Tuesday 27th December
Visiting my hapless friend Barbara, her Barrister husband Martin and their children Julia and Erica yesterday I was struck by this modern habit of getting your children to call you by your Christian names. My generation would never have considered it, I knew that my mother and Grandma were called Margaret and Hilda but those were for other adults to use, not a child like me. It would have been seen as a sign of disrespect; the very denomination Mummy or Grandma conferred on the owner some position, some sense of achievement in the hierarchy that we, small children, would one day aspire to, and even if we became Mummy ourselves we would still refer to our own mothers as Mummy and they to us by our Christian names. You may not think this is important, and possibly in the grand scheme of things it ranks quite low, but it is unfortunately another symptom of the state of things today. I would never have dreamed of losing my temper with or raising my voice to Mummy or Grandma, but today’s children think nothing of shouting at and even swearing at their mothers. But this is really my point you see, by conferring on your children the equal status of being on first name terms, there is no distinction between Barbara or Erica or Martin or Julia, they are all equals, and so when it comes to a disagreement no holds are barred and any respect the children had for their parents has long since gone with the granting of first name equality. Poor, poor, Barbara has suffered terribly at the hands of those girls, they think nothing of telling her to F…k off, and even in front of guests. Barbara just shrugs it off as teenage belligerence but I think there is something deeper going on; her children, because they call her by her Christian name all the time have literally forgotten that she is their mother, the person who not only gave birth to them, but raised them, has sacrificed and continues to sacrifice for them, cooks and cleans up for them, lends them money which will never be repaid and chauffeurs them around at all hours of the day (and is there to be sworn at, screamed at when they don’t get their own way, or when she occasionally says no to them). To the girls she is just an older woman who lives with them, but is not in any way an equal like their girlfriends are, and so they treat her like a doormat; she might as well have Welcome or two footprints tattooed on her forehead.
And I find it so disconcerting when I am there, as did my mother yesterday when they shouted down the stairs “Barbara, have you ironed that new T-shirt of mine?” or “Barbara, have I got any clean knickers?” or “Martin, can you lend us a tenner, I’ll give it back to you next weekend, promise.” Who are these ungrateful people. And Barbara is my friend, not theirs; I can call her Barbara but you are her children, not her friends. And yet Barbara will tell anyone, “Oh, I get on famously with my girls, we are just like sisters you know.” Well, I never had a sister, and if I had, I am sure I wouldn’t be speaking to her in this way. It might be considered at least democratic if Barbara spoke back to them in the same thoughtless and unkind way, but she is kindness personified, and just seems to lap it up in a way, the worse they treat her the happier she seems. And so it will continue, until they have children of their own and wonder why their thirteen year-olds do not respect them at all and scream and hurl abuse at Julia or Erica, because you can be sure they will not revert to having themselves called by such an old-fashioned term as Mummy.