Monday, March 03, 2008

What we want for our children

On Sunday, we were watching Lark Rise to Candleford. There was a conversation between the parents of the Timmins family about what they wanted for their children. It was rather well done and it got me thinking.

The story is set in the very early years of the twentieth century and the family live in a small hamlet. They have a reasonable income when the father is in work – he is a stonemason. Other families in the hamlet are struggling to survive – worrying about every meal and doing all they can to keep themselves out of the workhouse. The scene where the Timmins parents discussed what they wanted for their children made me realise that this is a universal concern of parents. The details differ between time and place but the core issues are the same.

I have little faith in success, as judged by qualifications, careers and possessions. This is largely because I have seen too many people who have succeeded in these terms – and yet not found satisfaction, peace or happiness. But, I’m not smug enough to suggest that these things are nothing. I have never had to live in abject poverty. I, like Emma Timmins in the drama, want my children to have choices. I don’t want them fleeced by the powerful.

I am very aware that I am only two generations away from a woman who was raised in the care of Barnardos, who had no qualifications and little choice about the work she took. As a young teenager, she was sent into service as a maid. Later in her life she did piece work for a small glove maker. She worked hard for her family – supporting her children and caring for her husband as he died a slow death from Tuberculosis. It is little wonder that she and her husband had a deep belief in education as their children’s route to a life that would be less of a struggle.

But my grandmother was a warm, loving person with great energy. She had dark experiences in her life – a lack of care and warmth in her childhood. She never owned a house or flat. She lost her home (with the sister in whose house she lived for decades) and so lived out the end of her life with my parents, my siblings, and me. When she died she left nothing in the way of cash – just the few possessions she had in her bedroom. But she had instilled in my mum something that was worth a mint – and my mum passed it on to me. She lived for the day. She lived at a pace and enjoyed what she did. She loved her children and grasped new experiences when they came her way. I try to keep that in mind.

I don’t want to come across like Pollyanna here! I don’t think that life is all sun and flowers. There is no way we can give our children a life without suffering and if we could it would leave them poorer, I think. Without darkness we can’t appreciate the light.

What annoys me is the way that a certain lifestyle, a particular kind of career and family, a list of possessions, is peddled as the route to happiness. It is little wonder that people find themselves pushing their children along a path, jumping hurdles as they go, to reach these goals. If someone says that their child is a doctor/lawyer, lives in a big house, has a husband/wife and children and drives a flash car, then surely they should be the epitome of happiness? We all know that real life is not like that. But the fiction is strong. The role of the parent is too often presented as that of the over-eager personal trainer – shouting instructions from the side of the track as our children race for the prize. I hate that. I don’t want my children to treat life as a race – in any way. I don’t want to kid them that a set of qualifications, a particular job or a dream home will bring them ‘success’. They’ll have to find their own definitions. As a parent, I find this both terrifying (as I am pretty powerless in this process!) and liberating (I don’t have to be constantly pushing them on in the race). It’s a bit like I imagine hang-gliding to be – a leap of faith but hugely exhilarating.


'EF' x said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts here. Living in the moment is definitely the key to success in terms of being alive and knowing it.

Your grandmother sounds like a remarkable woman, I love hearing about her.

Gill said...

LOL, I often come to comment on blog posts and find EF has said exactly what I was thinking! So, again - what EF said ;-)

I wish I'd watched Lark Rise to Candleford, but I missed the first 2 or three episodes and thought it was probably too late to get into it then. I think we might get the DVD though, sometime.

Nic said...

Mere applause from me ;)

ruth said...

Ditto to what E.F and Gill said. I have met so many people who "have it all" who are miserable it was one of the reasson I questioned whether "having it all" is worth it:

Beyondmywildest. said...

It's always fascinated me that the people who seem most content and satisfied with life are the ones who have experienced darker times. It's like they appreciate what they've got now rather than worrying about what they haven't got yet.

peri said...

Thanks for such an interesting post.

I'm in total agreement with you - M and I decided from day one we never wanted a performing monkey instead of a child. J will and is able to find his own path and direction.

'EF' x said...

Gill: thats cos we tune.

Oh and ps, Allie, Dani, you are tagged, but also welcome to say 'Not thankyou very much, me no like tags'.