A little while ago, I was having dinner with my family and the subject of babies came up. One of my younger sisters said ‘It’s so scary, the responsibility of having to look after someone and support them until they’re 18!’ I saw Mum catch Dad’s eye. ‘As if it stops when you’re 18!’ spluttered Dad. ‘We’re still doing it now!’
New research from Nationwide suggests that most parents spend an average of £2,500 to help them get set up once they’ve left home, and 85 per cent of parents surveyed had contributed financially to their children’s new start. I am totally guilty of this.
I like to think that I’m independent, moving into a flatshare in London as soon as I finished university. But then I think of the times when I’d ring Mum in a panic, usually a week after payday, tearfully asking if she’d top up my bank account. How I got myself into trouble with a credit card, and how they calmly helped me deal with the debt.
When I recently complained to Mum about how hard it is to save for a mortgage, she gently pointed out that I’d just finished booking a mini break to Barcelona
Now that I make more money, I do my best to be responsible, although my parents still help me out every now and again. I’m about to move house and Mum has already found me a new dressing table.
It still astonishes me that by the time my Mum had turned 32, she was the mother of four children aged between six (me) and one (Olivia). At 32, my life couldn’t be more different. I am childfree, living in a one bedroom rented flat with my husband.
When she and my Dad were in their early thirties, they were bringing us up in a four bedroom detached house in Buckinghamshire, which they owned. Perhaps most significantly, Mum had spent the earliest part of her thirties either pregnant, or in hospital, worrying and waiting, because my baby sister was seriously ill for the first few months of her life.
I can’t imagine how I’d find the strength to deal with the responsibilities Mum faced when she was my age. As a millennial, I have only just learned to stay out of my overdraft. My biggest worries are about keeping my freelance career afloat, trying to boost my low Instagram following and learning new ways to substitute carbs for cauliflower.
I spent most of my twenties comparing my life to hers, and finding it wanting. Mum seemed to have more security at my age than I ever will, but she’s also quick to remind me that I’m lucky to have as much freedom as I do. And fewer responsibilities do mean many more luxuries. When I was younger, we went on some lovely family holidays, but we didn’t go away every year, and never ventured beyond Europe. When I recently complained to Mum about how hard it is to save a deposit for a mortgage, she gently pointed out that I’d just finished telling her about booking a mini break to Barcelona.
As a generation we are often dubbed kidults - a group of child-adults locked in a limbo land of wanting to live like grown-ups, but not behaving like the adults we puport to be.
I don’t think she has any friends her age who struggle with chronic anxiety - whereas I don’t seem to know anyone who doesn’t
I look to Mum as my model for what a grown-up looks like and while she rarely tells me off about the choices I make, she’s good at reminding me that they are choices. I can’t spend money on luxuries like travelling and eating out, and then complain about how unfair things are for my generation.
However, I think I learnt the most about how to be a grown-up from Mum when she was in the kitchen. Feeding a large family three times a day must have been stressful, but it was always where she was at her calmest and most creative. I’d get home from school at an ultra competitive girls’ grammar where grades meant everything and then I’d watch Mum making dinner.
It was like watching Picasso do a casual doodle to pay his bar bill. She’d make focaccia from scratch because she thought it would be “fun”. She’d do two puddings because she couldn’t choose one. Her culinary skills were indisputable, but that wasn’t what made the biggest impression on me. It was her fearlessness.
One in 50 dishes might end in disaster, and she’d laugh and look forward to trying again. I was always afraid of doing anything unless I was certain of success. Mum showed me that you learn by trying, and that you’re happier if you enjoy the process instead of defining yourself by the result.
As a cryptic crossword queen with a law degree, I often wondered why she didn’t pursue a career after she graduated. She had always been keen for her daughters to go down an academic path that might lead us to a life outside the home. When she was growing up, women were expected to make a life within the family, but she knew that her daughters were a part of a different generation and she wanted us to have every advantage possible.
But this has also meant that I’ve not met the ‘grown-up’ milestones that many of my elders would have expected me to tick off by now. Yet, while I compare myself with Mum, she doesn’t compare herself with me - she simply marvels over our differences.
She’d love grandchildren and is worried that I’ll miss out on the joy of a family if I continue to put my career first
She laughs when I regale her with stories of messy weekends and she was my biggest champion when I left my full time magazine job to become a freelance writer. I was nervous and filled with self doubt, but Mum believed I was brave, and that I was capable of making it work.
More importantly, she showed me that it didn’t matter if it didn’t go well. She made me feel that failure wouldn’t define me, any more than a dodgy dinner would define her. She is much more laid back than me, I don’t think she has any friends her age who struggle with chronic anxiety - whereas I don’t seem to know anyone who doesn’t.
However, it’s complicated. Deep down, while she always expected me to do something different to her, there’s still a part of her that wants me to be at home with a family, because that’s what made her happy. I’m so grateful to her for giving me the space and encouragement to pursue my ambitions, but I feel guilty, too. She’d love grandchildren and is worried that I’ll miss out on the joy of a family if I continue to put my career first.
While she talks wistfully about how, when she was growing up children weren’t expected to be constantly supervised and the focus was on simply passing exams instead of getting straight As, she does recognise that my generation have been put under a lot of pressure to be ‘perfect’. Her generation encouraged us to have high expectations for ourselves - a message that should have been inspiring, but has left many of us feeling as though we’ll never measure up.
Sometimes I think that my Mum’s decision to raise a large family meant that she’s never had time to be anxious about her life choices, because she’s simply been too busy to give them a second thought. Having said that, Mum has shown me that I don’t need to follow in her footsteps to make her proud.
The best thing I can do is to forge a brand new path of my own. She’s taught me, the grown up thing for us both to do, is to see these differences as what makes life interesting.