I loved childhood neighborhood, but I do not want it for my kids

What’s wrong with me?

I grew up in the French “banlieue”. Actually, up to age 5, I lived where the famous movie from Mathieu Kassovitz, “Hate” was filmed. The movie is about 3 friends in their early twenties from immigrant families living in an impoverished multi-ethnic French housing project (a ZUP – zone d’urbanisation prioritaire) in the suburbs of Paris.  Yes, not exactly postcard scenery.  After that, we moved to a “nice” neighborhood. It was 2 min drive away.  It was a huge upgrade, still as a teenager, not many people wanted to visit…

I truly loved my childhood neighborhood. Even in hindsight. I would not change a thing.  I grew up with great friends that are still my best friends 30+ years later.  We played sports all the time, we had each other’s backs in all kind of situations.  We created fun out of nothing.  The parking lot, a car’s sound system, a good playlist some rum and there you have it the best bar in the neighborhood.  A ping pong table in the parking lot, and you have the county championship.  Some chalk to draw the court, 2 tennis racquets, a ball and you have the neighborhood’s French Open.  There was never a dull day.

Now I am building the future of my 2 kids.  It would be logical for me to reproduce my childhood environment.  After all, I really enjoyed it.  So why am I building the exact opposite environment for my kids?  Nobody will be playing loud music on the parking lot or do anything else for that matter on the parking lot. While the parking lot was the place to be when I grew up, There are no parking lots close to our new place.  Kids probably go for rides on someone’s boats or ride their horses.

Now let’s think about what my younger self would say about the lifestyle I am planning for my kids… yeah, it would not be pretty.  So why do I want that lifestyle for my kids?  Moreover, I think that some form of hardship growing up is a real plus.  By 18, I developed a Spiderman-like feel for danger.  I was super aware of my surrounding. Can I see the hands of all the people who just entered the parking lot?  What’s their body language telling me?  I could also remain calm in any situation and see actions in slow motion.  School bus on fire when it is time to go home, no stress, just adrenaline.  Spot the lookouts, understand who they are after and get away from them.  Oh, and drag my friends, who grew up like I want to raise my children because they are walking in the wrong direction.

So, once again, why do I want to keep them away from these lifelong learnings?  I do not know. This is the honest answer.  Maybe it is because the risk is too high. While I turned out good, several of my friends did not.  Maybe because it is normal for parents to offer the best opportunities to their children.  And while my mom offered me the best she could, I want to build on that and do the same for my children.

The short answer is that I do not know.  And I wonder if it matters to know why. The real question is: How to give my children a well-rounded childhood?  Probably encourage them to make the most of the privileges they enjoy.  Push them to aim higher and build wealth for themselves and the community.  All that while finding ways to lift up people from the banlieues, because their dad came from there and if nobody had helped me to come up their lives would be very different.

Photo by Raoul Droog on Unsplash