So there’s this journalist, with a beautiful red-headed daughter, called Matilda.
That could be me, as I too am a journalist with a daughter called Matilda but this story is about a woman who’s as far from me as it’s possible to get. Let’s meet her. She’s called Rachel Ragg, she writes for the Daily Mail, and she’s already taught her daughter a very specific life-lesson.
For a nine-year-old, my daughter Matilda has very clear and precise ambitions. ‘When I grow up I’m going to marry a rich man,’ she declared last week. ‘Then I’m going to have six children, two dogs and some ponies, and I’m going to live on a farm with a cottage for you in the garden.’
‘I’m not going to have a job,’ she declared. ‘I’m going to look after my husband and children.’
So far, so cute. Okay, so specifying ‘rich’ in your relationship deal-breakers before you’re even 10 might be seen as a bit odd, but we can all dream, right? And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a family, and ponies, and making plans to be a home-maker. All power to her.
But then lovely little Matilda’s mum starts to elaborate on exactly how she wants to make sure Matilda’s dream comes true. First step in the plan, send her to a very expensive school so that she can get very good marks and get into a very good university.
But not because it will be her launching pad into a stellar career as a lawyer, doctor, or magazine editor. As we see it, Oxford is the ideal place for her to find a husband with the right background and career prospects to make enough money so Matilda can become a stay‑at-home mother.
Rachel thinks it’s really very important that Matilda has kids and has them young.
To that end, I have already enlisted a well-connected friend to draw up a list of potential husbands from wealthy families to whom I shall introduce Matilda at a later date.
Matilda’s excellent education will, I hope, enable her to become the very best mother and wife she can be.
I am not just paying for her to learn Mandarin: I want her to be kind, generous, thoughtful and well-spoken. I want her to pass on her creativity, knowledge and intelligence to her children, not waste them climbing the career ladder.
Rachel’s plans aren’t just for her daughter – she has a son whose life she has also pre-determined:
My son William, now 11, is at an excellent prep school and is likely to proceed to a top [high] school where we might just happen to find Matilda a suitable husband among his classmates. But the huge sums we spend on his education are not to bag him a wealthy wife.
They are largely to prepare him for the lucrative career that will enable him to fulfil his biological role of protector and provider for his future family. He knows I would expect him to support a wife, and that I would want her to be a stay-at-home mother.
Let’s not even get into whether or not William wants to buy into this plan. What if William falls for one of those ambitious doctor/lawyer types? What if he’s – whisper it with me – gay?
It’s this philosophy that I have a problem with – the idea that you can completely engineer your child’s future to fit some kind of dream of yours. And that of all the dreams in all the world, this is the one you choose for your daughter – complete and utter dependence on one rich man.
Rachel talks about seeing the working mothers around her miserable and stressed, trying to manage it all. She’s got a point. I am a reasonably stressed working mother myself. It’s not always a bowl of cherries.
But here’s the thing, Matilda (it’s possible I’m addressing both Rachel’s and my own Matilda here) – a woman needs options. And not just between the men deemed suitable from prep school to be your lord and master. You need options to be able to draw a life that you will inhabit comfortably, and one that can change direction when unforeseen things happen (aka LIFE).
Find a job that you like, that makes use of your fabulous education, build a career, get some experience doing something that tests and stretches you in all directions – and then you’ll have choices. And choices always make life more complicated, but they also make it much more interesting.
Put all your fancy Faberge eggs in one basket and you might find yourself trapped. Trapped in a big house with a man you’ve outgrown, who’s always at work and a mother who glares at you from the granny flat for not being more grateful for all the work she put into
her your dream life.
And what happens when those intense child-rearing years are over? This strikes me as a rather short-term plan.
It always makes me itchy when parents declare with absolute certainty what they want for their child. What if Matilda wants to be a dancer, an architect, a mountaineer, Prime Minister, an exotic dancer? What if she falls in love with a scruffy-haired man who didn’t go to the right prep school? Or a woman?
Children are their own people. From the minute they’re born. They’re not put here to live our dreams for us and to fix our mistakes.
What are you plans and hopes for your child’s future?