If only there were a manual for bring up the perfectly balanced child. Wouldn’t life be simpler? If only, we all sigh from time to time, parenting came with a manual. Not one of the ones you can buy written by people who never had their own child to care for, but one tailor made for you own child, your own pitfalls and failings. The perfect guide to not adding a layer of your own imperfections on to whatever bundle of stuff, emotions and quirks you created with egg and sperm.
Wouldn’t that make the best selling book of all time? However, there isn’t even enough for a good new fangled blog post about it. My, my stats would go through the roof if only I could. I wish.
As I watched these two beautiful, graceful, self assured and articulate young women leave the house last night, en route to the rugby club end of year dinner, I mused a little on what type of a family we are, on how our girls differ from who I was as an emerging young woman, on what elements of nature are different and what elements of nurture are different. Mused a bit on where I think we’ve done an okay job of parenting and what the positives of those things have been. I wouldn’t be so big headed as to call them tips but I think I’m happy enough to give myself a pat on the back for them. Parenting outside of the familiar, what you grew up with, is difficult. My childhood was very different, not worse necessarily, or inadequate but certainly different. Without the influence of my precious friends I don’t think I could have been the parent I am being. I’m indebted to the people who I’ve parented alongside and a little behind because most of what is now our way comes from them.
1. Dinner together. Since the girls were perhaps 5, we’ve sat down for lunch and dinner together every day we are at home. We never miss. It’s time where we talk as a community, as friends and as a family. It’s when we laugh and tease and reflect and chatter (and sometimes do multiplication). It’s probably the single most important part of our family life. Vital.
2. Communication. Talk, talk, talk all the time. Always be available to hear, listen, respond, educate, receive. Always be available. Always have time. Actually I feel like I’m crap at this as I’m always trying to fit in twenty five jobs and some me time and a run and the housework – but then I remember I have not been on my own for more than about 90 minutes at a time for 15 years and think that, well, no wonder
3. Trust. I don’t believe in false praise. I’m my kids biggest advocate (and I take that very seriously) and their biggest critic. I tell them when they are great and I’m relentless about telling them when something isn’t good enough or right. I want them to know I will always tell the truth, always be honest, always tell it like it is. I want them to know they can trust me in that. If your mum can’t say ‘that dress doesn’t work,’ who can?
4. Truth. There is a fine line between telling your kids the things that will worry them “we are running out of money, you might have to give up x,yz” and sharing the realities. We’ve never hidden anything from them, never shielded them from the difficult things. The girls know when the tough stuff happens. But we’ve also tried to do that sensitively, especially when about 6 really crap things happen at once. But we made it a rule that they can ALWAYS ask a question if they are worried and we will always tell them the truth. Even if that’s explaining what a 69 is to a ten year old because some teenager decided to tease them about it. Even if it’s that business is tough. Even if it’s ‘yes, we cremated your brother’. Sometimes truth is crying like your heart will break in front of them. Sometimes it’s saying ‘you hurt me when you did that’. I don’t think any child ever got emotionally battered by knowing they have a parent who has emotions. Learning the tough stuff – money, grief, worry – is family. Life.
5. Fight their battles. I got left to deal with my own school bully on my own. When I decided to home educate everyone said that kids ‘need to be bullied so they learn to cope with it’. I never learned to cope with being bullied by it happening relentlessly for 5 years. I think it comes with trust; I decided that my children would have me on their side, loudly on their side, until they learned to stand alone. It appears to have worked well enough as they all have a strong sense of self worth and their right to be treated decently and respectfully.
6. Community spirit. Our family has a different model to the one I grew up in. First and foremost we are a small community, friends. Everyone matters, we talk things through, the greater good has to be reached. Max and I pull rank as a pretty last resort really. Sometimes it has to happen, there are some things and times where one of us will say “this is the decision and we are making this choice because…” but mostly we’ve tried to build a way of being where the corners get rubbed off, everyone thinks of the others. I haven’t achieved getting them to think how leaving rubbish everywhere makes me feel or that just deciding to load the dishwasher is a good thing – but there is still time
7. Childhood. I’m not sure I did the home ed job I intended to do, but I’m sure as hell I gave my childhood a safe, joyful, contented, play-filled childhood – right up until grim reality came and snatched their innocence away from them. And I think a childhood is so vital; one filled with mess and mudpies and half naked paddling pool days and dolls and sisters to scrabble about with. And a long childhood; I don’t care at all that none of them are obsessed with clothes or make up or music or One Direction or having their ears pierced. They could do any of those things – I don’t ban anything much – but I’m so glad they’ve been in no rush to grow up.
8. Books. Audible – love it. Hundreds of hours of good literature pouring into their ears every bedtime. Reading to them, having books in the house, talking about books, sharing books. Magic. You can’t be a bad teenager if you know about Gwendolyn from Mallory Towers and Joey Bettany of the Chalet School.
9. Sport. Lots of people say it but if you fill a child’s life with hours and hours of sport and physical exercise, there appears to be less time for grumpiness. And if they adore them and they are things you pay for and drive them to, it’s an excellent way of reminding them of their half of the community and respect bargain at times
10. Screw up. I’m a terrible, non right on parent. I have been known to smack and I shout and I’m sarcastic and always busy and I say ‘in a minute’ and I get hormonal and depressed – and I cry and make them worried by being crabby when I cry. And I do have a terrible temper. I also know when to say ‘I’m sorry’. I think the moment when I learned that a good parent needs to know when to say ‘actually, I was the one in the wrong then’ was when I really grew up.
So there you have it. For my #10wks10yrs blog anniversary, a reflection on where I think we went right, learned along the way. Have you got anything you could add? What element of parenting is your best asset?