My son has long wanted to be a professional footballer when he grows up. Football is in the family to an extent which perhaps allows him to feel slightly closer to that dream profession than others of a similar age. For a couple of years he has lived and breathed football and any discussion, however brief and well-meaning which turned to ‘the future’ involved the beautiful game and nothing more. There was nothing more. This week marks a slight change in attitude though. He came to me one evening and told me that he had been thinking about a safety-net option if for some reason he didn’t make it as a pro-footballer and he had decided he’d like to be an architect.
I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t sing at this point. Not that I wouldn’t want him to be a footballer-I, along with every other mother in the land would give anything for my children to have their heart’s desire career-wise. However, that there is another possibility arising as a just-in-case makes me feel a little more settled and that it should be architecture, well, that interests me massively. ‘Why do you think you’d like to be an architect?’ I asked, genuinely interested and secretly pleased but not wanting to give that away. And the answer: ‘Because I want to make really nice houses for people to live in.’ How pleasingly simple.
Pleasing and simple as it may be, we need to explore where this new-found interest in architecture has come from. It doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. For the last 5 years, our ‘home’ has been an issue but just recently we’ve had to uproot very quickly as our ex-landlord decided to sell rather than make essential repairs. In the past we’ve had discussions about why we rent while his school friends’ families own their homes. We’ve avoided having his friends over to play or have tea because we knew the house we lived in was shabby. And to top it all off, just recently we have been debating the private rented sector and insecurities around him and his siblings. I’m guessing that he is hoping that he can help solve these kinds of problems by designing and building homes for people. He sees and feels how important it is for us to be secure and have a home. It’s heart-warming and heartbreaking at the same time. Heartbreaking because I see he is carrying the weight of our troubles on his, admittedly increasingly physically substantial, yet emotionally still child-like shoulders.
It’s a problem, this tendency for children to soak up our concerns and fears and one which has elicited much research. Just recently The Children’s Society has been raising awareness of the effect of debt on children http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaign-join/debt-trap-end-damage-children They report that 9 out of 10 parents who are finding it difficult to pay their bills say that it is causing them ‘emotional distress.’ Almost half of children from the surveyed group of families in debt felt that money problems caused arguments. Ultimately The Children’s Society campaign highlights how children ‘see, feel and hear what is going on around them’ and how very negatively they are affected by it.
The housing and homelessness charity Shelter also has things to say about this http://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/39202/Chance_of_a_Lifetime.pdf
They note that the income a family receives; effective parenting and the provision of safety and security are all very closely connected to the housing situations families find themselves in. Their research points to poor housing conditions having negative effects on the health, safety, capacity to enjoy and educational achievement of children. Those who have experienced homelessness, overcrowding or poor housing are significantly more likely than other children to experience mental health issues, anxiety and depression. Having a decent and secure home is important to developing minds and spirits not least because without it, we parents find it difficult to hide our concerns. And then our children attempt to shoulder some of those worries. Our troubles are inexorably connected with theirs.
Having a decent and secure home is more than important, for a child it is fundamental.
My son will I hope fulfil his footballing ambitions. If he does, he has pledged to buy us a house. In the good old days he would have followed tradition and bought our council house for us but since we don’t have one of those, I guess it will have to be a villa with a pool.