of depression and anxiety after that. It really messed with me. So, unfortunately, I know that far too many people today — especially young people — can really relate. So, that was really important for me to include that stuff.
JWK: As you mentioned, you were suicidal at one point.
PM: Yeah. Getting into my teen years, I was filled with so much shame and pain that I got really involved with drugs and alcohol. I was hanging out with the wrong people and getting involved in the wrong relationships and everything just sort of spun out of control. So, one day I was 17 years old and I ended up trying to commit suicide and I ended up in the hospital. As a teenager, that was a really scary thing.
JWK: How old were you when you met (Justin’s father) Jeremy Bieber?