I generally don’t find writing prompts all that inspiring. None had persuaded me to put my fingers to a keyboard for some considerable time until an email crash-landed in my inbox that I simply couldn’t ignore. The email in question came from the Good Men Project and has had my mind in a whirl ever since.
The email was challenging me to write something about my own father and whether I had made a conscious decision to be a different dad to him. This, I felt, would be an interesting subject to tackle.
I didn’t, however, want to look at whether I had made a conscious decision to be different to my dad. That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I lived with a stepfather from a young age.
Had I made a conscious decision to be different to my own parents? This is a question I was inspired to answer.
My initial reaction was to think: “Yuh huh, like massively different.” Having slept on it, I’m not so sure.
There’s no question about it, I am a very different parent to the previous generation. I am much more hands-on and dedicate more time to my kids than was ever spent on me as a youngster.
Then again, I was the oldest of three brothers. They came along very quickly when I was almost 10 years old and my mother simply had to dedicate her time to them.
Added to this, my kids have me as their main carer. Having a dad as the main carer is a novelty in the 21st century. If we go back to the 1980s and 1990s, when I was young, it was unheard of.
Schooling is a further big difference. My mother and her brothers and sisters, my stepfather and my brothers all went to boarding school.
In my mother’s case, she attended boarding school from the age of five. I look at my five-year-old daughter Izzy and I just can’t imagine sending her to boarding school. It would be such a massive emotional hurdle to cross and yet in those days, it wasn’t such an odd thing to do.
For reasons that are far too complicated to go into, I was never sent to boarding school. As I have got older, I have come to appreciate this does mean I have a slightly different mentality to the rest of my family and this has an impact on who I am and how I parent.
There’s also something of a town / country divide. I grew up in a gloriously rural location and I disappeared off on my bike for hours at a time. The back door of the house was opened up and I was told to go off and play and play I did, totally unsupervised.
Living on the fringes of London, my kids have never known this freedom. I simply can’t give it to them because of the horrendous traffic.
Although it’s not in my nature to restrict the Helen and Izzy’s freedom like this, I simply have to. I speak to other parents of a similar age and we all say the same thing. We’d love to just let the kids play in the streets but we worry about the traffic.
Back to the question that prompted all of this. Am I consciously a different parent to my own mother and father?
Yes, I am. I can think of various ways that my approach differs to the way I was raised such as attitudes to authority and so on. My parents, for instance, would never have questioned a school teacher’s authority. It probably says more about my awkward character than anything else, but I have no issue with speaking to a teacher if I have a concern over something.
Circumstance, however, is a much bigger influence that I ever appreciated. Where my kids live compared to where I grew up, the school system my parents were educated in compared to the school system I was educated in, the fact Mrs Adams and I only have two kids whereas we were raised in families with three siblings, these all have a massive impact on how my kids are raised.
Added to this, feminism has worked its magic. My wife is free to work and provide for the family, thereby freeing me up to be Helen and Izzy’s main carer. That has probably had the biggest impact of all on how I parent.
I consciously try to take the best of my parents and pass that on to my kids. There are, naturally, elements of my upbringing I didn’t want to emulate with my offspring but I have to concede circumstance has been a bigger influence on how I parent than I thought.
What do you think? Do you consciously try and parent your children differently compared to your own upbringing? Maybe you think your own parents had things sewn up and you try and emulate them? Please do leave a comment below or leave me a comment on social media.