Insurance for your child’s future

IMG_1329.JPG

A few days ago whilst we were driving along the backroads of Phuket we saw these three boys in front of us. The oldest one who was riding the bike did not seem a day older than eleven, swigging Coke from a can whilst confidently navigating the roads like a seasoned rider.

“What a lovely way to grow up,” my children’s father commented. “When they are all grown up, they will have such happy memories of days like this.”

I have a different mindset. My immediate thought was about the tiny boy in front pitching forward and suffering catastrophic brain damage. I looked at my children’s father’s face. I could tell he was remembering his own childhood. He was the South East London version of these three boys. He and his mates would go off cycling deep into the Kent countryside from a very young age. They would go for miles. Once they decided to try to find Dartford Tunnel. They were gone for a long time and when darkness fell the police was called. The tired little boys were given a severe hiding by their mothers but no harm done, there was so much love. It was all part of growing up in a childhood couched with love.

Money and social status counted for nothing. There were no playdates, enrichment classes or tuition where my children’s father grew up. Sure, he could have done better at school and he could have done better socially if his parents were more educated, if they were more ambitious for their son or if they had more money to spare. But they did not and I am glad.

For he has grown up with beauty in his heart from his happy childhood days and has the simple ambition to create the same for our children. In my 48 years of having lived a rich and varied life, I have seen how important a good foundation is in building a happy and successful life. Though academic success is often hailed as the most important foundation of them all, look around you: how many people in successful careers are actually truly and deeply content with their exalted status quo compared with those with humbler lives? Do they actually live ‘better’ lives than those with less grand jobs, the teachers, the office workers, the carpenters, the shop assistants?

It is never worth sacrificing substance for form. It is my strong belief that a child has to have a strong foundation and that foundation is a happy childhood that they can always return to in their minds when the going gets tough, a safe refuge in the belief that there is a happier place always however dire the present is. I strongly believe that as parents, we should invest in building that place for our children. It is their insurance against bad days in their adult lives, far more so than a ticket to glory.

Here’s an analogy. This is one of the many stray dogs (called soi dogs in Thailand) who lives on the beach near my house. I see him almost every day. He is smart, sociable and healthy. The food vendors feed him well. There is a charity called The Soi Dog Foundation that takes care of strays. Someone put a collar on him but he belongs to no one, according to the food vendors. I thought of taking him home to keep as my pet. But I ask myself this, will this dog be happier in a ‘richer’ life than he is living free on the beach? A nice house means nothing. I once knew a person who said he couldn’t wait to leave home – and home for him was a big house in an affluent suburb.

This comes to my point: life cannot be measured in achievements or possessions but in happy moments that make up the story of our lives. To use the old adage, it is not the destination but the journey. It is how you lived the days of your life that matters.

IMG_0982 2.JPG

Your children, your legacy

If you are a parent, bringing your children up is your most important job, because how you bring them up is your legacy. They are a continuation of your love, your values and your way of life.

I was 17 when I first became a mother.  I did not do such a good job, but I am blessed in that I had a man with deep happiness in his soul to co-parent with me. We also had a lovely, close family who cobbled together to make it work in the most beautiful way (I think it is a combination of Welsh, Spanish and Cockney English that fostered this lovely philosophy of kindness rather than cold rigidity). I relaxed my unrealistic ideals about how children should behave, learned that love is the most important thing of all, and that everyday happiness is to be valued.

Almost 30 years later, I see the product of this philosophy.

My second son, Kit, is looking after my doggies for a few weeks, and he parents them up exactly the way that his father and I brought him, his brothers and sisters up. The doggies live in a relaxed household with Kit. He made a house for them in the shed, with rugs and a favourite couch, but the doggies chose to be indoors with him and his girlfriend. Instead of enforcing discipline, he moved them indoors without a second thought, because that was how his father and I brought him and his siblings up – they slept in our bed for the longest time, all happy sweaty bodies piled in together, never mind what we read in books about discipline and boundaries.

Kit takes the doggies everywhere with him. In the past week, they have been to Portland beach in Hampshire and later in the week, camping in Cornwall. He could have sent them to boarding kennels, which would have been simpler for him, as he will be on a camping trip with the boys. But his father and I, we took them everywhere with us too because we could not afford nannies and maids. We enjoyed their company anyway – they were fun kids, always full of life and resilient; they never sick, whiny or tired.

Our children were never perfectly behaved, they were not ideal kids by far, and but they were happy. We did our best to keep ugliness out of their lives, though mainstream thinking was that we must be tough to children to teach them how to cope with the tough ‘real’ world.

We chose a life of happiness and trust instead, accepting that life is imperfect and so long as we have 75% good, we are OK.

They have grown up into strong, nurturing adults. I think it is because their father and I gave them a stable childhood filled with love, and the latitude to be naughty rather than aiming for perfection. That little forgiveness and softness is so important, I find, because it teaches children to be forgiving and soft in adulthood.