What makes a great guardian?
When our children were very small, my husband and I discussed at length what should happen to them if we died before they were old enough to look after themselves.
And we discovered that we didn’t have many options.
Both sets of parents were already quite elderly by the time the grandchildren came along. Making them guardians might work if we died when the eldest was young but not as time ticked on.
We thought about our friends and the people we had chosen as godparents. They all had children of their own, often a similar age to ours, so they were at least set up for childrearing. And we would have made provision for the costs of bringing up children in our will so we hoped they wouldn’t be out of pocket. I felt sure that many of them would have made brilliant parents to our brood as well as their own.
But at the end of the day, we didn’t feel we could ask friends to be guardians. It was just too big a favour. The stresses that it would place on their family went beyond what even the best friendships could stretch to.
So, in the end, the guardianship of our four children would have gone to their uncles and it would have been for them to decide at the point of our death which of them was best placed to take the children on. Not an ideal arrangement but the best we could come up with.
Luckily, my husband and I have managed to stay alive long enough to see the children through to legal adulthood, and so all that worrying turned out to be unnecessary.
But it must have left a mark on me because guardianship was at the front of my mind when I came to write Impossible to Forget. What if, I pondered, instead of having one guardian to bring up a child, you split the job up? Some people, I reasoned, are more suited to some parts of the job than others. We all, for example, have a character like Maggie in our lives. She is the organised kind of friend, the sort who never leaves bills unpaid, can be relied on to have saved everybody’s address somewhere sensible and not only remembers a birthday but generally has sent a card.
After coming up with Maggie as a character, I had a little think. Each of us has experiences we want to pass onto our children, usually because they formed such a significant part of our own childhoods. Maybe it’s a weekly game of competitive Scrabble, an annual pilgrimage to a particular seaside town or snuggling down to read the same book on each Christmas Eve. And who could be trusted to not only make sure that these things happen, but would be interested enough to do as good, or maybe a better job than I would have done myself?
And things can get even more complicated. What if you love sport and would have spent lots of time as a family playing or following it? You would need guardians with similar interests so your child experienced the childhood you would have given them had you been around do it. If reading is your family’s thing, then you couldn’t entrust your child into a house with no books. If you are a Lancastrian, then a Yorkshire guardian might be totally out of the question!
I’m being flippant, of course, and actually, as my husband and I discovered, there really aren’t so many available candidates for the job so most people can’t afford to be that picky.
But that is the joy of writing fiction. I can ask myself the question ‘what if?’ and then I can answer myself.
And the result is a novel.
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