This week we celebrate another milestone as Antonia turns 21. So that’s it: officially grown up. The first of our children to emerge at the other end from our slightly odd approach to parenting (at least by modern standards). So it is interesting to look back.
Ant is currently at University, where she is studying Maths to Masters level, and looks set to get a first class degree. She is also enjoying a lively social and sporting life. She also practices her Faith with commitment and energy, including co-founding the University’s pro-Life prayer group. She has a non-Catholic boyfriend who is teased by his friends because his girlfriend doesn’t sleep with him. She found a summer job in her first year and was so valued by her employers that they have asked her back every subsequent summer, increasing her pay each time.
Whilst I am (as you will have realised) very proud of her, I am not mentioning these things to boast, but rather because they are unexpected outcomes – at least according to the popular wisdom of the current culture.
I remember when we moved house, when she was 15. The headmaster of her new school was worried on learning that we do not have a television in the house, for religious reasons. He was concerned that we were raising her in a way that would be over-protective, leave her lacking the common ground with her peers to form effective social relationships and so on. By the time she left she had been voted by her peers as the girl they would like to have as head girl, and the head, who has the final say, interviewed her and two others and appointed her.
I have been told that by encouraging her to be modest, I was raising her in ‘a noxious environment’, in which ‘expressing her sexuality’ was ‘bad.’ Yet strangely, she is a mature, confident, and outgoing young lady, able to interact with men and women on equal terms and to have a long-term boyfriend on her terms.
So I stand by our approach, which may be counter cultural, but is actually a time-honoured method, built on the wisdom of generations and particularly on Catholic belief and practice.
Here’s a few things we did as we brought her up that may be at variance with societal norms:
We sat together as a family for our meals
We went for walks together on a regular basis
We didn’t have a TV
We read to the smaller children every night – a book worth reading
We allowed our kids to take a lot of risks (at the physical level) such as climbing trees, exploring the local countryside unsupervised, and taking up exciting hobbies and sports (rock climbing, sailing, etc)
We didn’t allow our kids to hang around in shopping centres or go to sleep-overs or parties where we don’t know and trust the parents concerned
We tried to ensure our kids have a lot of fun – more than their peers
We didn’t buy them much stuff – consumer toys etc
We encouraged them to pursue interests like music seriously
We (their parents) love each other and are committed to staying together no matter what…
We pray together every day
So I guess what I want to say is: dare to be different! It really can work!