A guest blog post by my very wonderful Mum on parenting – fortunately not on how hard parenting me may have been…
Most parents will acknowledge the sentiments felt as a child approaches the move to secondary school and there is the requirement to ‘take the tour’ of potential establishments for next September. Of course, your aim in attending is to thrill your child’s heart with all the opportunities available and to widen their eyes at the great wealth of facilities and opportunities and all that can be aspired to as their great springboard into adult life. But … we all know that as their eyes widen, your heart struggles to contain the increasingly powerful cry of “I wish that this was for me!”
You want a second try. You could achieve so much more now, do so much better now than when you left your somewhat primitive institution with its mediocre facilities and such restricted choice. Had you had these facilities and opportunities on offer to your child, what a difference it would have made to the way your life turned out …
We are jealous over our children’s lives. Beware of straying across the boundary into envy, or even of competing with your child’s success.
As expectant parents, we review our own experience of childhood and family life. By the time we leave the labour ward, we have the blueprint for how to achieve for our own children the childhood that in retrospect we would have liked for ourselves. And then we go about building it.
It’s worth acknowledging here that perhaps some of our likes and dislikes, our characteristics, traits and giftings come embedded in our DNA and hence blossom in our children but with added nuances of their own. So is it surprising then that the very things that ‘float their boats’ are those that once set us sailing?
Perhaps the answer is to allow our children’s lives to challenge us to discover giftings of our own that we’ve never seen or had the courage to explore. Instead of trying to experience the unfilled gaps in our own experience through our child (yes, this does include submitting homework on behalf of your child to see if you can now achieve an A grade!). Instead, ‘go and do’ openly and for yourself.
I took my own advice. When I was 35, after years of watching and waiting for my children in the dancing school changing room, I stopped resenting that my parents had lacked sufficient funds for me to have ballet lessons as a child and realised I could now just pay for them myself. By the time I was 40 I had achieved a British Arts Awards Bronze Medal (Ballet). I had learnt how to fly! Only across a dance studio with no one looking, admittedly, but I no longer needed to encourage my son or daughter to pursue their dancing as a surrogate or a mini-me.
When I was 42 I stopped suppressing the bubbling enthusiasm I felt at every university open day I attended by wistfully watching Educating Rita and instead I embarked on my own OU degree. I anguished over essays and dissertations alongside my children; my understanding of their angst was very real and their cheering for me at my graduation was heartfelt.
I graduated with a degree in Art History and Literature and spent six years working in a historic building developing and delivering a successful education visits project. Some university holidays, my daughter worked alongside me and when she became a teacher, I learnt much alongside her. Until a strange manoeuvring in life took place in which my employer stopped funding my role and I left my job and my daughter’s life underwent what can best be summarised as “dramatic change and re-evaluation” so that now, she works in a most significant historic building, developing and delivering a vast education visits programme whilst I … well, I do not.
I am sure there are days when I wish that I was in her shoes and perhaps there are days that she wishes that she were in mine … but only for a little while. I would love to go and be with her. But I do not want to be her.
Surely the antidote to child-envy is to encourage our children in every way on their own voyage of discovery; to be their ballast in life but not to force their rudder. And then when they are found to be drawing alongside you, coming along in your direction, to never ever compete.
Our lives build and build like rolling breakers moving relentlessly to the shore. Inevitably we will one day crash out … but we’ll have fuelled our children onward, forward, further up the beach, beyond our own experience.