Thursday, August 04, 2011

Charlie Gilmour -- what is a "privileged" upbringing?

When I read how his mum tweets about how he was being locked up for 23 hours a day, my heart bled for her.

But not for long.

Instead I found myself mulling over what is meant by a "privileged upbringing".

Was young Gilmour privileged on the basis that he has a loving mother and stepfather?

Was young Gilmour privileged because he was given every material need?

Was young Gilmour privileged to be an above-intelligent person (assuming that as he had gone to Cambridge)?

In court it was argued in mitigation that young Gilmour behaved the way he did because he faced rejection from his birth father. He was drugged up to the eyeballs when he was swinging from the Cenotaph.

Would my biographer (if I had one) also describe me as having a "privileged background"?

On the basis that my mother never worked, and never made us do any household chores. Though she was criticized by the extended family for being so, her response had always been, "I want my (six) children to concentrate on their studies."

Was I privileged because I observed sacrifice on the part of my parents?

Was my biggest privilege that of having a father for whom my every achievement was "not good enough", leaving unsaid the words "Child, you can do better. I know you can do better."?

And then I looked at my own child. Would they say, when he's 21, or 61, that he too had a "privileged upbringing"?

At this point of my life when my son would soon be out of my hands and I'm trying to find employment, I am finding that I have become quite unemployable.

The past 11 years of caring for son (and the husband who was quite ill for years) has left a big gap in my CV.

I don't mind not having a guitarist for a husband, I really don't. But in mulling over this I suddenly realized that part of me wished I could be described like Mrs Gilmour as "author", but I am not that, though I write a lot.

Like my mother who sacrificed much of her life doing the mundane things in life so that her children could focus on studies and therefore upward mobility, I realized that I have sacrificed an opportunity to develop my academic career.

Make professor at 60? No chance. Return to my alma mater to teach? Dream on.

We cannot choose our parents. (Mine turn out to have very little education but they learned to educate themselves, learned to read Chinese!)

But we can choose how we parent.

I stuck around because husband was often in too much pain to get out of bed. I had to reassure our son that Dad was OK. Then I cried my own tears of fear in private.

Then son had a spell of trouble at school. Everything was going too slowly for him. I stuck around to help him get over that difficult patch. And he is a much happier, more assured person these days.

Maybe they would describe my son as having a "privileged upbringing" after all, not because his mother is a professor, but that she did sacrifice time, career, travel, fame, whatever, so that the family could move on together.

Just as his father sacrificed his dream of retiring at 40 to play golf, and instead continued to work (despite the illness) to pay the bills.

We cannot choose our parents, but we can choose how we parent. Perhaps we should take it one step back and say, "We can choose (carefully) whom we wish to parent with."

Only then can we hope to reduce the number of Charlie Gilmours -- with or without privileged upbringings -- to ensure that we meet the needs of our children where they are.

This might be news to some: Sometimes parenting requires making sacrifices.

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