Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Small Pleasures, Life Plans and Being a Mum

I’m starting this morning with a steaming cup of cafe au lait. This is a huge treat for me as I am still trying to keep my caffeine intake down, although I have stopped being quite as strict with myself as I was earlier this year when I was consuming no caffeine at all. I really fancied a lovely cup of freshly brewed coffee with hot milk this morning, and the added benefit is that I can put the coffee grounds on the hosta plants I am desperately trying to grow in my garden. Last year they were completely devoured by slugs, but this year I found out that slugs hate coffee grounds. I’ve been putting them on the hostas whenever I make coffee and so far it seems to be helping. Although there are a few telltale bites out of the leaves here and there, the plants are actually growing. So there is a tip - put coffee grounds on and around your hostas to protect them from slugs. Actually, I must put the “hints and tips” page back up on the site - there is another one for the “to do” list!

Speaking of which, I’m still working on the schedule thing and my coffee this morning reminded me that it is important to factor in breaks and treats when formulating one. You can’t be working all the time - and that is something we housewives so often fall prey to. You need to take time out.

We are in the middle of exam season here in the 21st Century Household, which means a lot of pressure on my son - and more pressure on me than I had ever anticipated. Who knew how hard it would be to see him so stressed? Who knew how motivated you have to keep yourself to continue motivating someone under that much pressure? Almost everyone is telling him that if he doesn’t do well in these exams his life is ruined - and that he better have his life all planned out now or nothing he wants will ever come to be. What rubbish! Of course it would be much better if he could do well in these exams. There is no reason he should not, and if he does not it will only be because of the ridiculous amount of pressure being put on him. Young people are put under so much pressure these days, being told that they have to decide their whole lives right this minute. Nobody seems to remember that, actually, people do evolve over time, and you don’t have to have your whole life completely planned by age 16. Of course, you need to have a direction to set out in, but lives have a habit of evolving on their own. (And this is in no way a criticism of those young people who do know exactly what they want to do, be and have - although 16 seems a very young age to be making that kind of decision.) I personally know quite a few people who did not do very well on their exams who have gone on to be incredibly successful. Not to mention more famous examples including Winston Churchill, who apparently did poorly in school. Indeed, Churchill himself was quoted as saying, “My education was interrupted only by my schooling”. As for me, my life has been completely different (and so much better!) than anything I planned at 16. (I feel compelled to insert here that I worked very hard and did very well on my exams, graduating with honours, but still feel that had very little effect on the direction my life has taken.) Surely this is the case for some other people as well, although you would not know it from the career counsellors and advisors my son has met with. Although they have been incredibly helpful and very nice, they still maintain the plan needs to be in place now, and stuck to. Wow. Even at my age, I don’t consider I have a carved in stone plan. I have aspirations and a clear direction, but I have way too much experience to believe that carved in stone plans are even possible, let alone desirable.

So how to encourage someone to set goals and work towards them, without being constrained by them? It’s a tricky balance, because we all need goals - proceeding aimlessly through life is not something anyone should do as life is far too precious to be wasted. Yet if we constrain ourselves and pursue our goals in a narrow-minded fashion, it is very possible we will miss some incredible opportunities.

It’s times like these I realise there is so much more to being a mother than I ever anticipated. Equipping your child to fulfill their potential is a huge challenge and an incredibly important job. It is not about controlling or directing because it is their life, not yours. You can’t let your own ideas or aspirations for your child get in the way of theirs. You need to be there to inform, support and encourage, even if the direction they choose is not the one you would have chosen for them. Women have been doing this for centuries, shaping the destiny of the world (for good or bad) through how they support (or neglect) their children.

As for me, I think it is a huge responsibility and an incredible privilege. It’s the biggest ongoing learning experience I have ever had and one of the things in my life that has brought me the most challenges - along with an awful lot of joy. Oprah Winfrey is right when she says “being a mother is the hardest job on earth” but I also believe it is one of the best.

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