These days I feel grateful that my children are all raised and grown. Not only because of the 24/7 responsibility and often boring drudgery of child-rearing, but also because I would find it more difficult today to find a balance between encouraging their independence and ensuring their safety. The internet wilderness is scary place to let children roam, and the increased traffic on the roads make real world roaming more dangerous than it was twenty-five years ago. And then there’s the madness in the world…
I often joke that parents have only two real duties to their children: feeding them and keeping them safe. The rest is just leading by example. I moved to West Cork for many reasons, but my four daughters (then aged between 12-years-old and one-year-old) were the factor that tipped the decision. I wanted my children to be able to roam, to wander across fields, to be able to keep pets, and to have the type of childhood that was becoming increasingly difficult in an urban environment. It was perhaps a rather rose-tinted, Enid Blyton bucolic vision. However, moving to a small rural village pretty much delivered on that front. Nothing delighted me more than to see my little girls walk to the national school on their own. Moving to West Cork meant throwing a rope around a pony and barrelling around the front field, climbing really tall trees, getting on a bus at 13-years-old to go to Cork with friends for the afternoon, and having your own tent at 15. My girls grew up to be strong, brave, independent women who appreciate the natural world and have little time for aspirational materialism. They also grew up with a deep sense of social justice and inclusion; a respect for human rights along with more ‘old fashioned’ values such as respecting your elders, compassion for disabilities, and a personal engagement with charities and communities. That’s where the leading by example comes in…not just by parents, but by the world around them.
A healthy respect for authority and institutions is essential to not only to ensure that our children become good citizens, but also to give them a sense of security in the world. We all grow up to realise that not everything is rosy, that institutions and individuals are flawed, but that we must strive to make them better – that our institutions are worth it. In the immortal words of George Michael (RIP): ‘You’ve gotta have faith’.
Which is why I pity poor parents this year. As a committed European, I was totally floored by Brexit. Not only does it threaten the vision of a peaceful Europe that I grew up with, the language used to sell Brexit has been appalling and getting worse every day. Just this week we reached the jingoistic heights of threatening war with Spain over Gilbraltar! Across the pond, an orange clown has been filling the air with the type of speech and manners that would have immediately been reprimanded in any child. How do you explain this dangerous buffoon to your children? How do you teach them not to mock others, to respect women, to not cheat and lie, when every day brings another example of crude behaviour that would get a nine-year-old sent to his room to “think about what you just said”?
And now this: one million breath tests that were “recorded but never happened”; in my value system that amounts to cheating on a grandiose scale that no parent can explain away without creating disdain either for authority, or for the truth. How can you lead by example when those who should be at the front of the integrity line use convoluted language such as “falsification” and “bad practice” to describe what is patently wrong?
Sunday we went out to Inchydoney to help make giant sand circles as part of the Life Long Learning festival. The sky was immense and bright blue. The breeze was salty and soft. Children and dogs ran around us, free and secure. All around us the landscape was blooming. Spring is here and summer is on the way. I watched parents and kids revel in the day, the fun, the sense of purpose, the satisfaction of the wonderful and transient Art we they had created and I hoped that they were finding their way in the moral morass that is parenting in 2017. Like I said: You’ve gotta have faith.