I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader. On school holidays we’d go to France for a few weeks in the summer ( the benefits of having teachers as parents, who had holidays the same time as you , and not just 20 days annual leave) and I would devour piles of books.
My son is eight and it seemed to take a while for reading to click with him. For the first couple of years of in school, I felt that his reading level was a bit behind that of his peers and he didn’t really show too much interest in books. Sometime last year, the ability to read fluently clicked with him, as I was assured it would, and now he’s a competent reader. But, he doesn’t love reading. He’ll only pick up a book as a last resort in the evening to put off going to bed for as long as possible. I got beyond excited when over Christmas he was enthusiastically reading the David Walliams book Mr Stink. Despite the short lived love of Mr Stink, I think it’s important that I reconcile myself to the possibility that my son might not be A Reader. He may not develop a love of reading, and turn to fiction as his form of escapism. This is fine. Not everyone is a reader, and many of these people are perfectly acceptable, intelligent and well-rounded humans.
My children will not necessarily like the things I like and that’s OK. In fact, it’s probably even desirable. It’s important that they make their own minds up, and express themselves, rather than me expressing myself through them.
My daughter is another case in point. In fact now I think of it, personality and interests wise, my kids are not like me at all. She is a fully fledged lover of pink, princesses, sparkles and ponies. Granted, she is four, so still plenty of room for change but I have had to do a lot of work on my internalised misogyny to acknowledge the fact she can love pink princess dresses and still be smart and funny and, well, brilliant. At the moment, she is giving great though to what she wants to be when she’s bigger. I’ve told her it’s OK, there’s no need to commit to your career path aged four. Some of us are still working on it thirty four years later. On the way home from work yesterday she was listing off the things she might be. ‘ Mammy, could I be a teacher? Could I be a painter?..a singer ?’ She finally settled on a ballet girl. But she was asking me, ‘Mammy, can I be..’ and my husband responded to her, ‘ Mammy doesn’t get to choose what you are. You decide.’ And I thought, that was a really great insight, for the commute home from work on a dark and wet Monday evening.
There’s so much chatter now about the importance of getting girls into STEM. I agree that’s important, but what’s more important is that we encourage our children to find their own paths. Study what interests them, find out what they are good at, choose hobbies that make their hearts sing. These may be things that are the polar opposite of our own interests, or what we might choose for them, but this it to be celebrated. After all, isn’t the goal to raise secure and happy humans? And I think that’s how you do it.