Just recently I’ve found myself thinking about what we want for our children – and the futures we imagine for them. I think most (if not all) parents think about their childrens’ adult lives. I am a great one for day dreaming – story telling in my head. Sometimes I like to imagine how my kids might look in their twenties. I might just create a mental image of a smile or a phone call.
Of course, I can’t help but imagine them happy. That’s what I want – happy and healthy adults that my kids will become. But I know that I can’t make that happen - not really, not at all. Life is far more of a lottery than we care to admit. Just a quick flit around my past can turn up young adults who developed substance abuse problems, or were schizophrenic, or who self-harmed, or who had eating disorders. Some of that might have been predicted by those who knew those people, but plenty was not. That’s the scariest aspect of parenting - the haunting feeling that my children might suffer in those ways - and I wouldn’t see it coming. And, of course, there’s the random accident or terminal illness that could snatch them away.
I know I can’t do anything to stop most of those scenarios. I know that they are free people who will make their choices and that fate can deal us all a nasty kick somewhere painful, when we least expect it. But, what I hope I can do – what I try to do – is to give them my love, like some kind of fortifying tonic for the years to come. Do you remember that Ready Brek advert from the 1970s/80s? How the kids ate the Ready Brek and went out into the cold morning, glowing and warm? That’s how I hope my children will feel as young adults. Even if the wind bites sometimes, and they despair, there will be a little spark of that glow inside them.
For me, part of that love is not to expect them to follow any path in terms of education or career. I want them to know that nothing they choose could make me love them more, or less. That I trust them to make their choices – and they should trust themselves too. I want them to know that I respect them as individuals and have no magic eye through which I can direct them along a ‘successful’ path.
Sometimes I wonder if that is more of a pressure than that felt by children whose parents do plan out a future, or at least expect a particular path. I know that when I was nine or ten I was sure that I’d be going to university. Someone must have told me that – and I didn’t feel it as a particular pressure. But I suspect that it did stop me thinking as far, and as wide, as I might otherwise. It was a goal that I had been given and I didn’t do too well at thinking beyond it. And I was scared of a scenario where that didn’t happen. I was quite unsure of who I might be if I didn’t go to university.
I think that all this is floating round my head as P is nearing the age of eleven. Suddenly I can see the teenage years looming. Let’s just hope the Ready Brek is going to do its job…