Sitting at the Chinese buffet restaurant with my 14-year-old daughter, I am filled with pride (and if I’m honest, a little bit of self-congratulatory smugness). She’s just been presented with two awards at school for outstanding achievement (English and art). Whilst I’m all too aware of this country’s penchant for celebrating mediocrity, as well as parents’ tendencies to bore-on about their wonderful offspring, I do feel that these awards were a little bit special… hence the ‘celebratory’ overindulgence on salt and MSG at the Chinese buffet (her choice).
So whilst I’m sat there, patting myself on the back for having this parenting business sussed, my daughter drops a bomb on me.
“I don’t think I will ever have children… “says she. “…I mean they just hold you back. I look at your life and think how much better it would be if you didn’t have me.”
WOW! This floored me. The implication that my life is rubbish, aside, how can it be that I have painstakingly taken the time to ensure that I have let this child know how awesome/valued/wanted/cherished she is, yet her perception is still this?
I think back to the conversations I’ve engineered and the opportunities I have taken to ensure that this girl becomes a well-rounded, empowered young woman, with a belief that there are no limits to what she can achieve. The barriers I’ve overcome to attain a level of professional success in order to be a positive role model. In the end, did any of that make a difference if she believes herself to be burdensome – a barrier to my success and happiness?
I then started to wonder if parenting is the most futile endeavor there is. Does it even matter that we turn up to parents’ evenings and dance recitals? Is there any point in constantly highlighting how important hard work, self-motivation, high aspirations and education are?
I mean, I had none of these things growing up. It’s probably fair to say I had the exact opposite: a complete disinterest and disengagement in my education; non-existent aspirations; no expectations beyond getting a crappy job, having a baby and living on the same estate that many of my previous generations had. I (eventually) did alright (relatively). Furthermore, I never looked at my mum and thought ‘she could have done so much more without me’. Maybe that’s more indicative of my complete ignorance that there even was anything beyond my immediate experience – how could I have even been aware of what possibilities my mother had missed out on? Nobody ever told me there was any more than this.
Perhaps that’s it then? Was it that all of these years I have spent opening my daughter’s eyes to what could await her if she dares to dream big enough and work hard enough, that have led her to look at my life and see it lacking? Does it only naturally follow that if I am constantly showing her what is possible, that she would look at my life and come to the conclusion that she is the reason I haven’t achieved all of the things I encourage her to aspire to?
The truth is, as I explained to her, that the exact opposite of her assertion is true. SHE was that motivation and inspiration that pushed me to be the first person in my family to ever go to university. Until I had her at 20-years-old, I flitted from job to job, not fulfilling my (not insignificant) potential. It was only when I had her that the realization hit me that this cycle had to stop. For her I dreamt bigger.
For her this life I lived in, this council estate I inhabited with its inherent culture of zero aspirations, was not enough. She would be strong and glorious and intelligent and independent, and I would spend my life making sure she knew that nothing was out of her reach.
So is making conscious efforts to give your child untethered aspirations worthwhile? The question is ludicrous.
Someone told me recently ‘When you’re raising a superhero, you have to show them how to protect themselves against their kryptonite’. I just wasn’t aware that her own self-deprecating nature (learnt from me – that’s another blog post altogether) was her kryptonite.
For me, I will continue to encourage and inspire her to fly, as high as she possibly can. But I will be so much more mindful that in the quest to help her fly, I have not unconsciously tethered her to the ground with invisible thread.
As I sit here now, my kidneys aching trying to address the damage of the Chinese buffet, I am feeling just as proud but rather more enlightened and staggeringly less smug.
But then who really does have parenting sussed?