My eldest son recently asked me for the best parenting advice I had. I told him to not overthink it. And when in doubt, do nothing.
Last week, my son asked me for what parenting advice I’d recommend. He chose not to take “don’t” for an answer, and instead prompted me to write this piece, which I realise I’ve been writing in one way or another for the last 30 years.
I come from a split family, and in turn, the family that I created was split. Both by design, and by mortal circumstance. This year, I’ve already turned 53, and while I never thought I’d ever be that age, thoughts invariably have turned to what I should have at this age.
I have riches in other aspects.
However, I’d like to add something to the conversation in regard to raising one’s kids. There’s no right way, and often, I’ve discovered that shoehorning your children into your assumptions of them pushes them further away from what you want.
So, I just let go.
My eldest son is the Editor of this publication, and while he was the first of the bloodline to gain a tertiary education, I made no real grand moment about it. That isn’t to say I wasn’t proud; I absolutely was, but from the youngest time, I’ve entrusted all three of my children the responsibility to figure out what they want to do. It didn’t matter what that was. It meant a lot to me, because I didn’t force him into anything. He went to uni, eventually falling into writing – that’s all him. We barely talk about it. He knows we can, but we don’t. That’s his part of life, and it should remain his.
This theory drips back to 1985, when I fell pregnant. Mathew was born when I was 21. I married his father soon beforehand. We were young, and in love, and making the ends meet seemed less important than what we felt, and what we created. We didn’t put restrictions on them, because, frankly, we were unsure what we were doing. Looking back, we were just kids, but given the opportunity, I’d do the same again. That union was not to last, and I made the choice to leave, for the good of the kids. Certain choices had to be made.
And that is what I’ve tried to give them. Freedom of choice. Nothing is forever, and I hope they’ve learned that. They’re free to make their own mistakes, as I have: leaving union, leaving employment, leaving housing; but I’ve done so for what I assumed to be the best reasons at those points in time. If that happened to be shifting from rental property to rental property, or commuting vast distances, we never had much of anything but we always made that enough.
We may not have holidayed, or ate out regularly, but as Mathew pointed out, the memories I forgot about are the most memorable. A prime example of this was tying fishing line to a handbag, and leaving it on the footpath outside our busy street, waiting for someone to pick it up and then reeling the goods back in the window. Apparently that happened in 1997. I entirely forgot about it; he did not, which makes me extremely proud of what we went through. Proud that he remembers the good times, because in retrospect, they were primarily bad. Short on rent, short on food, short on prospects. What evaded us for most of the new millennium was stability, however, the constant was us, and the thousand practical in-jokes lost to time. I’ve since remarried, and relocated, but my ethos has not changed in raising kids – do what you can for them, yes, but trust them enough to figure it out for themselves.