You may, dear reader, be expecting me to spend this post moaning about class warfare and how hard I had it growing up, but I’m not going to do that. Yes, we struggled; living as a child in a little, three-bed terraced house in East London with two brothers, three sisters, two parents and a mental dog wasn’t easy. I don’t remember us ever – EVER – buying something brand new from the shops, it was all second-hand. For a year we had a tv that was black and white and yellow as all the other colours had stopped working (and yes, it had an aerial made out of a wire coat hanger).
But it was all we had and it was enough to keep us alive and (generally) happy. It was an experience, that’s for sure, and is what’s driven me to work for more in my adult life. It’s been a constant reminder that I need to constantly better myself, and to keep working hard in order to provide my kids with the best of both worlds – the values and work ethic of my working-class background along with the benefits of a firmly middle-class lifestyle.
My kids are definitely, unarguably middle class, though. This isn’t a bad thing, they just think a little differently to me. Here are some things I’ve noticed that set them out as very different from myself at their ages.
- They request brioche at breakfast.
- A meal without a dessert is simply not finished.
- Having to choose one tv show to watch for the whole family is irrelevant as they have at least five different screens to watch by themselves.
- We had ‘nothing’ in the fridge a couple of weeks ago, so knocked up pasta in a home-made tomato sauce with chorizo chunks, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, a rocket salad and home-made croutons, with some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Living off scraps, we were.
- My boys love to eat olives (even if the youngest thinks they are funny tasting grapes).
- My 11 year old son has a preferred brand of coffee.
- My 13 year old sometimes falls asleep while reading a novel and listening to Classic FM.
- Salad without a dressing of some kind is not allowed.
- They don’t want to grow up to load a van. They don’t even want to grow up to be the person who drives a van. They want to grow up with a haulage empire of their own.
- They all like a glass of wine, apart from my eldest. Apparently, she prefers champagne.
All of these things amuse me, but it does make it a challenge sometimes when they moan about something which is not a big deal at all. I’m told that everyone at school has the latest iPhone, or has downloaded the latest PlayStation game to take the world by storm, or has a bigger JoJo bow. This, despite the fact that I know the parents and have had it confirmed that no, in fact, they do not.
I love that they have a degree of security I never had (we were trained as kids when to be quiet if there was a knock on the door in case it was the debt-collection guys), but equally I want them to know what hardship really is so they more fully appreciate all that they have. We can’t afford skiing holidays, but we can afford non-microwave food. We have Sky tv and go out to restaurants occasionally which have plates, knives and forks rather than paper wrapping. Classy.
To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure they have the same concept of money as I do. We never use cash, so all they see is me slapping my card down or holding my phone up and magically we are able to buy things. When we need something new I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy it; I’m not rich, but I’m comfortable, and if I can’t manage it then I have credit cards.
Part of me wants to send them down mines and up chimneys to learn what real graft is, to only wear clothes with misspelled branding on the side (Adeedas, anybody?) or to live on spam and smash for a month. But then I realise that I don’t want them to have to do that as I want better for them. I’m stuck in a vicious cycle of wanting them to have better than I had and then being disappointed with myself for giving it to them.
Parenting isn’t easy. There are worse situations than I’m in, and plenty of people would love to have this first world problem (I know I would have, as a child). There’s no simple answer to this other than to embody the working class values I want to instil within them. I just need to remember that telling them how good they have it in no way helps them understand how good they’ve got it.