I love a bit of nostalgia. I love home-made and vintage. Tea-cup candles scented with hyacinth, retro postcards and photographs from the ’30s and ’40s. I love the traditional image of family – the Sunday lunch with its roasted chicken and apple pie goodness. Ah, memories laced with brown sugar and cinnamon and lashings of custard.
My family is small and, I suppose, quite traditional. My parents met and married in their twenties. My mum had me when she was 25 and my sister at 28. My father was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and my mum worked in the local library – a job which she gave up to be a stay at home mum.
Step forward 50 years and that concept of a family as 2.4 children, a working father and a stay at home mum is antiquated – a cliché straight out of 1970’s sit-coms. I think, if we’re honest, there are many who miss the kind of stability this seemed to offer society. I can remember once discussing divorce with my mother (not my divorce, I hasten to add!). Her response was “in those days people just didn’t. This was a world where most people still went to church on Sundays and the 7th day was acknowledged, respected and offered a 24 hour haven of peace from the rigours of life.
Of course, the black side of this was the denial of all those who didn’t fit into the heterosexual mould and the iron-clad insistence that there was only one definition of marriage and only one construction for a family.
Today anything goes. Marriage, relationships, family units – are no longer hampered by any religious or gender considerations. Marriage has in many ways just become an announcement of who we love most at any given time. I personally regard it as more than that, having been raised in the Church of Wales but I know that, these days, I’m in the minority.
I had children in my 40s because I wanted to create my own family. I wanted something that would outlive me (what Richard Dawkins calls the “selfish gene”), to mark my existence. I have read legions of self-help / law of attraction / NLP books and always wince when the ‘recipe’ for self actualisation gets to the inevitable bit about “contribution”.
Being cynical, I always think that when you are living in a castle and flying about in a helicopter from seminar to seminar, the opportunity to ‘contribute’ must be huge. For those of us down on the ground, our contribution must, out of necessity, be smaller – random acts of kindness, charitable donations where we can and putting others’ needs before our own.
Isn’t this what a family is for? Isn’t this what families do? Yes I know there are dysfunctional families but I prefer to believe that in our daily life with our relatives we mark our passage through life by caring for one another and sharing the good things in life.
Those who no longer have a family or who are isolated for any other reason are not barred from finding this kind of emotional support, Today, as the local becomes ever-more global, as the internet links us across continents, we are able to communicate and form friendships as never before.
A new type of family is being born. “Find your tribe” we are encouraged – those people who understand you, with whom you belong. Mothers, in particular, are finding that they need each other more than ever before. And this despite working mothers being pitted against stay-at-home mothers with monotonous regularity. Many mothers are sinking under the weight of guilt as they try to redefine their new family structure.
As a late baby boomer (born in 1964) I was raised to have a career. I was never pushed to get married and have children (although I am always honest about the fact that I wish I had had my children earlier in life).
So now that I am, rather belatedly, here, it feels as though the rug has been pulled from under my feet. The mums I talk to on Facebook and Social Media in general are questioning who they are and how they should raise their kids without losing the person they have worked so hard to be.
The type of family unit I grew up in feels like something from an Agatha Christie novel, all gin & tonic after work for dad and afternoons baking and listening to the radio for mum.
Much as I miss it, I have to acknowledge that the families created by women, whether mothers or not, offer a love and support that is often far more powerful.