Parenting is hard and my childhood was one of contrasts. During the first ten years, my parents were always working or fighting with each and we were left to our own devices most of the time. No birthday parties, family outings were very rare and I don’t remember any cuddles from my father, just clips around the head.
We lived above the café where they worked day and night, so they were never far, but always busy. My sister and I would get up to all sorts of mischief, such as putting paper in the electric fire until it burned and then we’d scream and drop it in the waste bin. In retrospect we could have burned the place down (funnily enough my son has a thing for fire!). We’d also watch unsuitable programs on the telly ‘til late at night, as there was no one to tell us off. Dr Who and the Daleks would scare us and we’d hide behind the sofa, but I used to love Monty Python even at that tender age.
The New Dad Was No Better
Then we got a new Dad who was a Victorian dictator. If we even sniffed out of place we were punished – 100 lines or the stick – whatever took his fancy. This time though, our mother wasn’t allowed to work and was around for us and we did things as a family, but we were children that were seen and not heard. We had to earn our way in life and love had a price.
For many years I didn’t want to be a parent, I was scared I’d be like them and make a mess of things. So when I did marry and become a mother I was determined to love my children, always be there for them and give them a better childhood than the one I’d had. It was easy to love them and I was happy to be home, making play dough, reading them stories, teaching them things. I didn’t mind sacrificing my career and going without things to spend time with them. Financially it was hard, but something we both felt strongly about.
Get Society Right
I truly believed, and still do, that if we get society right, by spending time with our children and teaching them good values, then so much of what is wrong in this life will be resolved or vastly reduced. So I did take a couple of things from my childhood – my parents’ hard work ethic and to earn your way in life – the rest I threw away. My kids didn’t have to earn my love, I gave them that in abundance no question, but they had to earn their pocket money. They also had to learn manners and respect, but it wasn’t at the detriment of their self-worth.
As they got older it was tough. When their friends were being handed cash to get out from under their parent’s feet, I was giving them boundaries and a curfew. When they were having sleepovers with no parents at home and young 14 year olds were getting sick drunk, I was saying ‘no you’re not going’. It was hard being the bad guy and then when I got divorced, I felt that I had really failed them. I’d not been able to give them the stable life I’d hoped for and I still carry that guilt today. Yet both my children feel they can talk to me about anything. My daughter and I natter like best friends and we are all very close.
The Best Compliment a Child Can Give
Most of us do the best we can – parenting is a constant learning curve and we are always beating ourselves up about our decisions. So when my son and I went to lunch one day (he was about 18) and he thanked me for bringing him up the way I had, I was amazed. He said he’d seen how many of his friends were wasting their lives, because their parents had let them do what they liked. You can’t get a better compliment than that and it made all my efforts and those years of agonizing whether I was doing the right thing, seem worthwhile. He did add though, that perhaps I could have let him off the odd quid that he owed now and again. Point taken!
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