Why, as a parent of grown up children, I wish I had known about Life Skills

Thanks to the Easter break, last night I had the joy of having all my children – aged 22, 21 and 19 – at home for supper with a few of their friends. I was the only parent at the table, and I was fascinated to note how much they talked about their experiences growing up. I have known some of their friends since they were little children and I have witnessed the struggles some of them went through when they were in secondary school.  It was incredible to watch these now well rounded, focused, happy young people and remember the dramas linked to drugs, alcohol, self-harm, panic attacks, depression that affected that whole generation. Are these even the same people? They are and I guess their parents and I were very lucky as they all seem to have pushed though. But I remember the difficult years when as parents, we were trying so hard to find the right words to make them ok, the right advice that they would not reject, the right time to give them a cuddle that they would find comforting and getting it wrong – it seemed – every time.  It was heart breaking to want to be perfect parents and find that the more we tried the worse it got.

What struck me about their conversation was the fact that they only talked about happy times and that these were mostly the times when the parents did something really silly, like take the whole family to the wrong airport when going on holidays, or leaving the house and forgetting all the luggage in the hall, or getting them out of school early on a snow day pretending to the headmaster that they were worried about driving in the snow and then actually pulling out some bin liners from the boot of the car to go sledging in the park. What they cherish are the times when we are human, when we make mistakes and say sorry and show them that it is ok and we can just move on, that problems have solutions and that life is fun and it has to be enjoyed.

Sadly, as a generation of parents we have not done this enough. We were all dragged into the “best parents’ competition” where the winners were the ones whose children could swim 25 metres aged 3, play the violin, speak three languages and love latin and of course had the best birthday parties. The result was that we were stressed out parents, so worried about keeping up with what the latest right thing for our children was, that we often forgot to ask them what they thought or how they felt. This is how we created a generation of children who absorbed our stress and our perception that one has to be perfect all the time, when in fact the truth, and what they needed, was for us to show them that what we should do is not to aim at perfection but to achieve our best, that it is ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn, as parents as well as children, and that life is mostly about how we relate to others and what we give not just what we take. There is a lot of talk about social media being responsible for the mental health crisis of this generation. I am sure there is some truth in that too but we as parents were as affected by unhealthy comparison as our children were, so we were not able to protect them. Who did not feel a pang of pain and jealousy when their friends posted a picture of their daughter winning a swimming race, becoming head girl, swimming off a beach in the Bahamas. Many of us parents found it easier to say “you will win next time”, thus creating a sense in them that we expected them to win next time,  rather than “it is ok to be a bit jealous but you should be happy for your friend and one cannot win all the time”.

This is why I joined the team at Role Models, because I believe the Life Skills they teach are not just important, they are fundamental to the mental wellbeing of children and will greatly help them as they grow up. I like the courses that Role Models deliver and I like the fact that they prepare parents for the courses with a talk and follow them up with further advice, so that the courses do not just benefit the children but the whole family. My mission now is to help Role Models grow as much as possible so we can create a whole generation of happier, more resilient and successful adults who will also be better and happier parents than my generation has been.

Francesca Nelson-Smith