Sometimes, after my early morning trip to the loo, I cannot go back to bed. When that happens, my mind usually gets into all sorts of high jinks, pondering the imponderable. Lately, I’ve been wondering what the oldies mean when they say their children “have their own life.” Do they mean it literally, as in the young un’s are very busy raising their own families and progressing their careers? Or do they mean it euphemistically, in that they, the oldies, have been excluded from this “new life”?
Back before I went to college, my mother once told me, “The market traders don’t want to send their children to college because then, these children will return, thinking they are too good for their roots anymore.”
At the time, I thought my mother was over-identifying with people 20 years older than herself and these market traders, selfish. After all, the very reason to send your kids off to college is for them to rise above their backgrounds, or is it not? I thought it was contrarian to the Chinese ideal of having one generation improve on the one before.
Then, as you are well aware, I grew up, migrated West, married and had Amanda, who’s eight and a half. During these early morning involuntary sessions of mental gymnastics, it occurs to me that one day, less than 10 years from now, Amanda will be (hopefully) in university having “her own life.” What this means causes me no end of anxiety, especially since I’ve discovered, from observing Aussie parents with university-aged children, this means she’ll flee the nest, possibly never to return, except to scrounge off me and HRH! Oh, horror of horrors!
It doesn’t help that like my mother, I’ve been accumulating friends a good deal older than me. In fact, most of the people I talk to regularly are older than I am. 3 are my mother’s age – which they and I, occasionally find hard to believe. I suppose the difference in my relationship with them and them with their children is that I am not their child. Who I am and what I am, filial or prodigal, is no reflection of their success or failure as parents. We’re just friends who talk a lot, quite often I’ve found, about their now-grown children.
Now and then they introduce me to their other friends, folks their age, who also say to me, “My children have their own life”, with what I would interpret to be a resigned look of melancholy in the eyes.
Then they’ll go on to tell me how they have to make appointments to drop by, how their children blame them for some shortcoming in their parenting, how their children want to borrow money off them, or blame them for not having money, or, most heart-breakingly of all, not want to have anything to do with them. Except for when they need a free babysitter or things fixed.
“This is happening right around Australia,” a friend of one of my 3 much-older friends told me. “Our children have lives of their own and these lives don’t include us.”
One of my 3 much-older friends said, “I never thought I’d experience homelessness since 3 of my children each live in 4 bedroom houses.” But when she suddenly fell ill and was unable to work for a spell, that’s precisely what happened. “I ended up camping in my car by the lake in Shenton Park. If you go to the lake when it’s dark, you’ll see many cars parked around it. Everyone’s homeless.”
But what did she do to deserve this cold treatment from her children?
“My eldest blames me for being broke.” She has 2 postgraduate degrees, which I verified by googling her name so you can’t call me a sucker for a sob story. “My second says that he’s got his own life. He doesn’t have money to lend me.”
“Couldn’t he have sent you a ticket to go bunk with him for a while?” I asked.
“His partner wouldn’t have liked me living with them. She doesn’t have family staying over either.”
“What about your youngest?”
She put her youngest through private school by working 2 jobs.
“My youngest couldn’t accommodate me because her in-laws were visiting.”
Fortunately a kind friend of hers stepped in to provide temporary shelter. She’s since moved to one of the Eastern States, from which she hopes to complete her book on textiles for publication. She said she might send me an extra-special present at Christmas.
Then there is “long-backside” who corners me every time I leave the house. HRH and I nicknamed her thus because if ever she corners you, you’ll lose 2 hours of your time listening to her yap, quite often about nothing.
One day, Long-backside came up to me as I was enjoying the sun in front of my next door neighbour’s house. Right away I knew I was going to be stuck wherever I was for the next 2 hours. Long-backside first talked about a neighbour’s new baby – someone I’ve only said hello to once – then about her new teeth, then about the time when her own kids were young – how she bathed them, played with them, read to them – when I suddenly asked, “How old are they now?”
I didn’t want to stop this old lady from reminiscing but it seemed to me she was talking as though they were dead.
“They’re all in their forties with lives of their own.”
And right there was the reason why she wanted to talk about them for a good hour.
“How often do you see them?” I asked.
“We meet up at Christmas,” she said. “The boys have always been close to each other but the eldest blames me for the divorce and the youngest wants nothing to do with me.”
I felt sad for her and thought about the many friends I have, my age, who are reading, bathing and playing with their babies, toddlers and young children. I thought too about my many educated Asian friends who extol the benefits of Westernised parenting: they say their children will have better social skills, be more independent, creative, open-minded. But how does one go from having this close relationship between parent and child to not having any relationship at all? If you give your child everything, will they appreciate you or turn around, as adults, to criticise your efforts using the the eloquence and lateral thought you nurtured?
People who’ve known me a long while say I’ve become a lot more conservative in my outlook of life. I think the word they’re groping for is “cynical.”
At the start of my parenting journey, I was determined to discard the shackles of my own conservative, very Asian upbringing. I was going to give my offspring the most Westernised of Western parenting: they were going to have complete freedom of thought, speech and action. They were going to be independent of me and my archaic views. When I grow old, they were going to be independent of me, period.
Then, while having coffee, or just minding my own business, I made friends with all these old, white, Aussies. The men seem to accept the empty nest situation well enough, but most women want to reminisce of the times when their children were young. I’m no psychologist but I sit there thinking that they want to relive the days when their children loved them unconditionally.