One of the ways I think about our role as parents is that we are giving our children their childhood. Some of the other ways I think about my role as a parent is being bullied by people you can’t hit back, project managing Groundhog Day and working an 18 hour day with no weekends or holidays but I shall refrain from focussing on those, for your sake.
When any of us talk about our childhood, the memories that we can’t forget and have somehow made a curious impact on our lives and the stories we share to help others understand why we are the way we are, our parents and our family are always there.
Let’s start with an easy one – Christmas. As parents now we are excited about making Christmas wonderful for our children. We will debate on how long Father Christmas should be truth and we squabble over when is the right time to give out presents, because if you were my family it was first order of the day and it was everyman for himself, but if you were Gareth’s family it was after the Queen’s speech (that’s like forever!!!) and everyone gets to take their turn opening and sharing. Neither one is right or wrong (I would argue one is more fun) but we are passionate about our way because that’s the way it happened in our childhood.
Dinnertime. This happens seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year right up until the day you leave your mother’s house so it’s an important one. My mum cooked dinner, there was no discussion beforehand on what it was, we sat down at 6pm and ate together, you had to finish everything on your plate, there would be a three hour pause for the rest of us while mum finished her meal, then we would have fruit or yogurt before getting down. We had a sweety tin and after your meal you could choose six sweets from the tin. Then mum would wash up (in her own way that only when you were ready could you be trained in the art of wash, rinse and drain) and my step-dad would dry – no complaints from me, they get that special bonding time over the sink while I get to watch Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Channel Four.
But then there are the habits, legends, stories and holidays that also reflect what your childhood was like, that you share only with your family or friends who were there. Like the time my Mum and step-dad took their shared children to Italy and we did a day trip to Florence where Mum and Ken had a massive argument over navigating the route (to be fair Italian road systems want foreigners to get lost) and then for the rest of the day Mum wouldn’t speak to any of us unless it was to chastise us on how expensive the ice cream was we were eating or how long the queue was to get into the Cathedral. Or when Dad cooked me and my brother one of his first meals as a single dad on a holiday in Wales and the gravy was white jelly – we went out for food that night. Or the fact that everyday, I would come in from school and my mum would be there and I would literally off load my day of school on her, bad and good. I think Mum used to dread me coming in as she didn’t know what she would get, upset and angry or full of herself Claire but for me, my Mum was always there and she listened. And my Dad, he let me stay up late, eat trashy food, get sunburnt on holiday, stick my head out of the sunroof when he was driving 80mph and have my own horse – all the things a Dad should be able to do but generally can’t because your Mum is around to say no.
My childhood, like anyones, was a mix of bad and good, sad and joyful. My parents divorced when I was young, but the upside was I got two Christmasses every year. Whilst my parents were never there for me at the same time, they were always there for me. My Mum brought me up in the beautiful, innocent setting of Wensleydale for my teenage years and I will be eternally grateful for that, what a gift. Even today the dentist said to me I had good teeth because the water in the area I grew up was hard and full of limestone, thank you Mum. I can multiply things pretty fast in my head because my Dad would get me to do my times tables over and over again, thank you Dad. I travelled all over the world from age six onwards, because my parents spent money on expensive holidays – I am privileged.
My childhood was given to me by my parents. OK I had choices, like who I was friends with but my parents chose where I lived and what school I went to so they essentially chose the groups of people I could pick my friends from. I may not have agreed with their decisions and choices but I appreciated their values and ideals. My childhood was not perfect and there were mistakes but there was thought, there was hope, there was love and I am who I am because of the childhood I was given.
I think my parents did a good job all in all, and now it’s my turn to give two people their childhoods. Which feels daunting and actually quite releasing because I don’t think it’s about getting it right all the time. Some of the painful things in my childhood have made me a better person. I have a lot of respect for my parents not because they always got it right, but because they were honest when they got it wrong. What feels hard as a child, when you look back as an adult, you see weren’t so bad and in fact made memories you hold fondly.
I want the best childhood for my children and everyday I consider what they will remember as important and precious, that came from parents who never gave up doing their best for the people they loved the most in the world.