At the top of this blog it states that it is about ‘Down’s Syndrome, my family, and me’. My purpose in compiling this record is to demonstrate that people with Down’s Syndrome, and their families, can and do enjoy excellent quality of life on a day-to-day basis. We are very ordnary: we are the rule rather than the exception.
The fact that our youngest child has Down’s Syndrome does not dominate our lives to the exclusion of everything else. Freddie is just one part of the complex organism that is the Fender family (there is also some ‘neurodivergence’ within the family so, yes, it is complex). I have two other children, and a husband (and a dissertation to complete which, so far, shows no sign of writing itself -how inconsiderate), and so I make no apology for talking about something other than Down’s Syndrome today.
I have been lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mum, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have heard it said that staying home with the children is harder than going out to work. I disagree. I have always been mindful of the fact that not only was I my children’s primary carer, but I was also their first teacher. I hope I taught them well: I tried my hardest.
Despite having made the family my sole focus all these years, there are some parents who, I know, think that I am lackadaisical about parenting almost to the point of neglect. Why?
Because I allow my children too much freedom in making their own choices. I put them at risk of making a mistake.
For instance: my daughter is in the process of choosing which A’levels to study, and where to study them. I have given her my opinions, I have given her some advice to consider, but ultimately the decision will be hers. I trust her to make this decision. I know she hasn’t much life experience, but who knows the inner workings of her heart and mind better than she does herself? And if it turns out that she hasn’t made quite the right decision this time, then I will be there to help her pick up the pieces and start over. A mistake is rarely the end of the world; it is usually a valuable learning experience that brings us a step closer to the things we really want, or need.
Many of her peers had their GCSE options chosen for them by their parents. They have also had their A’level choices dictated to them, and their place of study, even though they themselves have different ideas of what they would like to do. One or two have even got a career path ready mapped out for them. I know these parents only have their children’s welfare at heart. They think they are doing the very best for them. I, though, can’t help but feel sorry for these kids, set down, tram-like, to run in the grooves of a predetermined course through life, with no opportunity to go ‘off-road’ and explore their own character and potential. How are they supposed to flourish under that wieght of expectation? How can they step forward in life unafraid to take opportunities or try things out, if they believe that making a mistake will be catastrophic? How can they bounce back if they have never been taught to bounce, or have never heard that bouncing is an option?
A typical Fender family photograph – no one looking at the camera, everyone doing their own thing.
Children are not simply extensions of their parents, they are unique, and often surprising, individuals. Watching my own three grow and develop their own particular personalities, interests, abilities and quirks has been an endless source of fascination and ‘who’d’a thought it’ delight. I packed my eldest off to university last September. Despite his grandparents enthusiastically urging him to ‘go into computers’ at least once a week since he was about five, I am pleased to say he has taken not a blind bit of notice, and has pushed off to study languages, having discovered an unexpected aptitude for them in High School. As a person whose ability to speak other tongues begins and ends with just repeating English words more loudly, this is both bewildering and wonderful to me. Hopefully he will end up doing something he loves for a living, and it may well be a career that neither me, nor his grandparents, ever knew existed.
A mother’s job is not to raise children: it is to raise adults from children. Adults who are ready to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes, and having learnt from them, find their place in the world. The only ambition I have ever had for my children is that they acheive a sense of deep contentment, and I believe that in order to give them the best chance of doing so, I have to allow them to discover who they are. I will go along with them for the ride, and to make sure someone has their back if the road gets rough.