My siblings and I grew up being told by many around us what good parents we had and I guess we have always accepted that at face value.
I feel that we had a lovely childhood, growing up in the English countryside with lots of freedom and true independence, with a close extended family and a stay at home mother who was always there for us.
My parents clearly loved us, they met all our needs and made us feel secure and valued. They raised reasonably confident, happy, well adjusted children and we were/are a strong, happy family.
All was good.
This was clearly evident to others and not only did they comment, but in two cases they went further and declared that they had made our parents legal guardians of their children should any tragedy strike, as they so admired their parenting ability.
I do believe my parents instilled a lot of good into myself and my siblings, they led by example and displayed fantastic work ethic and drive, a great commitment to making the best of what they had (which was very little indeed for most of my childhood) and always seeing the positives in life and showing us that we could have goals and dreams regardless of our humble start in life.
I think I have an awful lot from my upbringing to be thankful for.
However, as I am sure with any family, what was seen on the outside did somewhat mask a darker reality and in our family the dark really could get very dark indeed.
As an adult looking back – and now as a parent myself – regardless of the happy memories that I truly value, I realise that in fact we went through some very difficult times, times that our parents failed to shield us children from. The constant struggle with money took its toll on the family and this was escalated by failed business attempts and subsequent regular visits from bailiffs threatening to take the little we had. In addition a business burning to the ground and being underinsured added to these financial woes.
Worse still though was the constant presence of alcohol and the issues that caused. I can see now that it played quite a big part in our family life, with my father already setting the patterns that eventually turned to alcoholism and with the family – and especially our mother – suffering the consequences of that.
There were many arguments around alcohol and the issues it raised between my parents, these increased as we got older and could get quite extreme in my teenage years. I can remember my mother very seriously threatening to leave and indeed storming out of the house on a number of occasions declaring that she would not return.
Then – worse of all – there was my fathers adultery and my mother having to face the realisation that she had no real options in life, that she was so financially at the mercy of my father that she was forced to accept what she saw as his ultimate betrayal, forced to accept the insult, the humiliation and the shame – resulting in two very serious attempts at suicide, all played out on the family stage and involving us children far too deeply.
I can see now that much of this had been secreted away in the back of my mind as I have simply focussed on all the good of my childhood, however it came flooding back into my reality during the adoption process when our social worker was interviewing us and of course now as a father myself I am forced to consider my upbringing from a different perspective.
Unlike myself my parents were young parents, they had three children with just 5 years between us, they were not well educated at all and living 4+ hours away from all of their family – I can now see how tough life must have been and how the pressure of this impacted on their relationship.
However, it’s tough to accept the self centred attitude my father had to life. I know that times were different, but the machismo code he lived by was shockingly selfish, no matter how poor we were he always had money for cigarettes and alcohol and to go to the pub – always – regardless of the extra pressure this put on our mother to make ends meet. I think the affair was just another sign of living his life for himself first regardless of the consequences on his family.
And ironically maybe that has helped me as a parent. I know that my farther lived his life in much the same way as his father, but my experiences have left me determined to break that patten.
I have never smoked, I drink very little, I don’t go out alone and the machismo bullshit is not remotely relevant to me and my life. Like anybody else I am sure I have my selfish moments, yet I am acutely aware of the need to consider others first and to be fully concious of how my actions affect those around me – especially my children.