I am reminded that I am now nearly the age my parents were when I was our daughter’s age. Reflecting on my own shortcomings in relation to our children, it occurs to me that I should be more forgiving of moments back then, thirty years ago. My two older brothers were away at university, at the two extremes of the country; one on the far south west coast of England, the other on the far north east coast of Scotland.
My father’s career had taken off: he was now managing partner at the foremost firm of solicitors in the region and had taken to driving a seven series BMW with built-in car phone (prestigious in the early 90s). My mother had been ordained deacon and worked at the hospital as a chaplain. In his ever-diminishing spare time, my father had been made a church canon, responsible for all of the lay preachers in the diocese.
At home, with my brothers away, things had quietened down a bit. There was just me and my sister, perpetually bickering. She’s three years younger, but was wiser, cleverer and about as mature as me. And I was just starting to feel the full force of my own weirdness, but could neither explain it nor articulate my feelings about it to anyone. I put it down to our Christian upbringing and me skipping meals at school. By then, I had fully imbibed the narrative that I was just really lazy, and that was all that was wrong with me.
Bitter, much? Well yes. But here I am, thirty years later, raising two siblings of a similar age, and of course it’s not easy. At least in our case, there are just two of them to contend with. Work-wise, life is less hectic. I’m just a middle-of-the-road IT consultant. I have no massive mortgage to pay. I don’t drive a luxury saloon. I work from home. Our kids go to the local state school. We’re a one salary family, but have low overheads.
Even so, raising children turns out to be really hard. Our daughter has put her head down — as girls generally do — taking her studies seriously. Our son, meanwhile, bounces around, sometimes serious, sometimes not, too easily influenced by his peers to ever maintain a constant. He’s reaching out for independence, which we want to give him, but not at the expense of his studies or at risk of him falling into bad company.
Like our parents before us, we hope our religion will mean something to our children. But just as I had my wobble, rejecting faith for a while, so too will it be a source of embarrassment for them as they navigate relationships with friends. Worse still, we find ourselves steering them away from those nominally associated with the same faith at school, for the sensible and serious amongst them all won a place at grammar school.
So here we are, grappling with the same issues my parents did in their mid-forties. They had me at thirty; I should remove from my mind the notion that we started late. I guess we have to look back to ponder what worked well for us and what didn’t. To replicate the good they did, and try to correct course where things went wrong.
For sure, my parents’ successful careers were beneficial in many ways, granting us comforts and luxuries not afforded to many. But there was a sense that work just took over, absorbing every minute of every day. The day job, and then everything that had to be done for the church in the evening and on weekends. Perhaps we will try something different, recalling that our kids are our primary project. Somehow we have to help them grow up happy, content with their provision.
My parents were strict. It turns out that we too are much stricter that we imagined we would be. Our children get the same sanctions on television time that we did, even though I railed against it at the time. We demand politeness and respect. We prioritise theirs studies. In short, we have become a clone of those before us, seeking the best for our children. And, yes, there’s me, desperate to prevent our son from making the same mistakes as I did, offering him guidance and advice to help him choose a future career pathway that will grant him a comfortable life and satisfaction.
Here the challenges of our generation, suddenly all too wide awake.