Monday, 29 September 2008
Musings on an unappreciated youth!
"Jung said the greatest burden for the child is the unlived life of the parent.'
A recent exchange on Facebook, with my children and a granddaughter, reminded me of how easily we forget our own youth as we get older. It is far too easy to brush our own mistakes and embarrassments under our mental carpet, and behave towards our young in a painfully superior and repressive way. When I left school I really had no idea what to do with myself, I had been at boarding school since the age of 8, and left at 18 - ten years of taking no real responsibility for myself, totally unprepared to stand on my own two feet! So, my school, with my mother's support, arranged for me to go as an 'au pair' to a family in France, where I would help care for 2 little girls, and attend classes in French. Suffice to say it all went pear-shaped, and I ended up being left with the children and no money, so I took a job where I didn't need to speak French - go-go dancing in one of the new 'discos'! The whole thing went more pear-shaped still, and I ended up returning to England early and traumatised, unable to even talk to my family about what had happened. No-one was to blame for this situation, but it left me even more insecure than before, and led to many years of depression and emotional fragility - to a very real extent, a largely 'unlived life'.
This insecurity, or shame at our own behaviour (which also applies, in spades, to me!) can lead us to being overly strict and protective with our children - there's nothing like one's own memories of disaster to raise awareness of what could happen to one's children, and want to prevent it. This course of action can become a big mistake - if we think a little further, we realise that what we went through as young people made us who we are today, and that it was often our mistakes that gave us most wisdom. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do whatever we can to prepare our children to cope with the nasty things that life will undoubtedly throw at them!
If we have the courage to be honest, first with ourselves, and then with our children, about our own past and the mistakes, delights and joys therein, we have something of value to offer. I wish I had realised this years ago, then I wouldn't need to make so many apologies to my children! My own refusal to face my own culpability in the very deep lows of my life cost my children, and my partners and friends, deeply, and there is no way to go back and change that - they have paid the price of my self-delusion, too.
I have led an eventful life, to say the least, including marriage to a transexual (well, that was his self-diagnosis, he was certainly a very disturbed and unhappy transvestite, at least) experiments with mind-altering substances (several legal and far from welcome) one night stands aplenty and marital rape, but I wouldn't say that I had truly lived my life to the full - I was always far too insecure to be able to throw myself into life with the abandon I would have liked. Today I watch skateboarders and rollerblading, snowboarding and breakdancing with a wistful regret that I missed out on such fun out of mere cowardice. Now, my body is paying me back for not taking care of it, not taking exercise, smoking etc, and I can only watch, and be so proud of my children who have gone on to do so many things that I never dared. I got a bare 5 'O'levels, and I have a daughter who teaches English to high flying executives and another who got a degree (despite reading difficulties), a son who is heading into management in one of the UK's biggest up-market stores and another daughter who has brought up children saddled with real physical difficulties to be young people who thrill me with their courage and intelligence.
I'm still an odd-ball, but I'm now able to take a pride in it, and accept my own part in creating who I am and how my life happened, and what's more, my children seem to be shrugging off the burden of my unlived life. Very few of us have the right to stand in judgement, we all have something like promiscuity, drugs, drink, or just plain stupidity somewhere in our past, it's unreasonable not to allow space for our young people to have similar idiocies in theirs!