In the same way as I rejected my own parents’ suburban life, my children will reject mine as they find their own way
LAST YEAR, AS MY DAUGHTER entered transition year, she announced that she wanted to be a doctor. Great, we thought, imagining the years we’d enjoy of boasting at drinks’ parties. However, as the last doctor in my family was my grandad in World War II, and we are a house of nerdy creatives, her choice has been a bit of a mystery to us.
As she got some work experience at a hospital, returning daily with gleefully gory tales of operations and sundry medical emergencies, I found myself listening to her growing passion for the vocation with a touch of anxiety. It all seemed so foreign, so factual and more to the point, very difficult.
I could see the long years of graft ahead of her, her little head bent under a lamp as she swotted up on diagrams of the heart and chemical reactions; not to mention the life of a junior doctor, which seemed, from my extensive viewing of Grey’s Anatomy, like an elaborate form of torture. I wondered if she might consider something a little less… demanding? And what about the dreaded honours maths? We have a maths bypass in our house and anything beyond long division leaves us slightly scratching our heads, so the idea that my daughter might be able to climb this educational Everest seemed faintly outlandish.
I was politely, but firmly told to butt out. In fact, I was told, my ‘casual’ questioning about how chemistry was going was making her doubt herself. Crikey. And then it slowly began to dawn on me that, quite apart from the fact that I was unwittingly knocking her confidence, her choice might be formed precisely because of us. She is going to carve out her own identity, striking out to establish herself in a different way to her parents. All perfectly natural, of course. But in spite of what we might say about wanting our offspring to be independent and to follow their own destinies, when they actually do something about it, consternation is the result.
My own father loved sailing, but after all the years he spent taking us out on the water, one by one, we all rejected his passion, leaving him mystified and yes, a bit disappointed. My husband’s family are all golf nuts, but so far, their grandchildren have resisted the lure of the four-iron and putter.
My husband and I love nothing better than a conversation about books, but our son announced last year that he was going to study computing because he was ‘sick and tired’ of all the arty stuff.
I think the penny has finally dropped. In the same way as I rejected my own parents’ suburban life, casting it off for a new job in inner-city London, my children will reject mine as they find their own way. And sadly, I also have to face the fact that I am no longer Wonderwoman, central to my children’s lives, but as they become adults, someone actually not to be. I am a background figure: useful in an emergency, but otherwise a rather amusing sideshow.
Last year, my eldest took to posting ‘hilarious’ quotes from me to his friends on Snapchat, complete with many LOLs and animated devil’s horns sticking out of my head. Ouch.
But I’m beginning to understand that this is part of a process. My son’s Snapchatting isn’t an insult to the parent he once worshipped, but a natural part of the cycle, even if I find my sudden comedy status bemusing.
I also realise, from talking to my friends who are parents, that the journey from heroic Meryl Streep to hilarious Joan Rivers is one that we are all taking. They, too, find their values challenged, their assumptions, even identities, casually rejected. We all find ourselves flailing a bit at the new status quo, unsure of who we now are, but certain that life changes, whether we like it or not.
So, I will embrace my daughter’s dream and get with the programme, because, no matter what I think, or indeed how much I worry about the years ahead, this is her choice. It’s her life, not mine. And, no matter what choice she makes, in a few years’ time, I’ll watch her take her first steps into the adult world and I will be every bit the proud mother.