Back in school times, I felt the awkwardness of being one of four students in the mix of eighty school leavers not dolled up in black dinner suits or tuxedos. From the daggy surround of Mum and Dad’s brown Datsun 280B, I scanned the crisp black and white of young men and the sharp colours of gorgeous dresses delicately draped on girls. Back then, I craved the safety of mimicking the school mob. Standing out incited ridicule from the cool kids. Looking across the crop of black and white sameness left me wanting to bleat, “Mum! Take me home!”

I felt the awful fear-soaked moment of sharing the impending scorn with the other three who had broken the tuxedo convention. I selfishly wished that my mum and dad might have been more cashed up to hire me an outfit.

Of course, my fear imagined a scenario that was wildly detached from reality. My classmates were there to have a good time. Ultimately, the dapper outfits disappeared into insignificance as we all absorbed the importance of making great memories with classmates we might never see again.

My Leavers’ Dinner finished with affectionate farewells. Even as I stepped on stage to accept an award, I had forgotten about my outfit which had earlier stirred up so much anxiety.

Conformity Mindest

The Leavers’ Dinner of nearly 30 years ago has set contradicting arguments in my parenting brain.

I am squarely in my daughters’ corner for lining up some way to fund the Leavers’ Dinner dress that will save them from fearing the ridicule of being the odd one out. But, my internal counter-point is that I don’t believe I should promise a “yes” to every clothing or sport or party request to ensure the safety of being in with the crowd.

Even though I can be blind to trends, should I expect my daughters to run clear of the fashionable herd when it is normal for kids to measure their own choices by what their friends are doing? While I have outgrown the conformity mindset, it seems to be a constant I will have to allow for over the next few years.

Practising Resilience

As an adult, I know what is on the other side of the stress of a school plain clothes day. At school, I survived the finicky conventions of stretch jeans after Mum insisted I wear baggy jeans that I could grow into. Miss 12 is hardly going to warm to me proposing such experiences for honing resilience.

As a separated parent, I have practised resilience, I have walked and run and stumbled through the rich variety of shame, exhilaration, wretched sadness, disappointment and magnificent joy. I might have skipped over the sadness of separation if I had a choice, however leaving out sadness would have taken the gloss off my joy if sadness wasn’t there for contrast. What works for me is that life should be a smorgasbord. A life well lived has an ample serve of a variety of emotions and experiences.

The past week we tried the full-tasting plate of emotion. School holidays came with a natural high. My daughters were upbeat to be free of school and excited to visit family. There were no homework deadlines. A trip to the movies, the swimming pool and friends added joy to our shared week.

Then, I said “no” to my daughter taking up rowing because of the great complications the sport would add to our family. Miss 12 did not appreciate the contrast between joyous family fun and the disappointment of not rowing with friends.

Single parenting makes for highs and lows when children move between dad and mum. My dad instinct is not to smooth the bumps by parenting for happiness. Similarly, I am not for crafting a lifestyle of keeping in with the crowd. Pandering to trends is as futile as expecting to grow up without disappointment and sadness. We are on the receiving end of the full assortment of emotions. Our happiness reminds us that sadness is temporary, and our sadness is the training ground for the tough stuff still to come.


Photo by Hunter Newton on Unsplash.

Published On: May 23rd, 20230 CommentsTags: , ,

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

Leave A Comment