Lily Allen hit the headlines recently after phoning in to LBC Radio in London, stating that she thought “an introduction to divorce” and other topics such as taxes should form part of the school curriculum.
Lily’s spontaneous call to LBC host Shelagh Fogarty followed an on-air discussion about comments that Lily had made about education not preparing children for life. She said that she thought children should be taught about “The dangers of marriage. It’s just life skills isn’t it?” and then went on to say: “Everybody get themselves into all sorts of difficulties and end up having to spend extortionate amounts of money on accountants and lawyers to sort it out.”
She may well have a point. Whilst the school curriculum, GCSEs and A Levels (and equivalents) may give children the grades that they need to get a job or go on to further education, this in itself does not equip children with the wider skills that they need to get through life.
The extent to which schools should be responsible for educating children about adult life is often debated. Should the curriculum also provide for teaching children basic cookery skills before they move out of home for the first time? Should schools be required to equip children with knowledge about budgeting and managing finances? What about ensuring students have an understanding about mortgages, tax, pensions and savings? Whilst many criticise our education system for excessively spoon-feeding children, where else will they get this information, if not in school?
The chances are that aged 16 you’re not thinking about getting married, settling down, having a family, let alone what to do when it all goes wrong. However, the expectation seems to be that people will somehow absorb these skills as they muddle their way through life. I am no longer surprised when clients come to me not knowing how to budget monthly household expenditure, the provisions of their mortgage, whether they’ve been paying into a pension over the last 20 years, or what rate of tax they pay.
Understanding the dynamics of different relationships is vital for children growing up. Families today come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the nuclear family is, in reality, fast becoming a thing of the past. It is not simply a case of understanding how divorce works, as Lily Allen has suggested, but also learning about the wide spectrum of relationships that we have in our society and the differences between them. For example, many people do not know that there is no such thing as a common law spouse, and presume that the law will protect them on separation from their long-term partner. This is not the case and can often lead to grossly unfair outcomes on separation, decades down the line. Perhaps acceptable behaviour in relationships should be considered, raising awareness of abusive relationships (physical, emotional and controlling behaviour).
As we evolve and make our way through life, our relationships change, our needs change and our outlook on life changes. Pressure from the media and the post-Facebook era culture of social one-upmanship mean that, from time to time, we are all guilty of falling into the trap of thinking that the grass is greener – be it our job, our relationship, our friendships. In a world where increasingly people aspire to be like their Hollywood idols, society should be doing more to educate children to understand that real life relationships require work, there is rarely any quick-fix solution to any problem and that the reality is that the vast majority of us don’t have the fairytale endings that every formulaic rom-com would have us think. Perhaps more could be done to educate our young about appropriate behaviour within relationships, the devastating impact of domestic abuse, and when and where to seek help.
Perhaps this responsibility should fall to parents, however when the parents themselves are going through relationship difficulties and often find it hard enough to know what to say to the children about this, the responsibility to educate their children about this cannot solely fall on them.
All this is very well in theory, and could, if implemented, help future generations better manage their relationships and choices in life. However, what about those of us who have been through the system and come out the other end, without such help and guidance early on in our lives?
Some close friends of mine have attended marriage preparation classes within recent years. Initially, most of them scoffed at the idea – having known each other for the last 5 years, including time living together, why did they now need to “prepare” for marriage? What could possibly go wrong? “It’s just a formality”, many have said, “so that we can get married in our local church”. As my friends’ initial attitude suggests, there is a certain stigma surrounding marriage preparation classes. Traditionally associated with church weddings and couples preparing to live together for the first time, many presume that marriage preparation classes are about religion. However, the very same couples have been through unimaginable difficulties within months of tying the knot, and are adamant that the discussions that they had at marriage preparation classes have helped them through.
To start off life living together on the right foot, whether before marriage or moving in together for the first time, it is important to have open and frank conversations about:
- Priorities (individually and as a couple);
- Life goals;
- Finances; and
Whilst many Americans I know have had a shrink since they were in braces, the idea of focusing on our emotional wellbeing hasn’t quite caught on in England yet. There is still a social stigma surrounding seeking relationship support. This should be the norm, rather than the exception, but many people fail to recognise the signs that their relationship is in difficulty, or pluck up the courage to seek help, until it is too late.