Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Closing the gaps

We always try to give our kids the things we didn’t have.

For some time it has struck me that the aim of parenting as far as my friends are concerned, is to give their children the things in which they feel their own childhood was lacking.

My friend was the second eldest, the dependable one, of four children. Her family was not wealthy, often struggling financially during her formative years. Looking back, it’s the ‘stuff’ that sticks out most in her mind. The new clothes which she didn’t have, the shiny car her parents didn’t drive.

When she had her own daughter, she became a single parent. After living on a tiny budget for two years, she began paid employment. At the time, despite her intelligence, she was young and not well qualified. She didn’t have the pick of the job centre but set her mind that her daughter was going to have the things she missed during her own childhood.

That was eight years ago, and her daughter is no spoilt princess, but she has lovely clothes, shiny, hi-tech toys. Her mum drives a shiny car which is updated yearly and she lives in a comfortable home. For this, my friend holds down three jobs.

The one thing her daughter doesn’t have is time.

My childhood, on the other hand, was a world apart from hers. Both my parents had full time careers, which ate into time at home as well as during the working day. We lived in a big house with a large and intriguing garden in which I was largely unsupervised. My grandmother lived with us and I was rarely entirely alone but most of the time neither of my parents were around.

I had everything most children would want. My bedroom housed ever expanding libraries of books and toys and I kept up expensive hobbies without worrying that the money wouldn’t be there to pay for them. My parents had new cars every year and I went to a private school.

The one thing I didn’t have was their time. From the age of 7 months I was farmed out to a
childminder and put into school early.

And now I have two children of my own: one large, one small. I am a single parent living on a tiny income, trying to find ways to squeeze some earning around my daughter’s waking patterns. We have very little in material terms. A few of the nicer things we have were left from my separation and are getting tatty. The possibility of replacing them is always just out of sight.

This is the only job I have and I take it just as seriously as any other. I do my best to give my children my time and my presence. Maybe they’ll grow up and work non stop to provide their kids with everything they could desire, but to my mind, parental time is missing from so many children’s lives that without it, the stable childhood that is needed for people to grow into stable adults is disappearing fast.

At once I have the same and opposite view to my friend. We’re both trying to fill the gaps from our own childhoods, but they are different gaps and so the method of filling them remains individual.

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