I recently sat down with a cuppa to talk to another wonderful Grandmother. I wanted to continue exploring parenting experiences over the generations. This time I spoke to Valerie and her story is quite something!
Valerie’s story is all about the power of education to change lives. I had no idea of how that had impacted her personally and how she went on to pay that forward to hundreds, if not thousands, of other New Zealand women. Inspiring stuff!
Valerie started by telling me that she had shifted into a new community when she got married. She worked for a couple of years but left when she was about four months pregnant as was usual at that time. She remembers feeling very lonely at such a dramatic change in her life. At this stage, she hadn’t formed close friendships and recalls that although her flourishing garden, reading and walking were her saviours, human connection was something she really missed.
“When the children were young, it was good for them to always have me around if they were sick or unhappy. Once the children were at school though, I felt like I had a lot of time on my hands.”
There were plenty of happy memories too – picnics by the river and visits by family. When thinking back to what family life was like, Valerie reflected on how much more freedom children had back in the 1960s.
“We got a caravan when the children were eight and six. There were two rules, the first was to be back at meal time and the second was not to go swimming without one of us being there. We had a lot of happy times with our caravan holidays.”
Loneliness was an ongoing battle, from which Valerie eventually found an outlet. “As the children got older I started going to afternoon and night classes. They were either free or very affordable. I tried out languages and crafts, like cake decorating and I did a four-year embroidery course. The teachers were very talented and well qualified.”
This was the beginning of the turning point for Valerie. She began connecting again with other like-minded mums and enjoyed learning new skills. Her love of music gave her a connection with the German language and she discovered she had a real talent. She studied German at night school and then went on to university. Later, an opportunity came along to travel to Germany, which she dismissed as a pipedream. When her husband encouraged her to do it, she signed up right away and was off to study in Cologne. As I listened to Valerie talk of her visits to Germany, she lit up completely and talked of meeting her now dearest German friends.
Having that encouragement from her husband made a big difference to Valerie as she pursued her education. “He has always been extremely supportive of everything that I have done and has backed me to the hilt.”
As Valerie’s available time and confidence grew, she was part of a group that started up a Business and Professional Women’s group in her local community. Eventually, this led to her being asked to become a founding trustee and then Chair of the New Horizons for Women Trust. One of its aims spoke to Valerie, as it set out to give women a second chance at education; something that had been a lifeline for her as she balanced her needs with family life.
Valerie recalls, “The first year (1993) we managed to fund three $2,000 awards. Now the trust gives away about 90 awards per year! I spent over nine years chairing this trust and saw it flourish. It’s so important that women are given the opportunity for an education later in life if they missed out when they were young.”
Valerie was awarded the Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for her community service in 2003, which was well-deserved recognition and a celebration of her work.
I asked Valerie if she had any reflections on parenting today. “Women have more stimulation these days than I did as a young mother. They often continue working and can easily link up with other women using social media. Connecting, sharing experiences, offering advice, supporting one another– these are all so important. But time is what parents miss now. I had so much time with my children and I’m not sure that so-called quality time is really what matters. Time is time.” This is such a real challenge for me personally and so many other parents that I talk to. Valerie has such empathy and insight into parenting today.
On reflection, it was a perfect end to the conversation. These two ideas of being time-poor and needing to connect are at the heart of My Kids Village. As parents navigate the challenge of professional-life and family-life and want to connect with other parents in the same boat, My Kids Village is here to help. Use our facebook page to talk to other parents in your shoes and use our website to help you find the childcare that you need for your family’s unique jigsaw puzzle!
Thank you Valerie for sharing your wonderful story and for changing the lives of so many mums out there!