Working for a charity means that I used the word ‘legacy’ more often than the average man on the street. Leaving a share of your estate to charity is usually the most significant donation anyone will ever make, and charity fundraisers promote the idea of legacy giving by emphasising the idea that donors can make a lasting contribution to the long term future of their chosen cause.
Lately, following my previous blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much of the person I am is inherited from my parents and grandparents, and what, in turn, I’ve passed on to my own kids. The skills, interests, abilities which are handed down from one generation to the next are, if you like, our legacy to our children. Some things about me which I give my parents or grandparents full credit for are:
- Reading poetry and bedtime stories to my kids
- Loving 1940’s/ 50’s Hollywood movies
- Late night deep and meaningful conversations about politics or religion
- Having just about scraped through my maths GCSE
- How to really, really celebrate Christmas!
I think I also have a lot of skills inherited in a more round-about way from my parents. My Mum liked to do things in her own way in the kitchen and didn’t encourage me to help – in fact, in the first letter she ever wrote me when I left home, she admitted she was feeling guilty about how little she’d taught me about cooking. But as it turns out, years later I’m doing pretty good, entirely self-taught – which suggests that perhaps parents don’t always need to stand beside their children, coaching them through every stage of the process. Perhaps all you need is a good example from your parents to get you started.
As it happens though, cooking/ baking is something I am enjoying teaching/ sharing with my girls. We’ve done so much that 10YO has already reached the stage where she can make cup cakes start to finish by herself, and several other recipes/ meals with only a bit of supervision. Her little sister and I usually bake once a week, and I love seeing how she’s mastering tasks like greasing the cake tins, using the scales, cracking eggs and so on. Today whilst making pastry she solemnly informed me “you can’t eat the mixture after you put the egg in, because it’s RAW and that’s not good to eat”. Hopefully, in years to come, they’ll have a lot of happy memories of time we’ve spent in the kitchen – I know I will.
It goes without saying that the most important thing we can pass on to our kids is knowing that they’re loved. I was reminded of this over Christmas, when I watched some old cine footage of my Grandad playing with my brother as a baby. Just a few minutes of silent film, capturing what looked like a game of Peekaboo, both participants with huge smiles on their faces, both utterly absorbed in each other. Watching it, I had a sudden ‘lightbulb moment’ as memories and feelings clicked into place. That’s it. That’s what he was like, and that’s why I still miss him 28 years after he died. He was interested. It’s that simple. I never remember feeling bored or left out of adult conversations when visiting my grandparents, even though they didn’t have a lot of toys for us to play with – I remember exploring the house, picking mint leaves in the garden, talking and being talked to. Even after we morphed from cute kids to grumpy teenagers, he would scan his daily newspaper for pictures of Culture Club and A-ha for me, and once even bought me some leather boot laces so that I could tie them round my wrist in Morten Harket’s style. Although I perhaps couldn’t have put it into words until recently, I knew he was interested.
Do my kids feel the same? That’s the ‘long hard look at yourself’ question I’m mulling over now. When we’re baking together, maybe – hopefully – yes. But all the time (and there is far too much of it) that I’m scrolling through the screen of my phone or tablet while they’re slumped in front of the TV, they probably have a feeling that I’m really not there for them. When I roll my eyes at 10YO’s Minecraft obsession, or sigh in exasperation when 4YO asks, for the millionth time, why Hans in Frozen wanted to be king, I’m not passing on the same legacy of love and attention that I was given.
So although it’s nearly February, I’m making a New Year’s Resolution to make sure that I’m leaving a positive legacy to my children, in mental/ emotional/ spiritual terms. They need to know that I’m interested and that I’m there for them. That means sharing the stuff that they’re interested in (Minecraft and Frozen!), not just what I’m interested in. I may risk being one of those slightly tragic parents who tries and fails to get ‘down with the kids’ but I know my kids are worth making the effort. And I’ve got some great footsteps to follow.