This weekend, a friend and I talked about how it feels to have a different lens to the world than our children do. This was after I loud mouthedly and bull headedly argued with my eldest child, reducing us both to tears, and making me question myself as a parent and a person, yet again. My friends comments made me really think about the differences that inform my adult children’s choices and beliefs, values and priorities. Here are those thoughts, for what they may be worth. Let me know in the comments if you have these challenges too!
I was a pretty typical late 70’s kid. We moved around a bit, and there were six of us kids, but my parents were together, my mum stayed at home, my grandparents took us to the RSA on weekends and gave us a raspberry lemonade and a bag of salt an vinegar chippies to keep us occupied while they sank a few. We went to Catholic schools, Church on Sundays and played netball, rugby or had a dance class. On holidays, we left the house in the morning and came back for lunch and then dinner, the rest of the time spent just playing with each other and kids from the neighbourhood. We rode bikes, built tree forts, read books in the sun, climbed trees. There were two TV channels, no other technology. Kids programming was limited to about five hours a day, and most of that was awful so we didn’t watch it, except for What Now on Saturday mornings.
We took peanut butter or jam sandwiches and an apple to school each day, after a breakfast of weetbix or porridge. For dinner we had meat and three veg, spag bol or mac and cheese, with fish and chips on Fridays. An annual treat was a movie and Macdonalds. We were responsible for keeping the house afloat once mum went back to work, each older sibling with a responsibility. Baby sitting younger kids was not a paid job, it was a social responsibility. Preparing dinner, doing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, floors and windows, washing clothes, folding nappies and walking pets were pre requisites to getting fed, being warm and having a nice life.
My years from 10-20 were different to many other peoples. Shortly after my grandad died, we became homeless for a while, our family split up and disseminated to the four corners of Auckland. The two oldest siblings in the homes of stable family friends to prevent disruption to their schooling, the three youngest kids (Which then included me) stayed first with Dad in a caravan; then when a heavily pregnant mum got out of hospital we moved into an emergency house with one room for us to live in, and joint communal areas for cooking, somewhat reminiscent of the very worst possible holiday camp.While there, we got some funny family stories: like the neon green spinach canneloni (I know it sounds like a time saver, but that mixture in a food processor does not compute).
There was the time that Josephine (one of the elderly residents) put her food onto cook, in the old fashioned way of putting a sealed tin of beans into a pot of water. Sadly, she was most likely suffering significant dementia (as do many of our older homeless) so she promptly forgot her meal and went to church. Eventually, the can of beans exploded mightily. Some time later that week the last members of the newly arrived refugees from a war torn country crawled out from behind the couches. they never completely stopped being scared of the kitchen, and the mad bombing old lady. We made sandwiches and soup to distribute to the street people (you know, the real homeless) and attended school with much struggle. We moved into that “shelter” on my tenth birthday.
We were lucky to have become homeless in the mid eighties. Luckier at least than those families encountering it today. Within six months we were settled in a state house, with a fence and a lawn and a good school around the corner. And a year or so later, we went back to my grandmothers home, renovated it some, and supported her till she passed when I was 15. My father held down his job throughout and even on just one income,we survived majorly intact. I got to learn a bit about the world around me, about social justice in its truest sense, and about what “social Welfare” really meant to people.
At 16, I had moved out of home. My grandmothers death was fresh, and grief does funny things to people. The combination of my funny things and my mothers meant that leaving was for the best. Also, it was what kids DID back then, when you wanted your independence. Rents were low. Food costs minimal. There was no broadband or Sky. So you took your piddly scraped together part time earnings and tried out the real world, generally with a group of similarly ill prepared friends.
Shortly thereafter, I was gifted a daughter. She was mine, and throughout her life, for good or ill, I parented her. Others helped or hindered, but I did the lions share. By 18 I was married, with number two on the way. By twenty, I was separated from my first husband. I worked four jobs at a time, fought a custody battle, met the love of my life and was diagnosed with a chronic illness which would limit me physically for life, all before I was 21. While doing those things, I also partied, lived in flats and shared homes, parented, trained my dogs, ran a household, went to church, volunteered in youth leadership, and worked (for no pay) for a short time as a beneficiaries advocate. At 21 I lost my Dad to a short but lethal and devastating battle with cancer.
My daughters had a different life. They grew up in blended families. (1st difference). They had two homes, two sets of parents, two sets of rules. They were never homeless, or close to homeless. They grew up with the internet (Big difference) and have had friends that they have remained in contact with throughout their lives. All their parents went to university in their lifetime. All their parents worked. They spent hours in after school care and entire holidays passed in a blur of holiday programs. Their grandparents worked too, and babysat only occasionally. Because of all those time limitations neither of them was ever in a sporting team, and they didn’t get to be in a dance class after they were about 7.
They never lived with all their siblings at once, never spent an entire day without supervision and while they helped out with chores it was helping out, not being solely responsible. They had 24 hour access to media and were the first to uptake social media for good or bad. They stayed at home into their 20s. They have both traveled overseas more than once, and both have spent time in other countries alone. They have friends they have never physically met. They discussed politics over the dinner table and their first periods were celebrated. They could talk to their parents about sex, love, bullies, friends, mistakes, lessons, beliefs. They have had different religious beliefs to their parents.
They had lunch boxes filled with foods they said they wanted to eat (wraps, boiled eggs, carrot sticks with hummous, filled rolls, sandwiches, chips, museli bars, fruit, you name it!) and were fed a wide range of foods for dinner. They got Thai, chinese, burgers, pizza, burritos, breakfast for dinner, indian or burger king for their take aways, and never on any specific night. Movies were at least a few times a year, but Macdonalds was banned (from the time they were about 7) due to the frequency people tried to give it “as a treat”. They owned cell phones, MP3 players, DVD players, laptops. They lived in a different world, even though they grew up on the same streets I did.
I do not recognise their lives at 20-22 years of age. I don’t know how to advise them, what to do to support them, where to draw the lines or when to cross them. Sometimes I make them really mad, by not getting it. Sometimes they appreciate me having their backs.
I do know, though, that just as my life held challenges that only I could find a way through, so do theirs. I know that every day they are exposed to more sadness, knowledge and moral and ethical decision points than I had encountered in my life to that point. I know that I am proud of them, and that they are going to find happiness in the small victories. And I know, without a doubt, that I did the best I could. So do all of us. One day, my daughters might have kids. Imagine how that world might look.
*** I have not talked about the boy here, because 1) he is not yet fully grown and 2) his experiences are different again to those of his sisters!