I’m one of many parents who’ve bridled at the testing in schools. The recent Let Children be Children campaign had a critically important message. But I’d go one stage further and say that as a grown-ups we’re so bedevilled by societal pressures and expectations that we don’t fully function as people.
Perhaps that’s one reason the campaign has resonated so much. Sure we’re indignant that our children are having their childhoods dominated by the kind of homework and milestone-watching that we never had, but I think there’s a subtext to the resonance this campaign has had for many adults: that we miss being able to just be people, rather than automatons going through life desperately trying to live up to the next set of expectations.
There are expectations on us to do things in certain ways: to take our children to every club going for fear they’ll miss out. But we all have different children and most of the time mine prefer to just come home and potter and play: it’s an expectation I’ve struggled with but thankfully I’m finally ignoring it. There’s an expectation to have a career in a certain sense, or you’re not fulfilling yourself and you’re “only a mother” – I’ve never bought that but it did make me feel I had to justify every waking moment as soon as my children reached a certain age. There’s an expectation to have a perfect house (so, I either spend all my time cleaning or employ someone, which I can’t – or don’t choose to – afford. I have to make a choice and accept what that means.) It’s taken a while but finally I’m starting to accept that if someone comes over unannounced, I’m not going to not invite them in because it’s a mess – a friendship is more than bleach and dusters.
I often quote a wonderfully liberated friend. Soon after meeting her she invited us round for Sunday lunch. She made it very clear: she really wanted to see us and she thought it would be nice to get to know each other over a meal in her new home. However, she was really frantic at the moment, so we were to expect beans on toast. I just loved that moment! Better to have beans on toast with friends than a full roast because of some outdated sense of obligation. She wouldn’t have had us over if she felt bound to slave over the oven, because she just didn’t have the time. And of course, we had one of the loveliest meals ever.
Last night I was feeling exhausted. My daughter said she’d had the ubiquitous jacket potato at school for lunch. But hey….she didn’t mind having one again. I’d suddenly realised that in all the work I was doing that afternoon, I’d not thought about the kids’ tea…at all. It was fine. Both of them ate well. Not exactly a varied diet for the day but it was wholesome and they saw me rather than heard me cursing in the kitchen and telling them to get out while I fiddled around with steaming saucepans. We choose. We recognise we are people and we can generate and live by our own expectations not by the ideals we see exhibited by beloved Topsy and Tim’s Mum and not by the ideals we absorb from other people: they have their ideals and we have ours, because we are individual people with individual needs and perspectives.
We want to let our children be children because all too soon they will be juggling all the expectations we’re juggling. Let’s show them that we are more than other people’s expectations. Let’s show that we prize fulfilling our full potential as people. Tests won’t ever fulfil us and neither will trying to match other people’s expectations. In other words, baked beans with friends is better than a roast with frazzled host!