Social and cultural competence

My daughter’s prom last night was a success. She and her friends all looked gorgeous and seem to have had a great time. With their fabulous dresses, a touch more make up than usual and hair styled to suit, they posed and laughed and smiled for the cameras before heading out to mingle, admire and make the most of a fun night out.

The photos that I have seen of the event are fascinating but not surprising. The sporty crowd with their athletic, toned bodies looked naturally gorgeous; the media influenced, popular kids looked groomed to within an inch of their lives. Most of the crowd seemed to be enjoying the chance to dress up and go out to play; hair and gowns of every colour, style and size making it hard to pick out the effort that will have gone into each individual’s preparation.

As my daughter talked about the event, I realised that we have reached another milestone in her life. Despite her social predilections, she is competent in a crowd. I have known for some time that she is capable of coping in most situations; it would seem that she can also enjoy herself despite the social pressures that some of her peers may try to enforce. I felt very proud of her last night.

Social competence is such a useful skill but is one that is difficult to teach; each of us must find our own way, learning what works best for us as we go along. There are some who do not seem to need to try; others who appear to be trying too hard. Striking the balance between adapting to a situation and becoming a chameleon can be hard; fitting in without selling out can be a challenge.

When I dropped my daughter off at the house where she was meeting up with her friends, I was the only parent not to go in and wait for their transport to leave. I am grateful that she was offered the welcoming glass of champagne (she came home rather thirsty as this was the only drink that she accepted all evening) and that photos of the group were taken with her camera as requested. I just couldn’t face all the other parents waiting around, even though I know several of them from previous events. I find these social get togethers increasingly hard to deal with, so am particularly pleased that my daughter has developed an ability to enjoy such a gathering. I recognise that it is cowardice on my part, but the prospect of standing around awkwardly trying to make conversation fills me with dread.

In many ways I find keeping up with my children culturally rather than socially so much easier. When they take an interest in the latest film or TV show, I find myself wanting to understand the attraction. I feel very much one of the older generation as I try to interpret their language and form of expression; even the appeal of some of  the content that they discuss is beyond me. I can, however, become competent enough to be a casual bystander in their lives. If I cannot join in for fear of appearing ridiculous then I can at least observe and enjoy.

As we have not received broadcast television within the children’s memory their general knowledge has often been lacking. They have overcome this by becoming experts in their fields of interest. Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural and Marvel’s Avengers are current favourites; where my peers discuss The Apprentice or Strictly Come Dancing, I am listening to debates about Eleven, Johnlock, Destiel and Loki. My children have become culturally competent amongst those with whom they choose to socialise; I have become able to understand what they are talking about.

Cultural competence is, of course, as much about being able to hold a conversation with a stranger at a gathering as it is about fitting in with chosen friends. My lack of interest in the entertainments that are popular amongst my age group, but which I find so false and bland, has undoubtedly hampered my ability to interact; my interests in more controversial news topics do not lend themselves to small talk. Whilst my daughter has been displaying her ability to spread her wings a little, I have found myself limiting my socialising to the few people with whom I can truly relax. I am comfortable interacting with others from a distance, although it sometimes feels as if I am allowing the internet to swallow me up as I allow myself to become more and more of a hermit.

I suspect that this is just another stage in my life. When my children were very young I knew few people socially and had neither the energy nor the inclination to go out much. I then went through a stage of both hosting and attending regular parties and dinners for a lovely group of local friends. As this group has moved on with their lives I have allowed myself to become more isolated again. In time I expect the tide will turn and I will regain the ability to seek out and enjoy the company of a convivial crowd.

In the meantime, I will enjoy watching my children blossom and grow. For all the times that I have been blamed directly or indirectly for parenting misdemeanours, occasions such as last night prove that my children have survived. I cannot have done too bad a job when I have managed to produce the fabulous young lady who did herself and her mother so proud at her prom.