My daughter Georgina had an exam this morning. In the car on the way to school, she had her notes out and was reading through them surreptitiously.
Her father and I told her to put those notes away and talk to us instead. Nothing deep, just nonsensical stuff like food and football, but in no time, we moved to the real heart of the subject.
A few years ago, we had four school-aged children to ferry round. I had suggested at that time to the children's father to get a driver, but he refused point-blank. Car time is talk time. We talk about everything under the sun. From boyfriends to money to dreams to bad behaviour to teachers being caught with their pants down.
Unbeknownst to the children, they were actually studying a very important subject that's not on the school syllabus: Good Old-Fashioned Values. I don't see much of that these days. Maybe it is because of the technological age. Maybe it is because modern life loosens our ties to our families. Maybe it is because we are living too fast, too furious. Maybe it is because the border between right and wrong is becoming increasingly fudged. I am not a sociologist, so I have no hard research to quote. Only that somehow, I am disappointed.
In a few short weeks, I am moving home. Not to London, where exciting things happen, and where I used to live years ago, but to a small hamlet at the edge of the New Forest, just a stone's throw from my parents' house. I dream of walking barefoot on the beloved shores of my childhood again with the man I love.
"Mother, you are weird," my daughter says. She lives in a world of boundless opportunities, a world where you can have it all if you play your cards right. We live in different worlds, that's for sure, and my job as her parent is to ensure that she takes Good Old Fashioned Values into her world. In my simplistic way, I attribute corrupt political systems, corporate frauds and greedy doctors to a lack of self-audit and self-governance: an intelligent person can always justify his/her own actions and avoids looking at the mirror deeply and truly. But to me, without Good Old Fashioned Values, you are still a bottom-feeder (and stink like one) irrespective of what you have achieved externally.
All quite theoretical to a fifteen-year-old girl, I'm sure, so I gave her the example of texting. Texts are cheap and readily available, and a grey area. It is easy for a harmless cyber conversation during lonely times to meander towards flirting, towards creating a platform for cheating, towards behaving dishonourably if one is attached to another person, even if no carnal act has been committed. Mental cheating is just as damaging, because it sows the seed of dishonesty. And we know what happens to sown seeds: they grow.
Behaving with integrity often means having to walk away from opportunities and face loss, but a prize that is won dishonourably is not worth keeping. Like taking illegal steroids to win a race. Is it ever worth it?
My mother said to me, a long time ago when I was a wild teen, "You know you acted in the right way, if you are OK for your behaviour to be broadcast in your hometown."
Isn't that a good check? If you are happy for the things you do in private - be it taking illegal steroids or sexting others whilst in a relationship - to be known to all, then will you still do it, with your head held high?
I am just a Hampshire girl, out of sync probably with the 'real' world, but nevertheless, these are the rules that I am sending my kids out to the New World with.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com