Nobody said raising kids would be easy. Indeed, we were warned repeatedly, during our childless phase, when those with children looked back at us with envy and we looked to them exactly the same. If those friends encountered us again today, they’d be saying, “We told you so!”
Truth be told, it’s bloody hard. If you think that all you need to do is set out noble ideals and give them a good example to follow, think again. Every day brings new trials, and it only seems to get harder and harder. Some of those challenges hit hard, like a blow to the stomach or a kick in your teeth.
I’ll be the first to admit that many of my posts about raising kids are very idealistic, not to mention naive. All that they do is capture aspirations. The desire to raise content kids, with good manners and a bold vision. Reality tends to be more complicated. Despite providing food and shelter, love and care, it seems we have less influence on our children than their peers.
That might not be so bad if they had virtuous companions. But imagine raising your kids to treat everyone equally, emphasising anti-racism and communal tolerance, only for them to come home from school repeating sentiments commonly associated with the Far Right. Yes, children raised to appreciate and value different cultures — with a diverse family and fraternity — repeating the most vulgar sentiments in the presence of friends.
Naturally, stern words are then spoken to emphasise how unacceptable those beliefs are, but it is an unceasing battle, for we are living in an age of identity politics. Whichever way you turn, there is racism and bullying, as different groups of students form into polarised cliques playing off against each other. No wonder our kids are confused. At home, we preach equality and tolerance, but amongst their peers they learn of nothing but division, separation and hatred.
Yet, alas, that’s not even a fraction of the battle. After this the battles for gadgets and technology, access to social media and messaging. One day we may concede ground, offering our children room to grow and mature, demonstrating how responsible they are. Then a police officer turns up on your doorstep and you realise all of your fears about access to mobile data were well-founded.
Daily, parents ask themselves, “Where did we go wrong?” Of course, parents have always asked this question, because raising adolescents has always been this hard. But naturally we start dreaming of running off to the hills again, to live out in the sticks away from all bad influences. Only we tried that five years ago and discovered it wasn’t a panacea at all, for the same challenges existed there.
Sadly there are no quick fixes. It’s all hands to deck. We just have to recognise that the next five years — at the very least — are going to be hugely challenging. We’re going to be tested in ways we never thought possible. Everyday will throw something new at us. There is no passive parenting here. All we can do now is try our very best, and brace for impact. See you on the other side.