On Christmas day, my sister-in-law asked me what I would like to be called. No, she hadn’t overindulged on the sherry, she was asking in relation to my nephew, now a substantial 5 months old.
He will soon be at the stage of identifying important people in his life. So how should his mum and dad refer to me? I’ve a simple, short name and one that is easily adaptable, so I get called different things by different people.
“One Bored”, “Uncle One Bored” “Uncle One Bored-y” or just “Uncle”?
My response was a simple one, “I don’t really mind” followed by a swift “as long as he calls me something”. In short, it’s quite nice just to be an uncle and be involved in the upbringing of a child that isn’t your own.
Trite as my response might seem, it is something that I had not really given any thought to. But that doesn’t mean people don’t and indeed many go beyond that. I suspect that many parents, grandparents, godparents and wider relations have pre-conceived ideas as to what their role will be or how they should act.
And it starts with a very firm idea off what they want to be called.
My sister-in-law’s question arrived at a time when I am being encouraged to think about my professional future; where I want to be, how I can get there, and how I would act when I did. Presumably, the idea is that if you have a clear idea of where you want to end up it will make you more focussed on getting there and how to do it.
Visualisin in this way is can be a useful tool in a professional capacity (at least that’s what the consultants will have us believe.)
My own experience is that when it comes to raising children, this is not a practice to be encouraged. Raising a child requires pragmatism and flexibility and those pre-conceptions can be limiting.
The road to…
There is, of course, a crucial difference between these two scenarios. In the work situation, the end point is very much the focus. How you get there, is to a large extent, irrelevant. You can kill them with kindness, crack the whip or sharpen your elbows but as long as you know where you want to get to, you can adopt a suitable strategy to get there.
When you form a pre-conceived idea of what sort of parent/grandparent/uncle/aunt etc you want to be, this can be problematic in two separate ways. First, it takes no consideration of the child and what their particular needs may be at any given time. It could be a simple thing such as indulging a child at a time when they need more discipline or vice versa.
It can also lead to disappointment. If you remain wedded to pre-conceived notions, there is a greater scope for feeling that you have failed to meet expectations. To this day, I find it perverse that my mother harbours regrets and a sense of failure over the fact that my sister and I could not be privately educated for the whole of our school lives. It ignores what we have achieved.
I have no doubt that visualisation in this context, is borne out of a lot of good intent and sheer excitement. There is nothing wrong with that, provided those ideas come with some fluidity. Much better, in that sense, to just go with the flow.
So, what’s in a name? Depending on who you speak to, quite a lot actually. But me, I’m happy to remain quietly anonymous for the time being. No doubt, my nephew and I will work out the finer details in no time at all.