I upset my mum with my last post on parenting. I didn’t even think. The post was written as a rant against a British Nanny’s take on the ills of modern parenting. But I confess I was possibly also influenced by having spent a few hours at my mum’s house, feeling like she was criticising me because my kids backchat a lot.
I can’t blame her, they do.
But I shouldn’t get cross and I certainly wouldn’t want to upset her just because we have different views on parenting. Just because we don’t see eye to eye on one little thing doesn’t mean I don’t love her and would certainly never say something to hurt her. I owe her too much for that.
Yes there were elements of my childhood that weren’t great. My dad had about as much patience for parenting as I have, but without my self-awareness and support network. He raged, he occasionally hit, he hated mess and lateness and noise, and I grew up terrified of him. But I still loved him. And I wish he’d lived long enough for me to tell him that I yell just as loud at my kids.
And yes my parents went down the pub and my sister and I sat with our coke and crisps, but I can’t recall ever minding. In fact I am certain we got up to all sorts of high jinx while our parents were otherwise occupied. We were very good at entertaining ourselves writing notes to strangers through the window on long car journeys or finding things to climb on.
In many ways I had a great childhood, full of freedom and adventure. I spent my formative years in a housing estate in Sussex, with a garden that backed onto fields. I ran in a pack of kids, climbed trees and played in the tree houses Dad built behind our back fence. I practiced gymnastics on the beam he built and played on the stilts he made.
I went to fancy dress competitions in the incredible costumes my mother made with hours of endless patience and much tissue paper. I remember my mum was always baking – mostly raisin fairy cakes with icing on top. We got to lick out the food processor, even the super sharp blade, and we never cut our tongue. I remember putting on endless shows in the back garden for our parents and the German students who came to stay in the summer.
I remember going to the sweet shop and buying halfpenny sweets, and going for cycle rides all together at the weekends. I remember ‘spotting’ for dad when he was welding, watching for flames with a washing up liquid bottle full of water, ready to put out the fire. I remember helping him bleed brakes and accompanying him when he went to visit houses to collect cars.
I remember buying cream soda in a shop in a nearby village and my parents playing darts and whist and winning loads of prizes at the Christmas whist drives. I remember picnics on the beach and learning to swim in the icy cold sea. I remember the amusement arcades and holidays to Weymouth.
I remember going to France in our Comma camper van and learning to say, “un litre du lait, s’il vous plais” to the woman in the campsite shop, when offering an empty bottle, without having any idea what it meant.
Mum made the most amazing birthday cakes: pink princess castles and gymnastic medals. We had birthday parties at home, with sandwiches and cheese and pineapple on sticks. We went to fetes at the school and the summer fair at Wisborough Green and Mum would run in the Mummies race.
My memories of my parents fighting and my Dad’s rages are what motivate me to be a gentle, patient parent (even though, genetically, I’m fighting a losing battle.) My fears of speaking out to Dad are why I let my children talk back to me (up to a point) because I never want them to be afraid to speak. But my childhood wasn’t ‘inadequate’ and, on the whole, it wasn’t unhappy. I remember the stuff I don’t want to emulate, without focussing on the bits that were great.
So this is to set the record straight. And to say sorry.