What we know now: Reflections about parenting

Edited by Lizzie Chase

Editor’s note As a parent of three young adults, I was interested to hear from other parents, “aunties”, “uncles” or godparents of adults in their 20s about the warm memories they take pride in. I wanted to hear about the wisdom these people have only gained with hindsight. I also hoped to hear about people’s wishes for their adult children’s lives and about the future relationship they would like to have with their adult children. Most of the reflections in this short book are written by Australians and it is my hope that I can update the book with reflections by people from other countries and with different experiences. Invitation to writers Please email me at lizziechase@hotmail.com if you are interested in contributing to the book or its accompanying blog at http://parentsreflect.webnode.com. Photographs Thank you to Bob Clancy for providing the cover photograph for this book. Dedications This book is dedicated to Jonathan Powell and Tim Crew – we miss you so much. Lizzie Chase 2012

Bob Clancy’s story
You’ve heard of the idea that generations do a flip-flop, conservative/liberal, strict/loose…. very true between my father and me, but not between me and my son. We have one son, Trevor, now 26, and live in New Mexico, USA. He’s pretty much of a free spirit, and is into motorcycles, camping, backcountry snowboarding, and photography. Through his own volition (and with a little help from friends) he’s travelled to Romania, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Ireland. He lives about 35 miles away, and we see each other fairly often. I’ve had a highly varied and somewhat rebellious life, and am currently making web sites for a living. I’m now 63. My father was raised in a large family and his father died when Dad was just a kid, so the family went through some hard times in the Depression (though I never heard any details, but wish I had). He went into WWII, and when he got home, he worked his butt off to provide for his family, and did well. We were never rich, but always had plenty enough. I went to Catholic school, because they thought my sister and I would get a good education there (true), more than because we were real Catholics. My Mom was a teacher, a very good teacher in all ways, very smart, tolerant and reasonable. I could talk with my Mom. My Dad was very authoritarian and dogmatic. No way could I confide in him or seek advice. Because of that, I did a 180 and tried very hard to be someone that my son could turn to when he needed. Though I felt very dominated and oppressed, my folks did let me do stuff that amazes me to this day, especially in our current paranoid society. My best buddy lived on a farm, and in grade school (12-14 years old), I learned to drive a tractor and helped out. My Dad taught me to shoot, so my buddy and I spent lots of time out in the woods slaying cans and bottles. How often does that happen nowadays? This is an attitude that I tried to carry over into my own parenting. Teach a kid right, and trust them. What would I like to have learned as a young person, but didn’t? Basic financial skills. I was taught nothing. As a result, I later got ripped off badly, and learned the hard way. Nowadays, you can add advertising, media, and a whole bunch of other stuff to that. It’s for their selfprotection. These are things they’ll have to deal with, and they can either understand them and know what’s going on, or be a victim. So… what are my thoughts now that I am a parent? Did I go into parenthood with a plan or have much of an idea of what to do? Nope. I went into it with what felt right. My biggest piece of advice is that it’s all one world. There’s not an ‘adult world’ and another ‘kid’s world’. Adults and kids are different, sure, but it’s the same world. Take them with you. If they show an interest in something you’re doing, invite them in. Engage them in the whole world from the start. They can handle it.

What’s on the underside of an old VW bus (where Dad spends lots of time)? A first glimpse of mechanical stuff. Camping? Four-year-olds do well in a sleeping bag. I, family friend Tom, and Trev will always remember us three guys sitting around a juniper fire in the Gila, watching the sun go down about 40 miles from nowhere. Hearing the coyotes. Feeling quite at home. If a thunderstorm is coming in, take them out! Watch the clouds roll in and feel the storm. Go in only when you really have to. When they’re young, read to them. That not only exercises their imaginations, but it creates a bond, and times remembered. It also gives them an opportunity to ask questions. Answer their questions as well as you are able, and be honest about it. Encourage their curiosity, and be curious yourself. Show wonder at the natural world, and enjoy it with them. I can’t overemphasize the importance of introducing a child to nature. Especially in these times, when the majority of people live in urban areas, an understanding of nature and man’s place in it is extremely important, not just for the child, but for everyone on Mother Earth. One thing I had to deal with as a parent was physical danger. Some kids won’t pose big problems for their parents in this regard, some will. I did when I was a kid, and Trevor did too. Some universal things are just stupid-dangerous, like driving drunk (and some others I won’t mention). Don’t just authoritatively forbid them, or say they’re simply against God‘s law and let it go at that. Explain WHY they are stupid, and what the possible results of their risk-taking might be. Most importantly, have the kind of relationship where they might just take your words to heart, or at least a few of the most important ones. A second category of ‘dangerous’ is things that look like they are but really aren’t, if done right. In my case, I was strictly forbidden to even think about motorcycles. When I left home (in a big hostile blowup) the first thing I did was buy a bike, even though that took most of what little money I had. I had no training, but I can’t help but think that having been trusted with tractors and guns and having been taught how to be safe saw me through the learning phase. I’ve been riding ever since; my Dad’s forbidding any association with motorcycles didn’t do a whit of good. I didn’t encourage Trevor to ride, no “put-them-on-a-bike-as-soon-as-possible” stuff. I figured he’d want a motorized bike sooner or later, but if he didn’t, fine. I wanted him to be a regular kid and get some exercise and ride a bicycle first. When he did want one, we got him a beginner’s fun bike and safety gear, but didn’t push him into Little-League-type competition. Later, we raced motocross (which I used to do in my younger days) for a year, because he really wanted to. At the end of the year, we quit and started riding observed trials. Motocross was simply too competitive, unfriendly, and not-fun, and Trev saw that. Trials is a very laid-back, extraordinarily friendly scene, and he’s enjoyed it ever since. He was state champion a couple years ago, and has competed nationally (which resulted in a lot of great father-son road trips).

Was the motocross year ‘wasted’? Not at all. It was fun, but most importantly it let Trev see it for himself, and find a better direction. If I’d have forbidden motocross, and steered him into trials right off the bat, he no doubt would have always thought that motocross was soooo cool, but his Dad prevented him from tasting those fruits. I always encouraged him in trials, but never pushed, and it stayed fun for both of us. I didn’t care if he won or not. He’s always been enthusiastic about his riding, and learned when to push his abilities and when not, and when to ask for help in the form of a safety ‘spotter’, no pride lost . I was very lucky to be able to leave a lot of the judgment calls to him and be there when he needed me, and fade away when he didn’t. (Fading away at the proper times is important, but I admit I did just so-so at that). Don’t lay your expectations on the kid. My Dad came out of The War working hard to pick up the pieces and make a good life for his family. He assumed I too would have that nose-to-thegrindstone attitude. He said I should get a good-paying job, doctor, lawyer, or such, even if I didn’t like it. Then I could do what I really wanted to do (which was be a biologist) on the side, or after I retired. As a kid, I got very mixed messages… I did very well in school academically, and he said I was smart and had the ability to do anything I wanted, but when I wanted to be an oceanographer, I was told (in words I can’t print here) that I could in no way, shape or form be anything like my hero, Jacques Cousteau. And biologists didn’t make enough money anyway. Being quite dominated, I went to college in a compromise major I was quite lukewarm about (Civil Engineering). I dropped out, dropped back in, changed majors (6 times), went to school only a quarter or so per year, worked mostly for the Forest Service on fire crews, and had more grunt jobs than I can count. After 23 years (and a wife and Trev) I earned a Mechanical Engineering degree and ended up doing mostly computer system work. Bounce, bounce, bounce, taking whatever came next. Only in the last couple years have I gotten work in a ‘professional career’ doing something I really like, web design. I’m obviously prone to bouncing around, but I do wonder what the results would have been if I had gone into college studying biology, with parental support. Quite opposite to my Dad, I always thought a person should have their career follow their interests, producing a more integrated life. I never taught Trevor otherwise. I figured being a poor biologist that liked what they were doing was better than being a rich lawyer that hated it. He gravitated to the ‘unemployable’ fields of creative writing and photography. No problem for me, I knew he’d survive, one way or another. He spent a few years doing landscaping, woodcutting, salmon fishing, and other jobs, then a friend hooked him up with a photo studio with great people who were willing to teach someone who is very enthusiastic. He spent a lot of unofficial ‘apprentice’ hours there, learning a lot, and now it’s paying off. He’s getting good assignments, lots of adventure, and doing something he loves. He followed his own direction with parental encouragement rather than parental obstructions.

I guess my bottom line recommendations are to open kids up to the world. Don’t tell them they can’t be what they want to be; they’ll surprise you. Don’t try to push them into your pigeonhole, as they need to follow their own path. Don’t be too critical, as they need to make mistakes. Assume that they want to do well and do the right thing, unless they prove otherwise. Be someone they can talk with, not just someone they have to listen to. Don’t worry about the skinned knees they’ll get along the way. They’ll survive.

Parenting Reflections by Gina
Raising our children in the Blue Mountains has been a glorious physical environment for our daughters and now our grandchildren. It was no great thinking on our parts. We were economic refugees from Sydney like many others who couldn't afford to buy a house near our childhood homes. We bought the old mountains house inspired mostly by the backyard which had a birdbath and a tree house (since fallen down). We have lived here for 24 years. Rosie was five when we arrived, our only child, and she wandered the huge garden saying “I don't believe it” over and over as if something magical had happened. Anna came squalling into the world the day before Rosie's tenth birthday. It was a home birth and the midwife nearly didn't make it. Ian was all gloved up and telling me he could do it, he had seen the videos, he'd be right but later he said he was shit-scared. When Anna was born she looked identical to Rosie. Looking into those dark grey eyes, as they stared into mine - it seemed as if time collapsed. Rosie was there, and later, when Rosie gave birth to her first child Lilli, I was there. I think that the experience of seeing her sister born, gave Rosie courage in her own birthing. We never intended to have such a big gap between children, but I developed chronic fatigue syndrome when Rosie was four and it took five years to recover enough to consider having another child. It was wonderful to have another person in the family. The triangle of three opened out into a roomy square. It seemed as if it gave us all more space to breathe. A week after Lilli was born, Rosie remarked on a character in a story from TV, saying “it must be awful being an only child”, as if she had never been one. I loved my daughters instantly as if I had known them forever. How grateful I am for that, as I know it is not a given. It was a great big ridiculous love and something that sustained me through the times to come. Both, on their ninth day, started crying loudly, desperately, and barely stopped for months. I couldn’t believe that ten years wouldn't make the difference. Surely I wouldn't (couldn't!) get another screamer. They were “BAD” babies, hardly sleeping (it seemed to me) and taking small power naps to keep them growing into pink cheeked infants with rolls at wrists, while I went through life like a zombie. In the Northern Territory, where Rosie was born, I would walk the pram at two in the morning, listening nervously for the sound of buffaloes, but happy to have the blood curdling screams out under the stars. Ten years later, their father Ian ran miles on the mini trampoline, with Anna crooked in his arm, her little head bobbing up and down and her eyes wide wide open. The ten year gap had its advantages and disadvantages. I guess everyone is experimenting with their first child. Rosie laments in a good humoured way the things that she had to bear on account of being reared when I was most conscientious and wanting to do everything right. No cabbage patch doll because it was advertising pressure, old bread bags for lunch wrappings to save the environment, ugly square toed school shoes because it was good for her feet. Ten years later and Anna had many a toy born from peer pressure, glad wrapped sandwiches and

shoes with a strap like ballet pumps. Not that doing excellent things for good reasons isn't important, just that I had relaxed and “let the strings go” a little more. I stopped trying so hard. Having said that, I still identified too much with both my girls. I felt their pain too keenly. I think their dad managed to ride the waves more robustly and was able to laugh and change the flow of emotion with a brilliantly timed joke, a silly walk or a funny but poignant story about his own life at similar times. My identification at one point was so great that I lay awake at night wondering where “tedda” had gone. Not that he was any old teddy. Even the kindy teachers were asking daily if tedda had returned. I found him six months later squashed between the mattress and the bed base, flat as a pancake. When Anna saw him again she said “I feel as if a hole that was in me has been filled up.” My own swelled up sense of happiness was not much different. Both girls suffered from the ups and downs of my physical and emotional ill health. My vitality varied over months and years and there were times where I was fatigued, bleak and desperate making it impossible to mother with energy or enthusiasm. Rosie expressed her feelings perfectly by bouncing a ball against the outside of the bedroom wall or skipping in the hallway while I “rested”. It was rotten having a pathologically tired mum. When Anna stopped her daytime nap I despaired. I am indebted to Walt Disney for my survival. Julie Andrews as the sexless magical Nanny sang brown paper packages day after day while Anna sucked her thumb and cuddled tedda on the couch. I hoped I would be relaxed and easy going when it came to teenage years and discussing the more sensitive issues like sex and body stuff . But it didn't work. I think I was still caught up in memories of my own parents desperate blunderings. After talking to Rosie about girl things on several occasions and receiving a chilly reception I asked her why she was reacting that way and she said “It's just that when you talk about that stuff you use a funny voice.” Ah, Mum and Dad, I see how hard it is! I have been grateful to believe in God and to feel that I am being helped by a higher power. This too altered in its flavour over the ten year gap, so that I felt less bound by rules and the 'shoulds' of religion. Still it isn't something you can make your child believe. Little Anna wondered if her mum and dad were hoodwinking her and that our beliefs might be a game like believing in pokemon. But Anna was a worrier and could not sleep till late, wondering and discussing what troubles the next day might bring. Late one night one of her desperate parents quoted a bible verse “Don't worry about tomorrow … for the day has enough troubles of its own.” Anna was appalled. “But that says the day has troubles, that doesn't help!” I was busy learning not to worry myself. I think a lot of parenting was letting go of the imagined control over what might happen to my children. As if I could protect them from all harm. Both girls experienced extended times of ill health and uncertainty and I could only stumble on through, Ian and I passing the ball to each other, depending on who seemed to have a better grasp of how to manage things at the time. Often we were conflicted on how to parent and it was very hard during those times to do things well from opposite ends of the parenting field.

Even in those times however a cup of tea cannot be underestimated. I think it helped my girls to develop patience, waiting for their parents to have a cup of tea. The cup of tea before Christmas presents, before the beginning of a long journey, before leaving an extended family gathering, before coming out to push them on the swing. Cups of tea have meant sharing with friends also, the joys and the disasters of parenting and those cups of tea were (and still are) emotional sustenance to me. It was important to remember that parents are painful. I found my own parents endless cups of coffee equally disconcerting. My own idiosyncrasies meant my daughters found me embarrassing at times. Perhaps this is a rite of passage as I remember feeling this keenly about my own mother. There was a longing from both girls that I would be a yummy mummy and wear conventional well ironed clothes. For their sake I curbed some of the things I did, like singing in public and yelling out to friends across the street, only to find years later that their embarrassment was short lived and for a long time it had no longer mattered. I remember Rosie saying it was good to get to a point where you realise you are not your parent and the things they do belong to them, not the child, and I remember thinking how much more mature Rosie was than I was at her age, by a long shot. It is something Ian and I have talked about. Propelling your children out into the world beyond you. It is tricky wanting to slingshot your child into the wide blue yonder, wanting them to be themselves, and yet wanting to mould them as well. Strange when they are so like you and nothing like you. Wonderful that they become themselves because of parenting, and perhaps, thank God, despite it. Oh good.... the kettle just boiled....Anyone for a cup of tea?

“Parents are sometimes a bit of a disappointment to their children. They don’t fulfil the promise of their early years”. [Paraphrase] Anthony Powell. ”Parenthood remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur.” Alvin Toffler. When I was twenty I expected to be a really good father. Despite mediocre university results I was successful in a number of spheres including the blokey holy sacraments of work, sport and mateship. By the time I was thirty my confidence was somewhat dented but I still expected to do a good job as a parent. That year my son Peter was born and I was transported by unutterable joy. Over the next five years Lizzie gave birth to John and Anna and I had 3 kids I loved more than I could have imagined. But fatherhood was a tough gig. Striking the right balance between discipline and tolerance was hard. It was tricky calibrating guidance and freedom. It turned out that patience and insight were elusive and sometimes it took a lot of effort to join my children’s worlds and play the games that they liked. But the kids gave me exquisite pleasure. When John was two I took him on a train trip and I overheard two women admiring him. This was no surprise, he was very cute, but I was surprised, and moved, to hear one say, “He loves that little boy so much”. I thought, “Wow. They can see it”. When he was eleven John designed a chess set which I made. It was included in a book about chess set design. When Anna was eight she chose her attire for her confirmation service. All the little girls wore white, except for one, taller than the rest, in shorts and a green basketball shirt. A few days later I found her baptising her Jack Russell terrier. That same year her basketball team won its first game. The score was one to nil. When she was eleven she had a professional gig at the Sydney Opera House. She was paid $30 to bolster a children’s choir. These memories are unalloyed gold. By the time my kids were teenagers I knew I wasn’t a great father, not even close. I tried pretty hard but a lot of my efforts came to nought. Lizzie and I had competing ideas about child rearing so some failures couldn’t be shared. But when John was fifteen he saved up $500 and then gave it away to a charity. Wow! When Peter was fifteen he had a patch of poor health but he tried out for the school rugby league team. It broke my heart to see him trying to play a tough sport when he was so vulnerable. A few years later his HSC major work for art was one of very few to be exhibited in the Art Gallery of NSW. I started to get sick the same year that Peter was born and eventually learned that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. This meant that the effort of cooking the evening meal often left me exhausted. My children got used to seeing me serve the food then put my head on the table for a couple of minutes. I couldn’t sit up to eat till I rested. One time when I was bone weary, the

kids displayed a fair measure of sullen, teenagery distance and I felt pretty bleak. Lizzie saw this and said, “Every time your father cooks food for you and puts it on the table, it’s an act of love”. I was deeply moved by her compassion. When Peter was fifteen he asked me if I could help make a flying fox. He planned to link two trees with a steeply sloping rope and needed an inverted Y shaped wooden handle so he could slide down the rope. No problem. He fell off at his first attempt. The handle tipped sideways and, as he slid down the rope, his hand started to burn. He had to let go and landed head first on a rock. Peter had cracked his skull and while he spent the next five days in hospital I waited to see if my poorly designed handle was going to lead to permanent brain damage. I felt a sense of failure and dread unmatched by anything before or since. Peter was OK. No brain damage. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Most of the kids’ teachers did a pretty good job. A couple were boring. They presided over internment camps turning agile minds dull and shining faces listless. We considered switching schools but that would mean uprooting the kids from their friends and the next school was bound to have one or two boring teachers too. One teacher indulged himself daily by belittling kids with sarcastic comments. A principal with a low flash point used to lash out at kids physically and justify it later as discipline. In both cases we met with Education Department officials and gradually ramped up the pressure with letters until we got a result. But a victory over a bureaucracy is a bit like poking an elephant with a twig. The elephant doesn’t notice or remember much. At twelve, John and a friend walked about a kilometre into the bush below our back fence. A young man threatened them with a rifle. They were terrified but reacted quickly and ran away. We got the police to investigate but John didn’t go bushwalking for years. I couldn’t always protect my kids. When I was about 50 I made a piece of sculpture that touches on parenting. It was called Dad’s Tools. The text below accompanies the piece.

DAD’S TOOLS Bill loved his dad’s sense of order – there was a place for everything. He loved his dad’s tools too, though he could never make them sing the way the old man did. The workshop was a refuge, a place where Bill could really be himself. He loved that moment when he opened the door and caught the familiar scents of wood. He’d pause to watch dust motes floating between the shadows and reflect that life was good. Bill made simple things - toys, kitchen ware, furniture - nothing fancy or tricky, but everything he made was a gift of love. And yet the tools could be frustrating. The large plane would grab, he could never quite get the hang of the circular saw and the rope-handled hammer seemed to wander wherever it wanted. As he worked, Bill pondered the meaning of things and began to doubt that he could ever master the tools - or his fate. Sometimes he would blame the tools but he often wondered if the fault lay within. As his frustration grew, Bill turned away from woodwork and tried painting. It wasn’t any good he still yearned for the workshop. He started reading self-help books then went on to counselling and began to understand that the later years can be troubled - but it was a deadend. Eventually Bill returned to the workshop and the wood and the tools and the memories of his dad. He could still hear his dad’s words, “Measure twice, cut once.” and, “Work is prayer.” and, “A good carpenter never blames his tools.” Difficult words to live by. Bill knew that he could never live up to the old man’s standards but he didn’t give up. When a chisel slipped, or the bit and brace proved awkward, Bill would not be beaten - dispirited perhaps but not defeated. His head would drop, his gaze would fix on the shavings and dust at his feet and, most times, he would see that he stood on holy ground. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This piece, and the accompanying text, might appear to be about my father but when I made it I was also thinking of my children and the tools for life that I gave them, tools that don’t always work too well. They have done really well in so many ways and I am very proud of their triumphs. I particularly enjoy seeing their kindness, intelligence and artistic creativity. Before I became a father I anticipated such successes but assumed that my parenting would be a major factor. I’m thankful now that my blunders didn’t cause as much damage as they might have. When I grow up I hope to do better. A year ago Peter rang us from Germany and said that he had been thinking about the way we had brought him up. He said that a lot of people he knew had been screwed up by their parents and that he wanted us to know that we’d done a pretty good job. Words to recall on winter nights.

Sober moments… by Mhairi Fraser
Ours was the first generation of parents where childrearing came to be viewed as a project. As a result of this, being a mother or a father has become a yardstick by which to measure personal achievements and failures. The perfect multi-tasking mother and the sensitive new age father, soon found that enhancing the self esteem of their offspring was an all-consuming task. If we are really honest with ourselves, our children’s wellbeing has extracted a high price from the environment, community connectedness and at times our marriage relationships. Even our political landscape has become dominated by the need to appease the rights and desires of working families often at the expense of more holistic aims. All this gives pause for thought. I suspect our generation tried to claim too much unrequited love through our kids. While I celebrate a great set of grown up children and recall the warm memories of family life over 23 years, I want to focus on more sober moments. These are the moments when we realise that for all our effort, our kids have not really turned out to more enlightened or astute or happy as a result of our angst and all those extra curricular activities. They are as flawed and complex as we were at that age! “Our generation”, consists of those of us born in the 20th Century in the 1950s and early 1960s and who began parenting in the late 1970s and 1980s. We were the children of the revolution, of feminism and of self-awareness. Our generation hoped to counteract the insensitivity and incompetency of our parents. We were liberators of the cold war mentality. We were the change makers, the new age parents. We understood the importance of feelings and repression and Freud. Our generation embraced with gusto, the driver’s seat of helicopter parents. We juggled working hours to fund the investment in our children. This investment included choosing schools no matter the distance they had to travel, extra curricular activities as part of a well rounded education, balancing work and life to pay fees, high mortgages, the second car, the backyard pool, the home entertainment centre and of course the overseas holidays. All this to make sure that our children did not miss out on anything. When my son turned 21 recently, I realised that he is closer to the age I was when I became his mum, than I am now. Surprisingly, he is only one decade and I am two decades separated from her. What the hell did I know at 31 when this baby fell into my lap? What I did know was that I loved this snowy haired boy and his brown-eyed older sister madly and deeply. Ironically that was enough. It took me some time to recognise this truth. Many of us began our parenting at the same time that we were trying to recalibrate gender roles at work and home to produce more enlightened ways of living and behaving. Some of us

were challenging religious and political values held by our forebears and attempting to live more respectfully. The seventies and eighties was an exciting time but I can’t help but look back now and wish I had just been able to relax, let things flow and not put myself and the family under so much pressure. In our hurry to wipe the slate clean of conventional values we may have unwittingly laid the ground for a more narcissistic age and prolonged our own childish notions of a new Eden. Being gentler with ourselves, perhaps maintaining some humility in the face of the slow development of human society, may have made us all less susceptible to the launch of the rugged individual in the 1990s. None of us were prepared for the insouciant creep of Margaret Thatcher’s, “there is no such thing as society”, of the infiltration of the internet into our children’s daily lives, of the rampant rise of consumerism let alone the destruction of language brought about by management speak. All this engulfed us before we knew it. By the time my children were adolescents and I was blending a family to include two stepchildren, this wider more ferocious world had become the new normal. The sense of individual entitlement and the cult of celebrity swept my children into a parody of the adult world that included much that was dangerous and lethal to young bodies and brains. They and we thankfully survived. But much of this is due to the enduring currents of an older wisdom: kindness, goodness, respect and self-control. In short, love, along with a huge dollop of luck. I wish that the desire to right the wrongs of my parents’ generation had been tempered with a much deeper wisdom known across the ages. That what really matters above all else is tenderness, an openness to wonder, being part of a bigger community with responsibilities as well as rights and the enduring rewards of kindness towards others. The truth is that I grew up alongside my kids and didn’t realise it. I was often so focused on providing them with opportunities to think freely, critically and to fulfil their potential that I failed to see the obvious. What gave them the most security was to walk out into the night with a small hand in mine in search of shooting stars or flying foxes. Under cover of darkness we would talk about important things wrapped in a warm blanket of togetherness. I am so glad I can close my eyes and still feel their hands in mine but I wish I had had more of those walks. It would have been good if we had slowed our family life down, and been more alert to the small kindnesses in our relationships with others, to the local characters that peppered the neighbourhood as we visited the bank or post office, the happiness that can be found on a swing at the local park at twilight or the security of games that lasted for days in the backyard. Something happened in the struggle to be committed parents so that we all missed much of the ordinariness of the daily ride with its pleasures and dramas. We failed to recognise that in ordinariness is often born the extraordinary. I love having my children and stepchildren in my life. I recognise that they have survived my good intentions and my attempts to make the world more perfect for them. They have

flourished despite my preoccupation with their safety and political correctness. They are their own people with frailties and strengths to shoulder wherever these came from. They have their minds wired differently to mine because they grew up in the age of technology. This wiring had little to do with my parenting prowess. They like the fact that I have had a professional life even if they don’t fully understand why I would want to work for peanuts in an NGO. They face an uncertain future with humour, despite the fact that I still keep trying to get them to sign Get-up petitions and recycle as though the planet depended on it. I genuinely like each of them as people unique in their own right, not clones of me or their other parents. I feel the apron strings flapping free around me in search of a new body to wrap around. This sometimes makes me sad. I enjoy catching up with them for long talks, laughs and occasional tears. I am deeply thankful for the intimacy that lingers even though they have flown the nest. I am still growing up. My children need me less. I look forward to being alongside them and also to going on to where my journey takes me in other communities and as a separate person. I am grateful that I can sit and remember the happiest of moments with my children and not allow the nostalgia to cloud the hard lessons I have learned through them. I think that they will have their own way of rectifying the imbalances of our generation but these in turn may not be more than a pendulum swing in another direction. And the swing will always reach a point where it turns and looks back from whence it came. This sober moment before the next arc is precious and not to be missed.

Peter’s story
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. Phillip Larkin, poet, 1971 When I was 12 or 13, I made a pledge to myself, being as reflective as one can only be at that age: I am not going to be the kind of father my father is, if I ever have kids of my own. I’m going to be “involved,” I pledged. Fifty odd years later, I think I have now figured out that he wasn’t as bad as I had thought, given his own background and circumstances. So this is about three generations: my dad, me and my kids. In the meantime, though, I did become a father and then a step father, and I spent that whole time trying not to be like my dad – absent from my life for much of it and, as I perceived, aloof and pre-occupied with work. So I became the involved dad, the sensitive new age dad, the hovering dad, the mothering dad…. the PC dad. In short, everything I could think of that was the opposite of my own father, believing that this would result in a far more balanced child, a fully rounded child, a sensitive thoughtful caring child, a talented child, an achieving child, a well behaved child, a socially competent child. A politically aware PC child. I would eschew all the old superstitions, all the ignorance, intolerance and prejudice of the old world. I’d give my children all the freedom I wasn’t offered, all the attention they needed when they asked for it. None of this “children should be seen and not heard” rubbish. My children would be treasured for their self expression and given the freedom to explore whatever and wherever they wanted. They needed to be free of all that stuffiness and constraint that held me back from taking on the world. (In retrospect, I ended up with more freedom than my kids: freedom to play, roam, let off crackers, ride bikes up the Pacific Highway, fall off merry-go-rounds (no OH&S back then) - just getting on with being a kid. And I didn’t have a dad interrogating every thought and idea I had). But no siree. My kids were going to have it all - or as much as I could give them. So I watched Playschool, Sesame St, The Planets, got involved in the P&C, sporting teams, music, concerts, museums, galleries, child care centres, school fundraisers, books, encyclopaedias, atlases, Richard Attenborough, SBS, house husbanding, politics, bla bla bla. Bla Bla Bla. All so I could set an example to them, so that somehow, they would absorb all this through osmosis and become great citizens of the earth – or at least better citizens than me or my parents.

That would show him, my dad, how to do it properly. But now the nest is gone, not just empty. I’ve moved away from them, left them to survive on their own without the Great Guiding Hand, the ever present angel in his helicopter, watching over them, ushering them here and there. Their dad. Did they thank me for all that effort? Did they appreciate it? Did they absorb it all and become good little echoes of the master? Not really. In fact, they are as different to me as I am to my dad. All that effort didn’t produce the kinds of results I thought at the time would be expected. They’re independent, don’t think like I do. They’re more inward looking and narcissistic than I think of myself (probably falsely). They’re more individualistic. They seem captured by IT and “Social” Media. They grew up in the Howard years, the Bush years, the age of terror, the computer, affluence, organised extra curricular activities, a united Germany and wars on most continents every day of their lives. And on-line poker – apparently Poker is a “real job”! It turns out that peers, computers and politicians seem to have had as much influence over their lives as I had. And all that extra effort that I put in, over and above what my dad had put in, hasn’t had the kind of impact that I thought it would have, those 50 odd years ago. And maybe just as well. But it does leave me asking the question: was it worth all that extra effort, and didn’t he, my dad, do a reasonable enough job? After all, it was much tougher back then - to make a buck, to live through wars and depressions, to be the bread winner for the whole family. He didn’t even know what the term “parenting” meant. He just did it.

Jill’s story
When I see young Mums pushing strollers uphill, I think – did I do that? In which lifetime? The other day I saw a Mum with a baby in her arms, coming down the aisle towards me – the baby was open mouthed and zeroing in on her mother’s face, as if trying to eat? Kiss? devour her mother with delight...I remember those moments less with words, more with how it felt inside my body in those mother/baby moments, and it felt good! As if I had been born for that moment. So, when I get past the surreal divide between then and now, other body memories emerge. The most enduring ones are the weight of a baby on my shoulder, sliding down my arm. The smell of my babies’ skin...the feel of a small hand in mind, the kick of a toddler in bed and the memory of odd shapes I slept in in order to accommodate the said toddler! Sights etched in my memory are No. 1 son running with abandon along the cracked footpath in Greenacre while I trailed along behind with the stroller, enjoying the peace of the short walk. No.2 loved to dance and would dance funky moves to cheer me up on a bad day, and No. 3 and I liked to draw together. No 3, last born, and I had many city adventures in the context of a friendship with an often more energetic dying friend of mine. His walking pace, slow, fitted with this tired mother’s pace and in turn No.3’s 4 year old legs were in sync with us both. An odd trio wandering through art galleries and parks. The soundtrack of these years is probably a mix of Crowded House (and our house was) and punk music as No.2 became a drummer in a punk band. Counting 1000 paper cranes for my No.3 whilst I had a painful bout of shingles was a labour of love that I remember fondly and feel proud of in retrospect. What I didn’t seem to be born for, it seems, was the energy needed for the whole endeavour. The tiredness...I felt tired all the time, or so it seems looking back. On coming home from any outing with the children and baskets and bits and pieces, I would just want to lie on the bed but couldn’t as there was always shopping to unpack, children to sort out one way or another, the ubiquitous meal to prepare...my need to ponder, process, read, be creative just didn’t get a look in when the children were young. I yearned for space and time. The peak, or trough of my tiredness centres on a memory of lying on the bed next to my first born, a toddler. I am heavily pregnant with No. 2 and am dozing in between each page of the story book that is propped up on my belly. I am desperate to sleep but need to hold on for many more hours before that can happen. Now when I see energetic young parents I wonder where they get their energy from. I wish I had had more energy back then, and then we would have had more family day trips and experiences. I am hungry for memories of us as a family basking in the beauty of the natural world but I don’t seem to have enough of these memories, not as a whole family anyway.

Parenting for me was a lot about bodies, managing or avoiding or enduring my own, and trying to keep safe these little bodies entrusted into my care. “Have you got a snake-bite bandage?” is probably the catch cry of my boys’ youth, as they ran down the back into the valley that was their personal wonderland. As non-Jewish Jewish mother, I Woody Allened them to within an inch of their lives. Maybe we didn’t do a lot of picnics and zoo trips but we did live in the lap of the mountains and the bush and caves out the back were maybe one of the best things we could give them regarding the natural world. What I don’t recall with fondness was all the avoidance and guilt I felt when I didn’t man up, woman up for P and C meetings, canteen, Little A’s timekeeping, or baking cakes for cake stalls. I tried to contribute in ways that fitted more with who I was, like helping with reading at school, in retrospect I can see that there was a lot of anxiety involved in my avoidance of those other situations. The teenage years, well...I say thank you to God that my boys - my husband and I – all emerged alive at the end of this period. Looking back I would probably say that my husband and I were too laissez faire, but then my gut feeling then (and now) was that I needed to hold the thread between myself and them in the hope that if the thread of relationship held, then all would not be lost. It is at this point that I have to add a warm thank you to some sweet souls, now deceased, who helped me maintain connection with my boys during their gruff and silent years. Our emo cat Wilma and cheerful cattle dog Kelly did their magic and mediated some warm and quirky conversations between us. I feel blessed to have had 3 mostly healthy children who have lived into their wonderful adult selves. I thank God for their having traversed the strange country which is the teen years. Identity forming, that Erikson talked about, is such a hard task I think. Having to separate from one’s parents to some degree and working out who one is. I heartily like and admire who my boys have become as young men, and I feel blessed. The anxiety over their safety and wellbeing is still there. It is times like this that mindfulness is a balm. This moment - ‘now’ - allowing me respite from the unknowable future. When I feel really troubled by thoughts of one of my adult children’s distress or struggle, I will sometimes light a candle in the evenings, and send up a prayer for that child. The flame seems to prompt me to consider my friend’s adult children too - there is a world of risk and vulnerability out there and I want all of those younger travellers through life to have enough safety and love to begin each day with a sense of possibility and creativity. My partner is a bohemian soul who mostly follows his own inner map, and thus it is safe to say, we parented differently. I wanted more shoulder to shoulder ‘let’s get on with it together’, but it wasn’t like that. I often felt disappointed. We had different parenting styles. It is easier now for us to share our thoughts and feelings about our boys, than back then when it was much grittier, both of us exhausted - who will get the extra hour in bed?

Heart disease was an unwelcome addition to our family, my partner had 4 heart attacks, the first being when the boys were in their primary, junior high school years. I guess I don’t know too many parents of my age who didn’t have some significant struggles along the way. Some other unwelcome visitors came along for the ride in our family, like some depression and much anxiety. It was a very deep down primitive thing with me, about having children. As much as I pulled against immersing all of myself in parenthood, and fought really hard for my own identity and space for wellbeing and creativity to survive – I also know that to have not been able to have children would have been an unbearable grief. I guess I would have survived it, but would have lost a big part of myself in the process. That brings me back to issues of identity, again. And maybe that is the thing, I was a bit of a child myself, when I was a young parent. I hadn’t quite finished working out who I was. I did the best I could at the time. PS ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ – I have hardly given a nod to the village that helped us raise our children, but then...that is a whole other story. I am profoundly grateful for the village. Thank you villagers, you know who you are. I now am not entirely sure if I ever worked out exactly who I am, but I do know this, what I don’t know, doesn’t bother me, and one thing I know is that I want to be a villager raising young ones, probably until the end of my life.

Richard’s story
I am blessed to have a wonderful daughter who my American wife and I have tried to provide many opportunities for. She has just graduated from my old University in Sydney, Australia after being accepted into many US colleges as she believes in the concept of “legacy”…attending University where one of your parents went to. She is gifted academically,

was her US high school class president and talented in many sports. She lives happily in Sydney and has a wonderful job. During our daughter’s childhood we moved a lot as my job afforded the opportunity to do this. It meant a lot of disruption, leaving things behind and living out of a suit case. But we treated it like a long holiday and given we were transferees for a large American company, the benefits were generous. There was only the 3 of us with little family support mechanism beyond those who were in similar circumstances usually with other companies on transfer. We became very close as a family and took the opportunity to travel and see as many places as we could when time permitted. We took chances like putting our daughter into an all French speaking school in Geneva, Switzerland. I still remember her crying her eyes out about how she didn’t like the school and we vacillated about moving her to the local English speaking school. But after about a month her grasp of the French language grew, as did her friendships with other children who had come from other countries like Portugal and Spain. The kids didn’t understand each other’s language in the beginning but were still able to communicate. I still remember her walking hand in hand with her friend Annabella to school moving fluently between English, French and Portuguese. My wife always celebrated birthdays with a big cake and all my daughter’s friends would join in for a sugar high. We have many wonderful photographs of the kids from those days. Little did we know that she was “celiac” which we found out when she was 17. Now she is very careful with what she eats but we still celebrate birthdays by going to restaurants that she enjoys or wants to explore. There were wonderful times and others when you look back and think we were sailing close to the wind just trying to survive. But always knew that there was the 3 of us and we would prevail. We exposed our daughter to many experiences, far too many to list here. I remember our times in London when we would wake up Saturday mornings and race together to ride the double decker buses from our home in St John’s Wood to the Tower. Sitting up the front of the top deck, swaying side to side like on a roller coaster as the bus went down winding streets and roaring with laughter. When our daughter was first born we were very sensitive about taking her out to restaurants. We had sat in restaurants where there was a crying child and felt bad for the parents along with all of us in ear shot of the crying baby. My wife was also very protective of our daughter and there is a close bond between them even today. At a dinner party, my long time American boss heard our new daughter crying in another room as we were eating. He got up and brought her to the table which helped my wife be much more comfortable. After which there was no stopping my wife and as a result our daughter is very comfortable in social settings.

There were many things that I wished my father had told me growing up. But he was absent due to work and in many ways didn’t have the experiences for the situations that I would encounter. As I’ve stumbled through my life I have been fortunate to meet, listen to or read books by experts in a wide variety of fields. In one situation I tried to share learning with my daughter from a seminar I’d attended and was promptly told that she wasn’t interested. But remembering my own parent relationship with my father, I took the position that she wasn’t ready yet. So I have been collecting the books that I wish I had been exposed to much earlier and I give them to my daughter as a present with a note saying…Thinking of you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this when you get time…Love you. Dad. Every now and then she will share with me that she has read one of the books and asks my opinion on a point raised in the book. I’ve learned not to ask her a question directly. More to get her opinion on a given topic, which results in a wonderful conversation. Little did I know growing up that my life was not going to be as “normal” as that for many of my childhood acquaintances. It has seemed a “lucky” life coming from Australia to live and work in places like London, Geneva, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco. My parents were physically present when I was growing up but were not in a position for various reasons to be supportive in the world I grew up in and now live. Many times I wished that my parents would attend functions or sporting events as the parents of others did or at least took an interest in any achievement. I have been a physically “absent” parent and have left a lot of the parenting to my wife. This is a great regret and my wife has done a great job raising our daughter to become the woman she is. Importantly, I have tried to give my daughter the resources and opportunity to make her way in the world. We’ve always believed and lived quality time not quantity time. When I’m with her now here in the US or back in Sydney we have a wonderful time and she has always know if there is an issue that I would be on the next plane. This security has always been key and a commitment that has been tested only on a few occasions and I have tried to never fail her. But how I wish I had been there to coach her in one of her sporting teams…maybe as a grandparent! Our daughter is just starting to go her own way and has recently announced that she is moving out to live with her boyfriend. Of course as a caring parent you have concerns but I try to remind my wife that we went through a similar situation and what would our parents have thought. To which my wife is clear it is our life not our parent’s to live…which is the right answer for our daughter too. All you can hope that she has made the right choice, step back and hope that her boyfriend knows how lucky he is.

Lizzie’s story
I have three adult children and live in the Blue Mountains with my husband, Ernie. I work as an educational consultant and Ernie is retired. Peter, 29, lives in Berlin as an English teacher of adults by day. His true interests are creative and this applies also for my son, John (27) and daughter Anna (24) who both live in Sydney. I know that my writing COULD focus on them – and they are delightful and fascinating people but I am writing about parenting from my own perspective here. So, in a way, this is all about me… Our particular story Every family has major events and themes, and for ours Ernie’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been massive. Ernie had glandular fever when Pete was a baby and he was left with tiredness and muscle aches which remain today. Nowadays, Ernie has more energy but when the kids were little he was very ill. Another special thing in our family has been that Ernie is a wood turner with an international profile, demonstrating at international symposiums and writing for wood turning magazines. It has been wonderful having his wood turning friends from overseas to stay over the years and our lounge room has many turned pieces which I love. I brought a number of themes of my own into the family story. As a child, I experienced my father’s business going bankrupt when I was 7. This left me with a strong desire for safety and a residual feeling of fear. In addition, addiction [I gave up drink when I was 21], religion and social justice have been strong themes in my life. Combine all these together with a huge personality, and a desire to advise even underwater, and I was determined as a parent to try to hold some of this intensity back from my children!! Remembering good times When I look back at the early years of parenting, I feel very happy about some things. In those days, it was often possible for one parent to stay at home with pre-school children because mortgage payments were lighter. I have very happy memories of hanging out with my children in the garden and at the park. Reading books together was fantastic and I loved it when Ernie told them stories that he made up. It was great hearing my children’s ideas and seeing their drawings and their lego creations were great too. They had hours of time to play, draw and ride their bikes and I think they loved to imagine. The kids had some really nice times with their grandparents and I used to take them away to Hawks Nest each summer, for 11 years in row. This was very relaxing for me – I think it was fun for them to be near the water – although sometimes they caught the coach back home early! I have fond memories of the children playing basketball and playing with friends and I think they are still very good at being friends and loving their friends in their adult lives. I’ll draw a merciful veil over parenting in the teenage years. Ernie and I had really different approaches to it all and that caused tension, as did the issues which arose!! I am glad that I

have always known that being a parent is an incredible privilege. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me and I have tried to give it 100%. I am also very grateful that I find each of my children so easy to love and to like. I have often thought how tricky it would be if a parent loved one child more than another. That would be so hard. I am also grateful that my kids have grown up in Australia – away from war zones and with enough food to eat. So many children are not given a fair chance. If only I had known then what I know now Parents always have regrets, I think. I’ll limit mine to three regrets. I wish I had not told my kids that Santa was not real. Along with this is a wish that I could have been lighter, funnier, more magical and a better listener!! My second regret is that I wish I’d known about the concept of resilience that has come to be so prevalent in recent years. I was very prone to rush in with assistance! Fortunately, when people leave home, they can embark on their independence and that is wonderful. My third regret is about some practicalities. I wish I’d been able to impart cooking, housekeeping and budgeting wisdom. Since I’ve been ‘light on’ in these areas myself, I suppose that was always going to be a remote possibility. Once again, the fact that my children are independent means that they are forging ahead, acquiring this wisdom by themselves. Looking ahead I have always had the wish to see my children very frequently because I love their company so much. Just to see them, to give them a hug, and smell their skin as I kiss them – these are a joy to me! I am very proud of who my children are and sometimes dismayed by the twists and turns in their lives. It’s wonderful that they are so passionate about their creativity. I see that as being connected to a very deep purpose in their lives. Where I’m at now is realising that they may not live near me and I may not see them often. Whenever I do it will be a delight and it’s good to know they are alive. I have dear friends who have experienced deep losses – the loss of a child, a child who has had a brain injury – and I know that it is such good fortune to have healthy children. I pray that they will continue to be good people who live good lives, so that there is more love in the world because they are here. It’s my job now to enjoy my own life with Ernie and I wish my darling ones all the best. Any contact with them is wonderful and they are all afloat now in their own little boats, just as I was when I set sail with Ernie all those years ago…

Clare’s parenting story
I have one daughter – let’s call her Kathy, since her real name is very unusual and she has a right to her privacy. She’s 21 years old, currently at uni and in a longterm relationship with a young man I’d be more than happy to see her spend her life with. I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since about 6 years before Kathy was born, although it wasn’t diagnosed until she was 2 years old. However, the resultant inability to work meant that I enjoyed the privilege of being a stay-at-home mum throughout Kathy’s life. For this I have to thank in part my then husband, Colin, who not only took the financial and energy limitations in his stride but went way more than one extra mile, many times over, to pick up the slack. Although we divorced when Kathy was 10 years old, he was, and has continued to be, a devoted father and a very accommodating co-parent. Perhaps every parent begins to construct their parenting philosophies in the light of their own upbringing, thinking about what their parents did that they wouldn’t do, and why. For me, it was a little more complicated. I think my parents did a great job of parenting but the main thing they didn’t manage to give me when I was growing up was good self-esteem, and that left me vulnerable to the sexual abuse I suffered as a teenager. That vulnerability was compounded by teachings about politeness and social conformity which left me disempowered when it came to how to respond to abusive overtures. So when I developed my parenting philosophy, the main two things I wanted to give Kathy were good self-esteem and a sense of empowerment. Two invaluable books helped me make that happen – Your Child’s Self Esteem, by Dorothy Corkille-Briggs, and The Safe Child Handbook, by Sheryll Kerns Kraizer. Perhaps, too, having CFS provided an added impetus to teaching Kathy to be as independent as possible, since I was unable to keep up with her as much as I’d have needed to if I’d been a more directive parent. I basically saw my job as a parent being to enable her to make safe and sensible choices before the time she was likely to want to spread her wings, and while she was still young enough to accept advice and guidance as she stepped over that threshold. I began by teaching her to choose. Before she could talk, she’d hold out her hand for a toy. I’d offer two, and let her pick which one to take. Once she was eating solid food (and talking), I’d discuss what things I could make for dinner and ask her what she’d like me to make. By preschool years, she was choosing what to wear (with parental guidance on seasonal sensibilities), and before primary school she was deciding when was a sensible bedtime. The process was basically one of offering safe options and gradually extending the range of choices as she got older and more capable of judging safety and sense for herself. Part of that, too, was a process of explaining things to her as much as possible; having her see the reasons behind certain choices gave her the tools to use when making her own choices. At the same time, we were teaching her to do things for herself. As a baby, when she cried at night because she’d lost her dummy, I had about 3 in the cot and I’d take her hand and pat it around the sheets until she felt one of them. It only took a couple of weeks for her to learn to do that for herself while still half-asleep. As she grew older, a plate of healthy snacks in the fridge meant that she could serve herself as soon as she could stand steadily enough to open

the door, and teaching her to tie shoelaces, do buttons and put on/take off tricky items meant she could dress herself. By 3 years old, she could competently instruct her grandfather in how to operate his own washing machine. As she grew, letting her take some carefully managed risks stretched her ability to handle herself in more challenging situations (like being allowed to use the nearly-flat roof as leisure space, so long as she didn’t run around or get silly up there). I firmly believe that too much protection creates incapable people. And, of course, while teaching children how to be independent, parents have to teach themselves how to let go. Whether it’s a bird tipping their fledgling out of the nest to make them fly or a person teaching their child to walk, it isn’t going to happen without the parent letting go. As an only child, though, I was aware that she might lack opportunities to learn the give-andtake and sharing that occurs naturally between siblings, so we also taught her to do that with us. Choices about where to go as a family and what to do were discussed between the three of us. Likes and dislikes were catered for equally – “because I’m the parent” was a line never used in our place. The closest I ever came to it was one time when I said “on this occasion I’m going to have to overrule you because my awareness of our family health history tells me that the choice you want to make is extremely unwise”. We only expected as much respect from her as we gave to her, which meant being aware, for example, of how unpleasant it is to be told to do something right now when that interrupts an enjoyable activity. So I’d tell Kathy I wanted her to do something, but give her a timeframe within which she could choose exactly when it got done, because that’s the kind of freedom that adults have; giving Kathy the same freedom empowered her and modelled the acknowledgement of others’ wishes that we wanted her to learn. One of the really good approaches that Colin and I fell into by accident was in dealing with the possibility of being played off against each other. I never found this technique in a book – it just sort of happened – but it worked really well. I had scolded Kathy for damaging something of mine, and she went to Colin for comfort. He listened to her distress, gently explained to her that I was upset and annoyed because it was an item I really liked and it couldn’t be fixed, and asked her to imagine how I felt. Once she understood that, he suggested that it would be nice to say sorry, and came with her to me to do so. From that time on, we found that a great way to maintain a united front – not just between the two of us against her, but between all three of us. She still got rebukes but she also got comfort and explanation, learnt empathy and the art of apologising, and none of us felt undermined or our feelings ignored. When she was in Year 7, her then boyfriend tried a little emotional blackmail on her (“if you don’t spend more time with me, I’ll break up with you and go out with one of your friends”). She recounted this to me, and I asked what her response had been. Apparently it was “it’s your life; I’m not stopping you”. I felt very proud at that moment – she was already far more emotionally self-reliant than I had ever been. In fact, she seemed to be a pretty amazing package; she’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s popular (how else do you get to be in two groups of girls at school at the same time?), and she’s sensitive and caring. Throughout her high school years, she was the one all her friends unloaded on, and she brought friends’ problems to me for advice – and brought the friends to me direct if she felt their problems were a bit beyond her.

I do believe Kathy was a particularly easy child to deal with. She was biddable and reasonable, and almost never rebellious. How much of that was due to our parenting style, and how much was innate, I’ll never know. But I’m extremely grateful that neither the terrible twos nor the notoriously bitchy teenage years happened in our house, because I’m not sure I would have had the energy to cope with either. I’d like to think that empowering her, validating her feelings, and giving her as much safe freedom as possible was what prevented them both. Whether or not that’s so, she’s been an absolute pleasure to have as a daughter and I can’t think of a single thing I’d do differently if I had my time over again. I feel very blessed to have had such a wonderful person share my world. Now she’s a beautiful adult, and all I can do is stand in the background, give her hugs when things go wrong, and watch her fly on her own.

Steve’s story
Amy and I had two and a half days together in a caravan in Windeyer near Mudgee earlier this week. We cooked, ate, drank beer and wine and talked. We spent an evening with a star chart trying to make out some constellations. It was deeply, deeply pleasurable in a way that goes to the very core of my identity. She is wise, compassionate, companionable and tolerant of her old man’s foibles. I had always reckoned that if my children grew up to be wise, compassionate and companionable, I could ask no more. I now realise that in asking that, I was asking everything. I asked and have been given: it is more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. Today was my birthday. As Susan put the candle-lit cake in front of me, she prompted Tim by singing the first two words of “”Happy Birthday”. Though he cannot talk, he can sing. Tim responded to the prompt and took up the refrain, and as the rest of us listened in respectful silence he sang it through to the very end, with the words “dear Dad” in the proper place. And every word was sung looking me directly in the eye and, I swear, there was a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face, and I dare to believe that it was the twinkle of love, the smile of affection. It was the best birthday present I have had for many a year, moving me more than I can express. Tonight, I lay with him as he was in bed, slowly going to sleep. He has been dealt a tragic blow in life at the age of 28. He has lost so much, and cannot even communicate what it means to him and how he feels about it. It is a shithouse hand to be dealt, when life was looking so full of promise and expectation. Yet he laughs, he smiles, he responds to us with cheerfulness, love and affection, and he responds to the challenge he now faces in life with courage, resilience, strength and determination. I don’t know how he does this. As I cuddle up close to him, I am aware that I am deeply in awe of him. My own son is my hero.

Lee’s story
My eldest daughter, R, is a primary teacher with NSW Department of education. She is single, aged 33, loves her job and lives in Sydney. My son, T, 32, has lived in many places in Australia and currently lives in Sydney. He does warehousing work, is single, well read, takes a big interest in the financial markets and is quite knowledgeable. His favourite paper is the Financial Times. My youngest daughter, P, aged 29, is a veterinarian, lives in Perth, is in a long-standing relationship with boyfriend, and has remained an incredibly avid reader. We moved quite a lot when the first two were young - they were actually born overseas. Moving was always difficult - it took at least a year to put down roots. But they were also left with the maid or babysitters (we were in two baby sitting clubs) and I think that was good for them – it made them independent. We didn’t have much access to family to help out. We went through a lovely stage of everyone in the family having to nominate two favourite meals. This list then became the fortnightly menu. It worked brilliantly for about a year and saved whingeing about what was for dinner. The kids were also encouraged to cook and they quite enjoyed it. We all remember fondly the ritual after dinner- as soon as they were old enough they had to take turns cleaning up the kitchen. This involved hand washing the dishes at first, and later stacking the dishwasher. We parents would then retire to the living room to watch the news, and the child on duty had to make a pot of tea and serve us our tea. We also had a pocket money book - they had to sign for their pocket money. This was powerful in getting them to do their chores. Money could be deducted for serious things such as unacceptable language (I hope I didn’t overdo the deductions). The pocket money book is hilarious to read now. When we returned to live in NSW after 12 years away, the youngest was a baby. From then on we stayed regularly with parents-in-law during the school holidays. They lived on a small farm and the kids loved it - tractor rides with grandfather, liloing down the river, sorting the corn, chasing the cows, seeing their cousins. Stays on the farm were a big part of their childhood. Our kids had wonderful grandparents and I really regret that the grandparents died when the kids were pre-teens. As a family we were really into lots of games: cards, board games, word games in the car, croquet at the farm and in the backyard. Pets were also important and they were family members: mainly dogs but also cats. I didn’t expect to love them so much! I was not fazed by babies - that side came fairly easily. But the love was incredible. However, it did make it hard for me to learn to say ‘no’ when it was necessary, and saying no sometimes hurt me more than them.

You can worry and agonise too much. Sometimes it would be better to be more detached, to stand back and let them make their own mistakes. I also believe that parenting takes a huge amount of wisdom - I often felt very challenged and torn between options. We did our best; it may not always have been the ‘right’ course to take, but we honestly did our best. Now they are adults, the challenge is to have a grown-up relationship with them and not to want to fix things for them. Whatever they decide to do is up to them. It’s interesting to see how they now feel the need to help their older parents in physical or technical tasks - they are very accepting of this and see it as part of life. I am very proud that none of them is materialistic and all are quite generous and empathetic with the vulnerable members of society.

Being parents by Thea
It’s something of a mystery to me how our adult sons and daughter came to be the amazing people they are. Neil and I started having a family when we were young and naive. I had only just finished my Social Work Degree, and Neil was still working on his PhD in Maths. I was pretty mixed up, Neil was often sick, our marriage was not strong and we were financially insecure. It took only a few months after the birth of our first child for my goal of being the perfect parent to be replaced with a goal of not screwing my kids up too badly. Nonetheless, as each child came along, I loved each of them dearly and I gradually learned how to enjoy being with them. Growing up without someone I could comfortably regard as a role model, I muddled along as a parent, getting as much guidance as I could from reading and attending courses. Neil and I had long discussions about how to be good parents, but guilt was never far away. I couldn’t protect my kids from the bullying they got at school or from feeling different. Because of problems with my mental health, by the time our eldest was sixteen I’d had over two years of weekly therapy. Furthermore, while Neil and I were always caring and respectful of each other, we had our marital struggles as well. So how did all four of these young people turn out to be well-adjusted adults, leaders in their communities, dedicated partners, successful in their careers, generous-spirited people and strong in their faith? I’m not entirely sure. I recall the saying, “It takes a community to raise a child.” Firstly, Neil was a father who was there for them. He helped at bath time, read books to them, played lego with them (albeit with a slightly bored look on his face), watched them at sport and cooked meals – yes, you heard right – evening meals! Neil, the academic, might have found young kids a bit challenging, but he was the go-to man regarding computers, science, maths, sport, religion and politics. His goal was “to create an island of sanity in a crazy world” and he did a pretty good job achieving that. Secondly, we were lucky to have Grandma, who let us live in the family home if we built her a self-contained unit at the back. When the kids needed some quiet one-on-one attention, Grandma was there. If they needed a refuge because I’d lost my cool, there was always

Grandma’s place. She was a stable, loving presence. Grandma stepped in to baby-sit when we needed to go out as a couple. Thirdly, there was the wider community. We’re very grateful to family members and friends, people who took an active interest in the kids and looked after them from time to time. The kids went to good schools – just the local Catholic schools - where they had some excellent teachers and made friends who were from caring families. Religious youth groups were important for a long time and, in their adolescence, our kids learned leadership skills there. As parents, Neil and I tried to provide a nurturing, stable environment where everything was an open topic for discussion. We tried to be encouraging but also honest, protective but not overprotective. We wanted our kids to grow up feeling capable and having a strongly developed sense of responsibility. We wanted them aware of others’ needs in the world, not overindulged, so they came along to St Vincent de Paul clothing drives, the Walk Against Want and protest marches – where we lost one or other of them on a number of occasions. They had to attend Mass every Sunday, but we always openly acknowledged the Church was a badly flawed institution. Finally, our sons and daughter shaped themselves. It’s quite clear from the choices they made that they wanted be good people. They variously participated in the forty-hour famine, night patrols and Winter Sleep-outs, or visited asylum seekers in detention centres. From the get-go as young adults, they actively practised their faith. Now some of them have kids of their own. Again, I don’t know how to be a parent at this stage and grand-parenting is another mystery. Where are the books for this stage? I only know you need to know when to be supportive and when to butt out, and it seems I don’t always get that right. And so the muddling continues.

Parenting by Carolyn
My husband and I had 3 children in just over 3 years – totally unplanned of course. Who in their right mind would choose to have 3 children in 3 years? I had fallen in love with my first born daughter, who did all the right things, she slept, fed, gurgled, smiled etc. Then my second daughter was born and my first thought was, “I was wrong”, because I thought that she was going to be a boy. I didn’t necessarily want a boy, I just thought I was carrying a boy. I didn’t bond with this baby at all. She was a beautiful little girl as well who did all the right things, just like her older sister- slept, fed, gurgled, smiled etc etc. The only difference was that her mother didn’t love her. It shames to say it even now, 27 years later and my eyes are filling with tears as I write this. My post natal depression went undiagnosed and within a year I was pregnant again. I was terrified that my somewhat unstable mental condition could deteriorate after the birth of the third child. Fortunately this did not eventuate and we had a little boy, who also did all the right things – slept, fed, gurgled, smiled – you get the picture. Life was hectic but I felt very blessed in my role as full time mother. But of course, as full time mothers, we try to ‘compete’ with the so-much-busier working mothers. Therefore, I felt the need to make home made preserves, bottle fruit, have a vege garden, study part time, help at the school canteen, be on the P&C committee, help with reading classes, go on school excursions, help at swimming carnivals and athletics carnivals, organise the school fair, the list is endless. When my elder daughter was about 8, one of her friend’s parents decided to separate, she said to me, “If you and Dad got divorced, we’d miss Dad for his income, but we’d miss you for everything else.” What a sad indictment for their father, I thought. But secretly, I was pleased inside. Fortunately, the teenage years were not too traumatic. Certainly, there were some memorable moments. One incident remains etched in all our minds, “The Day Mum Smashed the TV with a Hammer”. The moral of the story is, don’t make a dare with an angry woman. My three children are now aged 29, 28 and 26. They are all delightful young adults whom I love dearly. They are the end products of my industry. I think they are export quality! But I hope they choose to stay in Australia, close to their Mum (and Dad) who adore them. If I look back to see how I would have parented differently, there wouldn’t be much that I would change. Certainly, I regret the lost years of love for my second child, but I simply adore her now and feel that she hasn’t been scarred in any way. I look forward to the next chapter in their lives with eager anticipation and hope that I’m around to share in it.

Parenting with Books by Virginia Lowe
Because both John and myself were compulsive readers – both librarians, as it happened – it seemed only natural to offer our children the same treasure. As we found enjoyment, solace, pleasure and ideas in books – why should it not be so for a baby as well? With our first child, Rebecca, I managed to wait until at thirteen weeks I noticed her head following the pages of a big library atlas as they turned – she was on my hip. This was readiness for books, and I started with a large colourful Mother Goose, as soon as we arrived home. She enjoyed the session, and from then on was always happy to sit on an adult’s lap, feel the vibrations, hear the speech or singing, , and look at the bright pictures as well. My son, three years her junior, did not have to wait so long for his introduction to books. He and I returned from hospital when he was ten days old. His sister has prepared his bassinette for him, with picture books leaning against the sides, up near his head, arranged so he could look at them. His home was always full of books. In fact when he was three he was puzzled: ‘where do the books come from? The books that are our books?’ I told him we brought them from our old house, or bought them, or someone gave them to us. But he was still thinking about it a week or so later. ‘The books that are our books. The books that the builder builded!’ it seemed nothing could convince him that the house had once been bookless. A house had bricks and windows and doors – and books, obviously! Neither child was an early speaker, but both at eighteen months had a book-demand in their small vocabulary, and would follow me around the house clutching a book and asking ‘Wead wead!’ (Rebecca) or ‘Book book!’ (Ralph). All children know how best to get their parents’ attention and of course I would almost always sit down and read to them. (I did have the privilege and luxury of staying home with them for the first seven years). I kept a record of their responses to the books they heard, and much later it became my PhD thesis and later still a book, Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell. I tried to keep a record of their comments and conversations about books, and their use of them in games as well, not just reading sessions. Our philosophy of reading was a little unusual. Most people who spend a great deal of time reading to their children, play the labelling game pointing to the pictures until about two – ‘look at the cat!’ ‘What does the dog say?’ ‘Where’s the duck?’ ‘Is that a cow or a dog?’ ‘What sort of bird it that?’ – changing with their ability. Certainly this does introduce them to books and is good for language development. But we believed that a picture book was a work of art, with pictures and text working together – also that story, narrative, was important. So, as much as possible, we read the words. Certainly they didn’t understand them all – but then that’s how you learn language, and learn to love it as well. This affected the children’s language development differently. Rebecca is a perfectionist. She wouldn’t use any word until she was certain it would be understood. So he first body part to be named was ‘elbow’. I’m sure she had tried ‘mouth’ or ‘eyes’ before, but we hadn’t recognised

it. But ‘e-bow’ was recognised and used from there on. Similarly one day when she was hungry at fourteen months, I told her to go and ask Daddy for her bib. She found him and demanded ‘bibibi’ – but he did not understand, so had to come and ask me anyway. It was several weeks before she tried ‘bib’ again, though she could clearly say it. She was just two when she made her first quote from a book. She said her food was ‘hot’. I said it was ‘warm’. ‘Warm and cosy’ she countered. Both John and I recognised this as a quote, not being a phrase we used, but couldn’t think where from. ‘Say-or’ she told us, but we still didn’t understand, so she went to her yellow table with its pile of books and pushed them off one by one until she brought us The Sailor by Dick Bruna. Yes, ‘The igloo was warm and cosy’. She took enormous pleasure from words, especially those that were not part of the family lexicon and six months later would go around saying ‘mackintosh’, ‘tippet’, ‘fortnight’ or ‘chamomile tea’ – enjoying the sound of them and the feel in her mouth, and using them in play – weeks later she might ask out of the blue ‘what does fortnight mean?’ but really the meaning didn’t seem to worry her. Of course when she asked we’d give an explanation, but usually she just accepted. They were often words from Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne, who both offer children a very rich vocabulary (in the original editions, with the more complex words still there). She used over 2000 words at two, and could manage any word in the books she knew well, too. I heard her talking to our cat one day, using a quote from a Beatrix Potter story. She had just learned to say ‘libr’ry’ instead of ‘yibr’ry’ and was clearly very aware of it. She told Pinkle Purr. ‘/l/ – I can say /l/. When I was a little girl I had no consideration at all of l. I took at enormous jump from the top of the wall and landed on the cat…’ then tapered off. Our son’s language development was quite different. His life was filled with language he didn’t necessarily understand, with Rebecca chattering away and much longer and more challenging books being read to her so that he overhead. Although he started to use recognisable words younger than Rebecca, Ralph also used jargon – language for the sake of ‘saying ‘something – for a long time as well. He also heard fewer books that were at his level, than Rebecca had, because he was an active child and didn’t sit still on the lap. He enjoyed the reading routine, but it was less satisfying for the adult, because he bounced and ‘talked’ the whole time. He didn’t quote as much as his sister had – possibly because he had fewer books he was really familiar with, having a much broader diet listening in with Rebecca to her more complex titles. So although he had a larger vocabulary at one and again at eighteen months, it was nothing like Rebecca’s at two. Of course he soon caught up. And the end result is that both still love language. When they moved out of home, the first thing they had to have was a comprehensive dictionary. You might be interested to know that they didn’t find it easy to learn to read, and both were eight before they could read at their interest level – but it didn’t worry them, because their parents were still reading aloud to them at night – a chapter or so a night. Probably the school readers were too boring when their read aloud stories were so challenging (they were on to Jansson’s Moomintrolls and Lewis’ Narnias, by then). Of course they learned to read eventually. Ralph read Lord of the Rings while we were overseas at ten. Both have continued to love story, and to read – though Ralph enjoys narrative in film more these days.

Neither has an academic career, but both are spending their adult life helping to save the world. Rebecca teaches sustainable organic gardening (permaculture) and practices it on her own little farm, complete with hand-made mud brick house. Ralph has been saving whales on the Sea Shepherd, saving humans in the ambulances, and saving animals as a committed vegan. So they have grown into adults I am very proud of.


Pat’s story
I am a ‘step parent’ to Greta and Matthew, meeting them first when they were eight and ten years old respectively. Matthew is married to Natalie and has two children, Annabelle and Lucas. Greta is married to Andrew and has four little girls, Zoe, Katherine, Jada and Hannah. They live in close proximity to each other and to their mother. Col and I live in Springwood in the Blue Mountains. Col and I are very active retirees. Matthew works in a hospital as a physiotherapist and Greta is a university trained nurse and midwife. She has worked with the Australian Breast Feeding Association while full-time mothering her four girls. Matthew was ten years old and Greta was eight when I first met them and their father Col, who was to become my husband. We had fortnightly access (which was not regular) and part of each holiday, usually just short of one week in the term holidays and two weeks in the Christmas holidays, to spend with them. The weekends were always a time we enjoyed even though the lead up was sometimes tense. The children would come after ‘little athletics’ or ‘basketball’ or ‘netball’ as they grew older, on Saturday afternoon and stay with us until Sunday afternoon. Our idea was to make the time loving and fun and easy going for Matthew and Greta and us when we were together. Some weekends we’d head off for camping which was always a great bonding time for us. The week between the end of school and Christmas Day we’d often travel to the Central Coast and stay in a caravan park. We’d hide the Christmas presents and Matthew and Greta would have to find them. They enjoyed the hunt as much as we enjoyed selecting places to stow their gifts. Lake Congola was another favourite spot where we were fortunate to be able to rent a neighbour’s house for a week and spend lots of time on the beach. I was conscious that these

children already had a mother and so I never allowed them to refer to me as ‘stepmother’. I was very particular about loving them and caring for them in a way that would not ‘threaten’ their mother or make her feel uneasy about my role in their lives. But I also disliked the fairy tale depiction of ‘stepmothers’ and I did not want to be in any way associated with such negative and sexist imagery. Even today Matthew and Greta will introduce us as ‘Col my father and Pat…my father’s wife!’ We bonded well when we were together, but these times were never enough for us and we missed them in between times. We wanted to provide as much stability for Matthew and Greta as we could. We tried to establish such a relationship where they could be honest with us and tell us if they were unhappy or uneasy in our home or worried about anything that we could help them with. I always wished that they could feel our home was also their home but was aware that it was more of a ‘holiday house’. I wanted to be the best possible carer and friend without assuming a ‘mother’ role in their lives. I feel we did what we could of our share in shaping the children’s values in the time we were permitted to have with them. We were always aware of the shortness of the weekend visits. Col maintained weekly telephone contact with Matthew and Greta. Easter Sunday was a day we usually had access to Matthew and Greta and on Christmas Day we collected them late afternoon to have Dinner at their Grandparent’s home, with their aunts, uncles and cousins. This was a ritual we kept up for most of their young lives. A variation of this happens now! It was important for us to allow them freedom to become independent thinkers, and personal space to develop their own value system which would help equip them for their own present and future life events. It was also important that they experience with us, unconditional love. We were there for them ‘no matter what’. I think they realised this. Thinking back now, I wonder if I could possibly have been a little more assertive and requested that their father and I be more a part of the children’s celebrations, especially their school celebrations but it is easy to say this in hindsight. Many separated fathers these days have contact mid-week, with their children. This would have been good for Matthew and Greta and would perhaps have provided an opportunity for Col to be more a part of their everyday lives. The distance between fortnightly visits is immense when you think of all that happens in just one day of a child’s life. I was always trying to ‘catch up’ with their daily lives and their needs. In relation to children, my philosophy then was to ‘walk alongside’ rather than to lead from ‘in front’ or push ‘from behind’. It is still my philosophy today. I was always aware that the delicate equilibrium we had established could be easily upset. I sometimes question though, if it would have been better if I had, in those days, had more confidence in my ability to challenge how things were at the time, with the children and risked a little more for the sake of a fairer sharing of access and all its implications. But I do believe that I did the best I could at the time with the knowledge and my own experience of life.

It is important, to my mind, that the best parenting process is the one that puts in place opportunities for each family member to experience a loving relationship with each other. I believe that, in allowing children to grow and become their own person whether we are the parent or a significant other in their lives we are being respectful of them. Recently Matthew has told me that his mother, Col and I provided the security he and Greta needed, as children of divorced parents which was not as common in their neighbourhood or their school. He expressed his gratitude. Today I like to relate to Matthew and his family and Greta and her family as I have done in the past. Lovingly and truthfully! I love grandparenting their children and helping out where and when I can, giving them some ‘respite’ occasionally. A lot of our time together is discussing the children; how they are and what they are doing. Our lifestyle is probably quite ‘alternative’ to Matthew and Greta with our continued full commitment to social justice. We are involved with people with mental health issues and have established an Association which engages them in the Creative Arts. This is our life and we like to share it with them as they like to share with us, their concerns and hopes for their own children in a world which is both exciting and precarious. My hope for Matthew and Greta is that they are happy and fulfilled in their marriage, and in their family life. I hope that Col and I will always be significant to them and their children, our grandchildren. I hope that I will continue to be a ‘mirror’ to them, in reflecting back to them, in a loving way, who they are, their particular charismas, their strengths. I want to walk beside them, as I did in their young lives.

Parenting by Alan and Catherine
It’s a miracle when they come - one of Nature’s little tours de force. You know the biology and the numbers, but never the wallop. You feel the mystery of it, this common as mud, everyday thing that springs from moments, lasts a lifetime and carves wonder on millions. You just gasp. The child, thrust into the light, slapped on the bum for just turning up, mewling and puking, and with a cry that Mum can pick from 40 yards from 40 others. She’s more serious, a mother now. You glimpse her Mother there too, both survivors of the pain women are heir to, but cradling this bundle with a devotion artists have dwelt on for centuries. The child brings hope: there’s new life, work to do, a chance to make a fist of things for someone else, build something better. So begins one of life’s great tasks. You pray they will be healthy. For a good while they take over everything. And you wonder why no-one said very much about all that. But off you go. The new grandparents smile, reminisce, feel the wheel turn again, confide over the rookie stumbles. In our case, he was followed by another son and then a daughter, all healthy, then stumps were pulled but the cue kept on hand. We did all the things young and then not so young Mums and Dads of our day did and gave it our best shot. Some nights after the books had won, sleep had arrived, I would sit and marvel for a while. Their faces so tranquil, composed, beautiful, angelic, full of promise. Whatever the day had held. You could see where the angels in the great art works had come from. What did we learn? Dad was right: be a rock show them the world The other Dad too: ’the joy of little fingers clasped in mine, may memory weave a fabric of the best’ Mum was right: Love them for all you’re worth, maybe you will be blessed to like them too. Jesus was right: allow little children to come unto me, build upon the rock. And, the sins of the parents may indeed be visited upon the children unto the third generation – that makes you the ham in the sandwich, right. The Rubaiyat was right: you are but the bow from which they fly, but a steady bow counts.

Nanna and Pop definitely have a way about them, make deep impressions and know stuff. Agatha Christie’s idea for raising kids by ‘studied neglect’ deserves a run but only to a measure. Leunig kept us grounded and with luck, a little later, they might get it. Pay attention, close attention, but let them run. ‘Run’ and ‘Go’ and ‘Look up there’ are good, sunshine too, wind and rain, paddocks and bush, river and sea all count. Rituals, celebrations, holidays away, Christmas, Easter, where you are theirs and hopefully around, are good. Hiding Christmas presents in the garden, with a string going somewhere, is a hoot. Fancy toys, or the ones you didn’t get, may not be the ones played with much. For us dress-ups were a ball, cardboard boxes, blocks, puzzles, Where’s Wally, I Spy, jigsaws, old tools, cubbies, trikes and bikes worked. Lounges soon got old with a proper beating. In the teenage wars, give ground, come round, but do not concede domain. Talk to your parents, learn from your friends and their folks and the books, then do your level best to work it out and do what you think is best. There is more advice and more knowledge than ever before but the sense must sit with you. They were/are all so different, and not. That great strategy you hatched might well fall over next time around. They do all seem to fight like cat and dog but it turns too. For us there luck was found and kindnesses given, which might be returned later, to others, when you’re not so broke or rushed or confused. Wisdom too, sometimes in unexpected places. In the midst of something, someone will remind you that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. And someone else will remind you that, after all, this was your big idea. If you had left that boy/girl alone, none of this would have happened. Repeat performances likewise. No wonder Mum and Dad screamed about the cost of ... Health insurance is good. You will come to know what you did to your own folks and some of the struggle they faced to grant you a place in the sun. What with your make peace not war and your protests and your free love and your rock concerts and your crazy hair and... And what Granma/Granpa meant when they said... It ain’t that easy - tragedy is real, chance can mean random, paths wind precarious and wayward, endowment unlucky. Ungrateful hurts, the flash of the ‘mirror-turned’ by the angry teen is painful.

Their life is different, more complex, challenging and confronting, like ours was. In their generation roles have been turned on their head and they are networked. To something a fair way beyond our reach. They turn out for the greater part okay, although not always well or free or unscarred or in a mould, whoever it is they are or on their way to becoming, which is just as well as it’s now time for you to step back and let the wheel turn once more. They might not say thanks, they will be angry with you, maybe hate you, for this or that, but with luck and what you gave them they might make a better fist of things. We two would not have done anything else instead.

My story is not sugar coated by Catherine
My story is not sugar-coated like everyone else’s. Mine has more truth and honesty than anyone needs. Even before the ‘moment that changed our lives forever’, things were never normal. I don’t know why, they just weren’t. For example, how many people set off half way round the world at age 17 to marry someone 20 years their senior? “What were the parents thinking?”, I hear you ask. The parents had set conditions for the journey which they thought were unattainable, without knowing how I’d break my neck to meet them. What more could they do? However, since this is a parenting story, I’ll skip straight to the hard part. I had my first daughter when I was eighteen. The father just wasn’t right. I was very keen to keep the marriage vows, but it was a loveless and violent union. When my daughter was about eighteen months old I grabbed her and my passport and a twenty pound note and made a run for it. We made it to London’s Paddington and a backpacker’s hostel. It was just her and me and five strangers in a dorm. My parents sent me money and I booked a flight home. I didn’t know I was attempting to abduct a minor, but I was arrested for it. This traumatic time ended a year or so later with the culmination of a custody battle, where my daughter was awarded to her unloving father. I got two hours a week visitation, and I never thought I would recover. Ever. My daughter is 29 now, and basically grew up motherless. We are still apart, but enjoy holidays together. We just had six weeks together over Christmas. Her father still has a hold over her. She remembers back to when she was little and says she was glad I got away. I can’t understand it and feel I failed her completely. I would understand it better if she hated me. I remarried and had three more daughters. My second daughter was the artistic sort. The dreamer type who also has practical skills. A lovely girl. They’re all lovely girls. But my second was someone who you forgot was your daughter and thought of as your friend. She would be 24 now.

My third daughter had the middle child syndrome. Always wanting to be the grown up and the baby at the same time. She made you try and be fair, and you always gave her more by accident. She is 22 now, with a gorgeous personality, a loving heart, a good job and a home of her own. My fourth daughter was the baby of the family, but never acted it. Smart, funny, popular, and 19, she is very compassionate, a real struggler and she has my complete admiration, since her life has had so much adversity in it. Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of the ‘moment that changed our lives forever’. I was at work on that day and received a call to advise that my youngest daughter, 8 years old, was in Westmead Hospital. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “She’s hurt herself and is asking for you,” they said. And wouldn’t elaborate. A workmate offered to drive me. The radio said there’d been a fatal accident on the Windsor Road. “That’s not far from my house”, I said, and I started to really worry. The report said a man was critically injured and a woman was dead and there were two children who were in hospital. “Oh well, that doesn’t sound like my family, after all”. By the time we got there, I had convinced myself it was my family. Instead of heading to the Children’s Hospital I went to the main hospital. I asked if my husband had been in an accident and they took me into a room. They showed me his clothing, cut into strips, and asked me if it was his. It was. He was having brain surgery. Then I went to the Children’s Hospital and my baby was crying with a neck brace on. I held her in my arms and soothed her. “Where are the others?” I asked. I was told we had to wait for a policeman to tell us and he was on his way. After a long excruciating wait a policeman came and told me what he thought had happened. My third daughter was on her way to the hospital with a friend, and it seemed my second daughter was deceased. Or it might have been the other way around. You see, my daughters carried photos of all of them in their purses, so it was impossible to tell. Only one way to know for sure, as it happens. “Can we ring someone for you?” the kind voice asked. No. I am alone. Doing what no parent should ever have to do. “Well I don’t like it. And anyway, I have to be getting home to the family. It’s nearly tea time and they’ll want their dinner!” My parenting has been an arduous journey for me, but one I think I’ve faced with tenacity, courage and strength, when rightfully, I shouldn’t have had any left. The accident has been a very hard place to come back from, I can tell you. The first few years I was so overcome with

grief that I forgot about being a Mum. Even though fourth daughter had ongoing injuries and third daughter went off the rails. But after a while my heart got a bit less sore and eventually my efforts went back into mothering. And fathering too. Whilst trying to write this story I asked my grown kids how they thought I went as a Mum, and they were unanimous in saying I am the best Mum anyone could get. Even, a bit inspirational. Well, they are too.

Words of wisdom for parents of the next generation
This writing was contributed to the project by women of different ages and stages – from parents to grandparents, at a writing workshop in Penrith on June 5, 2012. Thanks to Donna Sirmais for bringing people together in partnership. Our group was proud to include Aboriginal women, custodians of this land. I would like to dedicate this chapter to Jo Daley, Uncle Wes and Uncle Greg – three people I love and respect. Lizzie Acknowledgement of Country by Jonathan Hill Today we stand in footsteps millennia old. May we acknowledge the traditional owners whose cultures and customs have nurtured, and continue to nurture, this land, since men and women awoke from the great dream. We honour the presence of these ancestors who reside in the imagination of this land and whose irrepressible spirituality flows through all creation. Ten things I know are true by Theresa Kirby I believe that children need a lot of love – more now than ever before I know that I can give my children and their children’s family, love and respect I value their honesty and friendship I care about everyone around me and their families, even if they are not related to me, but are family, if you know what I mean I treasure my memories of my children and of my grannies I feel strongly about my culture which I don’t know enough about which was taken away from us I declare that I’ll always show love and respect I hope my children and grannies respect me like I respect and love them I work hard in my own life to support my children the best way I can The world would be a better place if we all RESPECTED AND LOVED ONE ANOTHER

Ten things I know are true by Lisa-marie Daley I believe that every child has the right to an education, warm bed, full belly and security I know that negativity breeds negativity, so I try to be a positive role model I value the precious moments created when a child invites you to play a game with them and you lose track of the time through fun I care about children having strong foundations, created from the beginning to help shape the confident adults they can become I treasure the look my son gives me as if I’m the only person in the world I feel strongly that every child has the right to feel loved, wanted and valued I declare that every child’s opinions, dreams and desires should be heard I hope that every child is given every opportunity to succeed that is possible for them I work hard in my own life to lead by example, to show my son I can be the best me possible The world would be a better place if we all had more tolerance & patience for children, each other, everything. Ten things I know are true by Tarnie Chan I believe in order to earn love and respect from a child, they must receive it first from us I know that children like to be recognised for their good work and behaviour I value children’s opinions I care about what they have to say or are feeling about something I treasure their hugs and kisses and companionship I feel strongly about always protecting them, no matter what age I declare that all their needs and purposes will always be greater than mine I hope that all parents share these special needs for their children I work hard in my own life to be a good role model for my children The world would be a better place if we all lived in harmony by listening and caring for others Be yourself What I believe by Lisa Brown What I believe children need to thrive in life is to be believed in and cherished by everyone, have someone to listen to them and encourage and love them, have people treat them with respect and to always remember that, yes, life is serious but you still need to have your fun and laughter as well. My daughter (15) and I are always best friends. We laugh, we cry but we also respect one another. The dancing around the house, pillow fights and practical jokes all add up to make her the beautiful person she is today, which will lead her to become a wonderful adult and parent.

What children need by Janmaree Martin I believe that all children learn from an early age is how love is shown to them. They need lots of interaction from birth and a sense of wellbeing. Having lots of fun and laughter and playtime to experience… They don’t need lots of toys or electronic gadgets but experiences. As teenagers, they still need to know that they have guidance and unconditional love whilst finding out “who” they are. Respect is learnt along the way when they are shown respect. To experience different types of music… Include friends in conversations as home and make them feel welcome when they visit. Let them make decisions to enable them to see what consequences there will be. Talking about “forethought” when choosing helps, when mistakes are made, and about what possible ways there are to fix it. What children need to know by Di Brown This is what I believe children need to know: Value family Respect yourselves and others Walk a mile in another’s shoes Maintain your values, principles and standards Be unique Accept yourself It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice Be excited Don’t worry (too much), be happy Laugh and the world will laugh with you It’s okay to make mistakes To thine own self always be true Keep an open mind A problem shared is a problem halved Never let the sun go down on an argument Never judge a book by the cover Get out and smell the roses Be inquisitive Never give the police a reason to come to the door

I believe by Pat Erskine I believe that children need to know the reason behind why they are or are not allowed to do certain things, not “because I said so”… I believe that children need to learn respect for others. They also need to learn to be tolerant of others’ behaviour and learn how to get on with people you don’t like. I believe that children need to learn manners from an early age. I feel strongly that children should be listened to before you make a decision on whether they are in the wrong and whether they need to be disciplined. Children need to know that they can tell you anything and you will listen to them, even if they have done something wrong.

Hilltop Heroes
This community writing workshop in August 2012 was a wonderful event in which 5 Australian grandmothers of different cultural backgrounds – Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, English and Australian-born – shared their insights about what children need. What made this so special is that four of the women are raising their grandchildren at this time and the fifth is actively involved in teaching values in four primary schools. What I loved is that these women are walking the journey right now and they are truly heroes, in my eyes… What all children need by Janette McCormack I think all kids need love, care and cuddles in their lives. Hugs are very important and they make people feel stronger. It’s doing whatever they need – giving good care, hot showers, good food, panadol for headaches, cough mixture during the night when they can’t sleep. Teaching manners is important and it is also important that children know who the boss is. It is good to tell stories to build happy memories. When we were little, before TV, we sat round the fire and dad told us stories, sitting around the fire. I can still remember dad telling stories. It is good to have fun together and to have a laugh together sometimes… What is really important by Yvonne Zhang I think that children really need love. They don’t always remember the toys you may buy but they will always remember the hug. Values are really important and children need to learn respect – not to be selfish and to look after each other. Values should be taught from Day One. Children also need reassurance and encouragement to try new things.

What children need to feel by Kathy Harris Children need to feel loved. They need to feel they are safe with their parents and friends – at school or on an outing. Children love to be told, “You are doing a great job” – either at school, at home or at their sport, dancing or whatever activity they do. They need to respect older people, their peers or anyone else they come in contact with – not arguing back or pushing and shoving. Family life plays a big part in our extended family of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunties and uncles, cousins and family friends… What children need to learn by Nirmala Linga We have to create a peaceful and happy environment for them. We have to be role models for them. We have to teach human values in a way they can understand. First WE have to practise, only then will they learn from us. There must be love and order. We must teach them to discriminate between good and bad. We must teach them to pray to God and believe from a tender age. See the good, hear the good and speak what is good. Spend time with children by Sonia I do feel that if I were bringing children up today that it is important for their life and their wellbeing to spend time listening to how they feel and to spend time talking to them. They do need time to hear how they cope each day at school – sometimes with pain and sometimes with joys of the day. I think that they love to sit and cuddle and have fun. I like to teach them how to do things, such as write and read. The important thing I like to talk to them about is never to forget how lucky they are to have a good family – and to be kind to other children and care about people. Also, manners are a great thing to use, no matter where they are. I feel that time doesn’t matter so long as we use it well…