For much of my childhood, my father spent his days watching sport, folding chocolate wrappers into origami animals and inventing things that had already been invented. This made life hard. Not walking-to-school-in-the-snow-with-no-shoes hard (the ceaseless lament of my mother’s generation), but financially precarious enough to mean that I had part-time jobs early on and scholarships for high school and university.
One such scholarship was from a wealthy elderly gentleman with a troubled heir to his fortune. I had entertained at his grandchildren’s birthday parties and tutored his eldest grandson in Maths, and so, he agreed to help partially fund my studies. I visited him every term, report card and well-considered thank you note in hand. I would wear something simple and conservative and take a small, thoughtful gift for his wife. My mom and I would drive into his lavish estate – all infinite, bedraggled gardens and white-gloved man-servants – and we would drink Earl Grey from Royal Albert teacups and talk about politics I knew very little about. He was very old, very rich and as cantankerous as he was kind. And he terrified me.
Our boys are unafraid of rich, cantankerous old men. They’re not really afraid of me either I suppose. Unless I really amp it up, their view is that I am their equal; a peer as opposed to an authority figure; as if there is this flat management structure in our home that I don’t recall authorizing. They negotiate where we would have just obeyed. They challenge where we would have conformed. They debate where we would have downed tools. They are from a generation that champions confidence and creativity, whereas ours’ revered hard work and humility. It’s different… and it’s rendered my household inconveniently democratic.
My children are growing up with orders of magnitude more than I did and it scares the crap out of me. They are well-travelled and privately educated and they turned left on a plane before they were out of nappies. And if I’m honest, I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid they will never know the thrill of experiencing a beautiful hotel or a new city or a fantastic flight, because they’ve already had it all. I’m afraid they’ll be lazy and entitled and selfish. I’m afraid that because they are part of the Instant Gratification Generation, they’ll either be drug addicts or at best, they won’t have the grit and the stamina to do the shitty work it takes to really make something of themselves.
And I’m afraid it will be our fault.
We are on a plane as I write this, returning from a family holiday. And my children were great. They were kind and well-mannered to the hotel staff, they wrote us thank you notes for the holiday, uncoaxed, and they made friends with all of the other miniature holiday-makers. Whilst I realize that my relentless nagging about respect, empathy, gratitude and hard work is no substitute for actual life experiences, I just have to hope and pray that somewhere, within the flat management structure that is our family, it’s sinking in.