What are you most proud of? And what would your kids’ be most proud of if you asked them the same question?
We suspect your kids might say they’re proud that they learned to ride a bike, that they got an A on their end of year history exam, that they can do their own hair before school.
But today we want to tell you about what some other children would say. They would say that they’re proud that they managed to go to school for the bulk of the days that week, they’re proud that they can get their toddler sibling (only a few years their junior) to eat her dinner, they’re proud that mum is doing a little bit better and hasn’t been drinking…
Wendy Field writes:
Only a few weeks ago, I was reading the responses to our annual Smith Family student writing competition – which had posed the same question. What are you proud of? Each year we love reading what the kids write as part of this, and this year’s entries with this topic, were particularly moving.
I got to thinking about what my own child is proud of, and contrast that with what some of the “Smith Family” kids had written about. I realised that at the age of 11, despite the differences in social backgrounds, what the kids put up high as achievements, were not too dissimilar from my son and his friends.
But there was one absolutely stark difference. The children we support wrote of lives where the absence of what you might expect in a family home, made all the difference to the way they wrote about their experiences.
As a mother I understand the great responsibility I have in helping my child to create opportunities for himself. I can’t live his life for him, but I can help him grow up to be resilient and courageous. After all, it’s not perhaps his life journey that is so important, but how he handles the bumps along the way.
I mentioned the student writing competition we ran at work this year. When I read one of the entries from a young girl, Kirsten*, I was astounded by the adult, matter-of-fact way she told her story. Just 15, Kirsten has had more than her fair share of life’s knocks to deal with.
She speaks like an adult because in many ways, she is living like one now. She writes that she is most proud of herself, because she takes care of her mum and still goes to school.
“Before I go to school each morning, I have to shower, wash and dress my mum and make her breakfast because she is too sick to do it for herself. Sometimes I am late for school but I try hard to make it on time. It’s hard doing both each morning, but my mum is very strong and she wants to be there for me as long as she can, so I am proud of my mum for all the pain she puts up with for me.
I have a lot on my mind and I worry about my mum so it gets hard some days trying to focus on school work. I’m happy that I have made lots of new friends at this school and that I can still manage to keep going to school.”
Kirsten’s story really affected me. Her bravery, her shining resilience, just made me feel so proud of her. And, as a mother, I could not help but feel how special it would be, to have a daughter like Kirsten.
Here we get to meet many children dealing with circumstances beyond their control. Equally inspiring is how much these kids don’t even acknowledge or realise they are doing it tough – it’s just life and they are getting on with it.
Is that not heroic? I think so.
I was recently introduced to some research from the Social Policy Research Centre at The University of New South Wales, which captured the experiences of young people, aged between 11 and 17, who are experiencing economic adversity.
The Making a Difference study interviewed around 130 young people, and offered a rare young people’s view on how they cope with their circumstances and what they think can be done about it.
One of the quotes that struck a chord was from Tessa*, “I keep all my money, I save it. So that if anything bad happens, if Mum can’t pay a bill, I’ll give it to her to pay it off.”
And Daniel’s* comment did too: “I think that it’s pretty easy [for my family to meet school costs] ‘cos I don’t pick very expensive subjects, plus I don’t go on camps, so that’s saved my parents, like, $1,000”. Quite simply this shows how young people protect their parents from financial stress by modifying their own choices.
I struggle with the fact that these kids are choosing to miss out; telling themselves there is no other way. They are not passing on big things, just basic things. Educational opportunities that kids should get, that other kids are getting. And things that, for the more privileged amongst us, don’t cost that much to provide.
But given all that, they are just getting on with it. Incredible isn’t it.
That’s why I am proud to work with The Smith Family. Here we help kids like these to get the opportunities they need to achieve the futures they deserve.
It’s our belief that every child deserves a chance, and that’s why we are telling the stories of these young Australians in a new 45 second video. You can watch it here:
In life we sometimes see something that has the most profound impact and I hope that this video will help anyone who sees it to get a sense of the lives of the kids we support and why they are, without a doubt, heroic.
The Smith Family is a national, independent children’s charity helping disadvantaged Australians to get the most out of their education, so they can create better futures for themselves. www.thesmithfamily.com.au/littleheroes
Wendy Field is the Head of Policy & Programs at The Smith Family. Wendy is a proud Mum of a son aged 11, keen cyclist, yoga fan and passionate about education innovation.