Sunday, 23 November 2008


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.


Gill said...

I obviously don't watch enough TV - hadn't seen that ad. It does feel weird to hug my adult son, though, and to see my young-woman-daughter pulling in on a train! My feelings towards them - and, presumably theirs towards me - are always in flux. One minute they're helping me, the next I'm helping them.

But yes, the joy of parenting adults (if there is such a job! I think there is) is probably to be found in the surprises. Pretty much like parenting younger ones, then.

I agree with everything you've said, BTW. It's propaganda, isn't it? Brain washing. :-(

I sometimes wonder what would happen if it all stopped. Would the masses just shuffle around in bewildered circles, looking for someone to tell them how to think? Would other influences step into the breach, and assume the position automatically? Or would something different happen?

I veer between pessimism and optimism on this!

mamacrow said...


I think I get a bit irritating (no, really?!) because everytime Papacrow says something like 'oh, when they start bringing girlfriend's home' I say loudly 'OR BOYFRIENDS!'

He's also learnt to say 'IF THEY EVER GET MARRIED then I can dance embaressingly at the reception(or whatever)'. Because otherwise I'm right there pointing out that they may prefer to remain single, or live together with their partner without marridge, etc etc.

And what's wrong with the girl scoring a goal and the boy getting married?! I know I know, adverts try to drill it all down to the lowest denominator. feh.

there was one advert - for a car I think - i rather liked once, which was a pastiche of a girl (about 8) running into her room, grabbing stuff, and then the activity she was doing that day - so running in, getting footy boots and a shot of her goal keeping, then the next day running in, grabbing a fairy wand, then a shot of her and friends doing funky dancing round a toadstall.

apart from the 'too many activities!' objection, i loved the mix - THAT's what it's about. let them try it all out. let the boys cook and nurse dolls (if they want) also let them be action man and run solid for hours. let the girls play footy and climb trees, and also let them dress up and learn how to paint their nails. It's all good, they're just figuring out what they want, and how they want to fit into society I suppose.

I don't even wish for them to be happy and healthy anymore, I'd love 'em just as much if they developed a chronic illness or depression. I hope they reach fullfillment at some point, that they achieve/discover/fullfill whatever they're living to do, but that's just a maternal hangover in a way... wishing you could fix everything. It's their life, they're the ones that have to live it.

Allie said...

Hello, both. Thanks for your comments.

I like the idea of people wandering in bewildered circles, Gill. Round shopping centres perhaps?

And, Mamacrow, so agree with you on this:
"I don't even wish for them to be happy and healthy anymore, I'd love 'em just as much if they developed a chronic illness or depression."
It is hard not to want health and happiness for them but it can be a pressure on people to feign happiness. Better to stress that unconditional love, maybe, and just bask in the glow of their happiness when it is there.

mamacrow said...

It's something I began to realise, Allie, on about my 3rd or 4th pregnancy which is when people began to ask if I wanted a girl.

I'd reply that I would be happy either way, and then they'd agree and say 'after all, so long as they're happy and healthy...'

The more I heard it, the more I began to think - hang on a minute! I mean, I've always declined a lot of elective testing re Downs etc because I just don't want to get on the conveyer belt - some of the later tests are intrusive and potentially damaging and it wouldn't make a difference to my intention of carrying the pregnancy to term anyway.

So in the end I'd just reply 'oh, how ever they come is fine by me!'

as it is, we've never had to put our convictions to the test as yet, the worst problem we ever had was Wig having broncilitus at 6mnths.

And the happy thing.. I began to reaslise - and confirm it with reading around - that this is parental pressure. If they're happy, there's nothing you need to 'fix', they are therefore 'good'.

I don't like that, one little bit. any emotion is fine in our house - actually, here's a perfect example. I literally had to go into the bedroom just now, wig is in a FRUMP and starting to get a bit agressive. We talked about it and I finished 'it's FINE to be in a frump, it's NOT fine to hit people!'

that sums it up nicely I feel!

Dawny said...

too tired to write a lot but totally agree with you.

Anonymous said...

*standing ovation*

Allie, you are ace.

*dreams of Allie one day becoming famous writer and/or columnist*

Doh! Those dreams again!


EF x

Anonymous said...

ooer and just to be totally off subject but regarding walking down aisle...who's to say the child's nextfather or newfather or truefather (modern day 'step father') or mother wouldn't be doing the walking down the aisle if there was any walking down the aisle to be done.

Gawd it makes me puke the way men as 'fathers' like to preside over their daughters weddings like it all began with Him.

Actually, the most coolest aisle walking I ever heard of was when my dads third ex wife (his last wife) asked him to walk her down the aisle as she prepared to marry her next husband. That's more like it. But still along the lines of 'from one bloke to another, here, you have her, I am done, it's your turn on her now'.

grrrrr grrrrrrr, etc

EF x

Sharon said...

What a great post, and lovely comments too. Mamacrow, you said it well, we love our children no matter what. We can't put conditions on it.

I worry because my husband is very much of the mindset that success = a "good" job. He worries that I'm not ambitious enough for the children! I just want to support them as best I can in their endevours, expose them to many different interests and activities and let them see what they enjoy and thrive at.