There’s an advert on TV at the moment in which parents identify their motivation to give up smoking. In one case, a dad looks at a baby boy and says he wants to see him score a goal. In another, a dad wants to “walk her up the aisle.” She is a little girl of about four years old – dressing up and looking at herself in the mirror. Every time I see it I want to scream at the TV.
“He might loathe football and bake a mean soufflé!”
“She might be into open relationships and ride a big motorbike across America!”
I think it is so unhelpful to us all, as we try to work out how to be parents, that it is implied that we should have these kinds of dreams. The way I see it, we’re just not entitled to dream our children’s futures for them. I have had many friends over the years who had to deal with a whole load of unnecessary guilt and pain because they chose lives that weren’t the ones that their parents had dreamed for them. Sometimes they spent years hiding themselves from their parents because to be open would have meant shattering their parents’ dreams. It is so unnecessary.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with playing football or getting married. But there are so many futures. If we dream of happy futures for our children then we cannot help but define them with reference to our own ideas of happiness. We cannot help but factor in what we think is fun or fulfilling. How can we know what they will feel? I am often surprised by my children’s choices, day to day, as I live with them. They change and grow and find new passions. If this is the case in the day to day, it seems insane to me to let myself dream of any future for them. Who is to say what they might want? I suppose I do allow myself the occasional moment when I wonder what it will be like to hug a grown man who was our baby. Or how it might be to see a woman from a train window, as we pull in at a station, and know that she was our little girl. But I don’t dream them up aisles, collecting certificates, owning houses or winning Nobel Prizes. I don’t dream them partners or babies. These will be their choices to make and all I am entitled to do is to keep loving them, no matter what they choose to do with their lives.
What I also dislike about that advert is that I think that it links the notion of responsible parent (who gives up smoking) with the kind of ‘good’ parent who ‘wants nice things’ for their child. It is clear that this is something parents should aspire to. All those ‘hopeless’ parents who don’t give up smoking clearly don’t care enough about their children’s happy futures, do they? Oh, I do dislike that scripted stuff. Good people want certain things and bad people don’t care. Hasn’t everyone figured out that life is rather more complicated than that? And, of course, because these people are ‘good’ they want nice, unchallenging and respectable futures for their children. He’ll play football and she’ll get married and all will be right with the world. It is so patronising. Will these be the rewards for doing the right thing? No, because there are no guarantees. All any of us can do is live our lives the best way we know how. The tomorrow we find ourselves living in will not be the one we expected. That’s about the only thing we can guarantee.