OK Parenting, OK?

I don’t try and manipulate my kids. No, not at all.

I really need to explain the piano metaphor of that last post, don’t I?

Contrary to how it appears, I’m not actually advocating hitting your kids over the head with a piano (although if you can lift a piano, kudos).

So here is a post I was convinced I’d posted yonks ago which would explain it nicely. Only I apparently left it in draft.

Belatedly, here it is. So do not blame piano-hitting-kids phenomenon on moi.

For all my blathering about parenting, I don’t write much about how I parent my kids, y’know, what kind of parent I am.

I’m not a very good one.

Which is to say, I’m OK, but far from fantastic.

And I’m OK with that.  Because I’m with Matt Ridley on this one.  And, ye gods, I hope Matt Ridley will forgive me for this mangling of his words, but in his book Nature via Nurture, he talks of studies done which suggest that whilst neglectful or abusive parenting may well alter gene expression (and personality) in your children, OK-ish parenting won’t.  There is no difference in terms of gene expression (and therefore personality) between OK parenting and super-dooper parenting.

Which is to say, whilst your child may not find out she’s a musical genius until adulthood because you didn’t give her private piano lessons from the age of three, unless you actively beat the kid over the head with a piano, she will still be a musical genius eventually.  That, naturally, is my own little example; can’t blame Ridley for that one.  Ridley actually says:

…truly terrible parenting can still warp somebody’s personality.  But it seems likely that…parenting is like vitamin C; as long as it is adequate, a little bit more or less has no discernible long-term effect.

Ridley’s book was published in 2003, so things may well have moved on.  But I am capable of nothing if not clinging to an idea when it suits me.

And it does suit me.  By letting myself off the hook of having to be ‘a perfect mother’, I can just get on with being the best mother I can be given all the circumstances.  Which is not to let abusive parents off the hook because underlying all those circumstances is an obligation not to be horrendous, of course.  But it does become a self-fulfilling prophesy; by allowing myself to relax and get on with it, mistakes and all, I am a much better mother than I would be if I spent my days chasing motherly perfection.

And the older my children grow, the more it suits me.  Because I realise more and more the limits – and the amazing power – of my influence on my children.  I am but one cog in the machinery of their lives, an important one for sure, but as long as I connect with all other cogs and don’t fuck up the whole machine by breaking down (or mis-cogging, or whatever the hell cogs do in a metaphor like this), I’m playing my part entirely satisfactorily.

Which is to say, OK parenting is actually OK.

So, seriously, you can stop beating yourself up about whatever you beat yourself up about doing wrong, OK? It’s not just me telling you this revolutionary stuff; it’s science. Not the kind of science that gets popular play in the Daily Male, of course. Not the ‘girls really do like to pick up dirty laundry more than boys – it’s genetic!’ type science.

But science nonetheless, and that’s good enough for me.

But then that’s the kind of person I am.


Gender your Children all You Want

Unlike gender, the piano is black and white.

Unlike gender, the piano is black and white.

And, just like when you tell them to stop writing on the table/using the sofa as Buzz lightyear’s landing space/kicking each other for fun, they will ignore you.

I love Pink is for Boys, a blog about how a family can rise magnificently to the challenge of parenting a kid who crosses gender boundaries with the alacrity of a chicken crossing the road. Talking about other gender-jumping kids:

‘I have so many people write to me privately from my blog, telling me their stories, some celebrating the luck of a new generation to be nurtured rather than shamed, others mourning their own painful childhoods.

‘Of the former boys who write me, some are gay, a few have transitioned, some are straight guys who like pink and nail polish.

‘Their parents’ responses to them did not affect who they turned out to be, only their sense of self-esteem, the amount of baggage they carry, and the length of their journey to healthy adulthood.’

This is what I was talking about.

You can hit your musical-genius kid over the head repeatedly with a piano and yes, you will succeed in stopping her from wanting to play it. Maybe even for a very long time. But eventually she will play the bloody piano.

And why would you want to stop her anyway?


Girls are Strong

Girls are StrongOh, yes, they are.

She looks not totally unlike my own little placard-waver, Boogie.

How often do girls get a message this positive and this bare?


Genitally-Operated Toys

OK, it’s way late to be posting this; this graphic has been doing the rounds since before Jesus rose again.

But 1. it’s funny. It’s funny in a way that makes the liberal feminist’s heart sing and order another vodka and tonic not through desperation that George Osbourne is still alive and regarded by more than his mother as somebody who knows what he’s doing, but through a joyful desire to re-connect with that squiffy part of herself that teaches her children to dance the twist outside Sainsbury’s when her children are, fortunately, unavailable for a re-enactment due to being asleep in bed.

And 2. I am suffering writer’s block like I have never, ever experienced before. These are the first words I have written in three months – for work or play – and if I don’t write something, I fear I will be certifiable within the next two-to-three days.

I’m sorry it’s the best I’ve got, and please bear with me, but I feel better already.


Oddly Normal

Over at Pink Is for Boys, they’ve been talking about a book call ‘Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality’ and an interview the parents gave about raising their son.

The post really resonated with me, so I’m going to reproduce it here.

‘I found myself getting really angry as they described his childhood — not at his parents, who I think are brave to share their story, warts and all, especially considering the drubbing they’re taking in the comments section online. (“These parents are cringe worthy – over-indulgent and insistent that their child be special.” “There’s no way you can tell a small child is gay.” “This is all about how you’re so great because you were ok with him being gay.” “You pushed him to come out – maybe he’s not really gay, just following your prompt.”)

‘But I did cringe, especially at the interview story summarized on the website:

‘On the painful decision to take away Joe’s Barbie dolls [his parents hid the Barbies in the attic and pretended they didn’t know where they’d gone]

‘Jeanne Mixon: “My concerns were that the other kids would tease him — that they wouldn’t understand, and that he wouldn’t fit in. It’s important in elementary school, and even in middle school; they’re very conformist ages. And if you don’t fit in, you get teased and ridiculed. And as it turned out, even with taking the Barbies away, he didn’t fit in; he wasn’t like the other children. But I wanted to give him a chance to be as much like them, and to be able to fit into the social group, if possible — and I knew that taking a dressed-up Barbie as a boy to kindergarten was gonna set him apart, and he’d never have that chance — that no one would forget it. And in that school system, you’re in with the same children from kindergarten through fifth grade, so that’s six years of people remembering you’re the kid who took the Barbies to school. I didn’t want that to happen to him.

‘I found myself wanting to hurl useful, clever critical analyses at the radio like, “He still didn’t fit in? No shit!” or “You think?” Again, not really directed at the mother — I know so many parents in this boat, letting their sons wear dresses at home but not in public, or letting their daughters wear vests and ties at home but not to church. And I know firsthand the worry about bullying. But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves. So poor Joe still didn’t fit in, he didn’t get to be himself, and he got the message that his parents thought who he was wasn’t ok. Ugh. So painful.

‘Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s where I’m placing my bet, and I’m all in. If it makes you, or anyone else in society, momentarily uncomfortable, I have faith that you’ll be all right.

My favourite bit?

But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves.’

You’ll remember I struggled with this a while ago, when L’il Boo was all about being ‘the boy in the dress‘. And I concluded that if he wanted to wear a dress, he could wear a dress.

On the simple basis that I couldn’t see an end to what not allowing him to was the beginning of.

The path that begins, as do all journeys, with a small step: I love you, my son, but not that part of you. Because that part of you is inconvenient/unacceptable/disgusting. That part of you, we’ll gloss over, OK?

And so with Barbies as with dresses. Once you hide the Barbies and your child still isn’t ‘like the other children‘, what’s the next step in making him like them, in making him ‘normal’?

How far do you? Does Ken get it next? And if Ken gets murdered in the attic, how do you square yourself to the basic weirdness that a GI Joe doll survives the ‘doll’ cull, despite just being Ken in a uniform?? And will GI Joe survive the first ‘death to all girly dolls’ pogrom only to get it in the second ‘death to all possible gay influences’ pogrom due to his metrosexual, hairless chest and suspicious tendency to only associate with other males? Remember, unsubstantiated rumours have killed millions of actual people, never mind plastic ‘action figures’.

Actually, I see now where it does end. It ends in parental exhaustion due to ridiculous over-thinking.

And where do your kids end up?

They end up safe in the knowledge that all your be-who-you-are-you’re-wonderful rhetoric is bullshit.

Oh, I don’t know. I get the pressure. I get the parental instinct to hope that your kids ‘fit in’. But I just don’t think that in the long run, there’s a viable alternative to letting your kids be as oddly normal or as normally odd as they are.

Yes, I think you do have to make your kids aware that people will give them shit for being who they are.

But you know what? Haters gonna hate, my friend, and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop that.

So you’ve just got to let the kids be. As long as they’re not hurting anybody or torturing small animals (which you really should intervene in ‘cos you’ve got a serial killer on your hands and I’m not that much of a liberal). I’m not saying it’s always easy, because god knows it’s not, but from where I’m sitting, I just can’t see a viable alternative.

Because if there’s one thing worse than being hated for who you are, it’s being hated for who you’re not.

How much would that suck?


How to Have Gender Non-Conforming Kids

Can I just point something out?

When I say ‘raising gender non-conforming kids is the frontline of feminist mothering‘, I mean that this is really what feminist parenting is.

If you raise your kids by feminist principles, you will have gender non-conforming kids.

Yes, you will.

And, no, not because you have ‘indoctrinated’ the poor sods with all that feminazi stuff like, oh, equal pay and mutual respect, but simply because you didn’t put them in a box and hit them with the freak stick every time they slid a finger out to try and fashion a breathing hole.

My children are in fact remarkably gender conforming, all things considered.

And by ‘all things considered’ I mean of course the vast, encompassing influences brought to bear by society, by advertising, by snotty kids who do live in boxes at home but unfortunately also get let out to go to school with my kids.

By ‘all things considered’ I mean that I have managed in some small, tiny way, to keep the box lid open, just a crack.

Just a crack, but  – hopefully? – enough to let them breathe.


Gender My Arse: Part III

Largely disgusted by approximately 98.7% of content on the Internet, I restrict my internet viewing to stuff that I like.

Which means my Internet reading is essentially a couple of news sites, and various feminist blogs with the odd site about raising gender non-conforming kids thrown in, because, well, because those sites are where my passions for feminism and child rearing kind of come together.

Because make no mistake: raising gender non-conforming kids is the frontline of feminist mothering. Nothing will test you as a feminist mother more than watching your children try to swim in the real-life waters off the coast of your island of theories.

And nothing has illustrated this better lately than this clip of bullying from ABC’s What Would You Do. I call it bullying because, baby, that’s what it is.

What makes this bullying appear so much worse than normal – so much worse that it can be hard to even see it as bullying – is that depicts a small child being bullied by adults. And not only by his/her mother (who was of course only an actress), but by random strangers.

If these people came across this kid and started beating the crap out of him because he wasn’t ‘behaving right’, we’d see it more clearly. What we see instead are these adults beating the crap out of him psychologically. He/she is being bullied for not ‘behaving right’ – for not keeping within the confines of his or her gender.

The concerned/disgusted looks, the sotto voce remarks, the general view mum has to ‘stop it now’. All of this tell the child clearly that he/she is not acceptable. That they are not acceptable as they are. That they must change.

And people will do this to a child on Halloween, for crap’s sake; the one night of the year when we are supposed to be dressed as ‘something else’.

I didn’t see it as bullying at first either. What called it out to me was the appearance of the wonderful Sally at the end. That, and the fact that I almost cried when she appeared simply because, finally, somebody did see what was happening and immediately showed compassion to the child.

It should not bring tears to my eyes simply to watch an adult respect a child as a human being.

Yet another reason why gender can kiss my arse.


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