Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mother's Day?

Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday, and in church I shall probably be given a flower, perhaps a daffodil, as will all the women there, by one of the children. I find this charming, but also noteworthy that the women who are not mothers (there must be some) receive flowers, without discrimination. This is presumably intended to protect non-mothers from feeling discriminated against, which in some ways they are. In others of course they have many advantages, not least financial - nobody ever got rich having children, and today perhaps more than ever it is mothers who put their careers on hold, often for ever, rendering themselves dependent on a man for their lifestyle. Childless women I know and have kmown seem to live quite enviable lives, and certainly have freedom of choice that those with children do not.

In some ways I live the life of a childless woman now. I had my two children young, so that in my twenties, when my friends were travelling and doing as they chose (or so it seemed to me at the time), I was going to work by day and washing nappies by night (or so it seemed to me at the time). But having them young (of which I am now deeply glad) means that now, as I approach my 60th birthday, my children are in their thirties, long since financially independent of me, and I have two grandchildren who are the light of my life. I am still working, and likely not to retire for the best part of another ten years, when my grandchildren will be in their teens or approaching them. So I am never likely to be Matriarch Granny. I am in the fifteenth year of marriage to my partner, who is not the father of my children, and who has no children of his own. So we have been able to spend such money as we have as we choose. One of the things we have chosen is to live in a modest two-bedroomed flat - why pay for a house that is just rooms to clean? The childless life is good. But that's not how I saw things in my twenties.

Some childless women feel that they are unfairly asked to account for their choice not to have children. Maybe so. If that is so, then things have changed. I had an aunt who had no children - I thought she was great - and I don't think it was by choice, but it would have been impertinent to ask her that question.

Something that has changed is the involvement of parents in the lives of their children. I walked to school and back on my own at five. I walked my children to school and back, or someone did, until they were nine or ten, giving them the top end of primary school to develop the independence they would need for the solo journey to and from secondary school. That was the idea anyway. I never shared any school issues I may have had with my parents. They wouldn't have been interested. If I had a bad report they blamed me, not the school. My children didn't share much of that with me either, but I involved myself quite a bit - and I was ready to blame the school, some of the time, if things were not going well. Now, with my grandchildren, we'll see.

Because I had children younger than my contemporaries did, I have friends my age who have teenagers. I am regularly amazed at how much their children involve them in their lives, daughters especially. It seems routine for a daughter to text or call her mother to seek advice on any decision, from a a haircut to a job interview. My daughter grew up before mobile phones, but I don't think she would have done it anyway. Both my children talk to me regularly, and tell me about what is happenng in their lives - but they inform me after the event, once a decision has been made. Will today's teenagers still text their mothers when they are in their thirties and not sure what to have for dinner?  I don't say this to be judgmental, just to note a social change.

The lack of involvement of adults in their children's lives I grew up with has its downside. A male teacher at my school was what we called "a bit funny" about the girls. He liked us when we were twelve and thirteen, which in those days was before we started to look like young women. We joked that he could tell when we'd started our periods, because then he stopped leaning over us in class and breathing funny. (Girls often started later back then than they do now). We would not have dreamed of reporting him, although some of the behaviour was really quite inappropriate - we'd have been sure we wouldn't be believed. But that man (he's dead now, allegedly by suicide) was not a fit and proper person to be around young girls. And when I think back, one of the girls he made a particular favourite of, which went on long past the age at which he usually stopped, later developed anorexia and other mental health problems and was given electric shock treatment (they wouldn't do it now, but this was in 1971, not that long ago). I met her a few years later, and she was a dull creature who dragged her feet and spoke too slowly, all the spark and liveliness gone. If I had got wind of anything remotely like that at my children's school, higher authorities would have been called in pdq. But it's quite likely that there was at least one teacher there who was "a bit funny" - but they were probably more circumspect about their behaviour, because people were watching.

And now?

No comments: