Anyone who has read about aristocratic British parenting can’t help but be appalled. Children were not only not seen, but not heard from—for years. They were shipped off to schools. They were expected to carry incredible burdens and deliver on the aspirations of their family, with little to no concern whether their personal aspirations were aligned in the slightest.
But it’s a mistake to think that this is simply a practice of the past. This kind of selfish neglect is something parents can be equally guilty of in the modern era, for the same reasons it was possible in earlier generations: they weren’t paying attention to how the decisions they made affected others around them.
In her fascinating book, Lady in Waiting, Lady Glenconer, a confidant of Princess Margaret and a scion of one of Britain’s best families, details her surprise at her children’s view of their experiences. “Despite my best efforts,” she writes, her adult children describe their parents as “remote figures in [their] childhood.” Of course they were. Her entire memoir is filled with stories of her trips, her travels, her months on exotic islands in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It’s filled with the minutiae of affairs and gossip, of building and remodeling houses, of fancy dinners and famous friends. Hearing her child describe her as remote instantly strikes her as true, but, she says, “I never thought about it like that until he said those words.”
That’s sort of the point, no?
How could you not think about the effect of your decisions on your children? There is a moment in The Crown which fictionally captures the same self-absorption. Princess Diana is reluctant to tour Australia without taking her young son. “We toured Australia for five months without Charles when he was a baby!” Queen Elizabeth says. She thinks this is an argument but Princess Margaret makes a knowing face—as it explains, in a sentence, exactly what’s wrong with the moody, needy and resentful Charles.
The point is: It’s not the practices themselves that are the problem. It’s the ignorance of their consequences. It’s the not thinking about it, until you’re told about the impact of your not thinking about it. It’s the self-absorption and putting yourself first.
Remember, you signed up for this. You brought them into this world. It doesn’t matter what your job is. It doesn’t matter how cool the opportunity or how important the responsibility is.
You can’t be remote, and then wonder years later why your kids aren’t close to you.