Tuesday, 6 November 2012

How Not To Talk To Your Daughter, Ma'am

"I just want to support you in going forwards"

This was said by a mother to her daughter in a Caffe Nero at 07:55 in the morning. For god's sake doesn't she know the difference between her daughter, who should be talked to and thought of with plain human language, and the other women at the office, who can be fobbed off with such corporate babble?

That's what working does to people. She's around that nonsense eight hours a day, and because it has money and status games attached, she thinks it's real. She thinks it's appropriate to take outside the office and use in the real world. 

What should she have said? "I'm your mother, I'm supposed to check up on you and be a pain in the ass about how you're living your life." "If you want to make all the mistakes I made and wind up like me, I'll shut up right now and you can turn into me when you're thirty-five." "You need to lose twenty pounds and do your damn coursework or you will wind up with some beta and it'll be a race between you losing interest in him or him in you." 

That's all I can think of. Consequences. Do today to put off a worse tomorrow. Not something that means much to most young people, for whom their immediate feelings are all-encompassing. The girl looked as if she had had a double shot of resentment before getting out of bed that morning and there is nothing you can say to someone with that hormone going round their bloodstream.   

The catch is the situation itself. By the time a late-forty something mother is talking to a daughter at university, it's too darn late for the motherly wisdom. That was supposed to be imparted ten and more years ago, as daughter learned to cook by helping Mommy, and learned how relationships worked by watching Mommy and Daddy, and learned about helping others by working with Daddy in the garden, or with the allotment, or whatever. The fitness was supposed to be from games at school, and after hours participation in a sport. Homework was just something that she did, after some initial tantrums, because Mommy and Daddy sat with her while she got over the reluctance. I'm making this stuff up, how the heck would I know what the Normals do?

Or here's the thing. Maybe what I was trying to describe is what the Successful Parents do. The Normals make a mediocre mess of child-raising. The Dysfunctionals make a bigger and more deep-rooted mess. A few vindictive and nasty parents actively mess up their children's lives, and when it suits the internal politics of some inner-London child services department, we read about that stuff in the papers.

Confusing how to live with how to work? I remember the giddiness with which I greeted the idea that I could run my personal life like my career: I could have Objectives, and Plans, and To-Do's, and Targets. It's a crock. That's how you run housekeeping, or your exercise routine. Not how you run your personal life. Here's the catch: if you have to figure out your personal goals in life, you don't have any. Beyond getting by day to day, which is a tougher task than you may believe when it has to be sustained over seventy years. Businessmen write down objectives exactly because they are external and contingent: your own objectives are as much a part of you as your arms.

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