The children, summer 1987
I always felt inadequate when raising my children. It was difficult to know what was the right thing to do in any given circumstance. Hard to know whether I was giving them the attention they deserved, showing enough interest in what they were doing, being fair in my discipline, patient enough, providing them what they needed (and often buying what other parents were buying their kids). All of that. There was no manual to refer to, no Google, back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, to search for advice. I felt as though I were making it all up as I went along and didn’t have much at all to offer them. This was compounded and confounded by my Christian faith at the time; I was not bringing them up in the way of the Lord. They resisted any attempts to get them to go to church, making Sunday mornings traumatic for everyone – the kids, my wife and me in a state that was as far removed from serenity and readiness to worship as it was possible to be by the time we arrived at church.
The occasional child expert who turned up TV or in a magazine, paid to give their unfounded opinions on child-rearing, would invariably say it was important for parents to spend Quality Time with their children. Another standard to fail to meet! Quality time. What was that? The experts were usually pretty vague about what it entailed. You just had to know what was quality and what was not and it seemed every other parent knew this this intuitively. I didn’t. Was it reading the bed time story without nodding off yourself? Enlisting the offspring in every activity group going? (How was this spending quality time with them yourself?) Playing with Sylvanian families with my adult mind switched off? Equipping them for life by passing on my limited skills? I never did discover the answer to these questions, though I did feel guilty, and a failure, when I couldn’t fully engage with the things that interested my kids.
Later, however I came to see that all of this talk of ‘quality time’ and bringing children up in the way of the Lord, together with the notion that there was a right way to bring up children that everyone else knew about, was, to put it mildly, a fiction. I recognised that all I had to give them was love and time. This didn’t seem like very much but in fact these were the very best things I could give my children. Not ‘quality’ time either, just ordinary time spent with them, without worrying about where this time might come on somebody else’s scale of worthiness. Just being with them, talking to them, encouraging them, enjoying the banality of any activity, because that is part of what love is: putting yourself out for others. It is also showing affection, being pleased to be with your children, telling them what they mean to you, building them up.
My kids are grown up now and tell me they had happy childhoods. They’re good people, with children of their own whom I’m privileged to love and spend time with.