Category Archives: Child Rearing

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?

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.

If you Hit my Daughter to Show her you like her…

I will beat you to a bloody pulp to show you how much I love you for it. Deal?

Thought inspired by this:

I am sure every girl can recall, at least once as a child, coming home and telling their parents, uncle, aunt or grandparent about a boy who had pulled her hair, hit her, teased her, pushed her or committed some other playground crime.

‘I will bet money that most of those, if not all, will tell you that they were told “Oh, that just means he likes you”. I never really thought much about it before having a daughter of my own. I find it appalling that this line of bullshit is still being fed to young children.

‘Look, if you want to tell your child that being verbally and/or physically abused is an acceptable sign of affection, i urge you to rethink your parenting strategy.

‘If you try and feed MY daughter that crap, you better bring protective gear because I am going to shower you with the brand of “affection” you are endorsing.’

Read the rest by Queen of the Couch here.

Just to be clear, if you hit my son for the same reason, I’ll extend the deal to you, too.

However You Do It, It’s Wrong*

Motherhood, that is.

There are still some countries where you’re considered a success as a mother if you manage to keep a majority of your babies alive till their fifth birthday. Success in less dangerous countries is considered to be a slightly more complex affair. So complex in fact, that’s it’s virtually impossible to succeed at it.

As far as I can figure it, you have to be really, really rich – but only by virtue of having a really, really rich husband (and yes, he has to be a ‘husband’) because otherwise you’re obviously a ‘career’ woman (points deducted for that). You then have to devote yourself to your children’s lives sufficiently that you’re not considered remote, but not so much so that you can’t organise fund raising ‘galas’ for worthwhile charities. So, yes, you can have a nanny, but must still gush to OK magazine that you ‘do everything’ for your children.

That seems to be about the only way to ‘succeed’. The really important fact, of course, is the really, really rich part. You have to be rich enough to not give a fuck what anyone says.

But, oh, for the rest of us!

Well, the rest of you anyways. I’m not that rich but I still don’t give a fuck what anybody says about how I raise my kids. Honestly. I’ve tried and tried and I just don’t.

I think it has something to do with being completely outside any ‘mainstream’ philosophy of mothering. Being a feminist mother can do that to you, you see. Nobody bothers writing polemics attacking us specifically because, statistically-speaking, we’re a blip of no significance. Sheesh, most people have never even heard of us, never mind figured out ways to make us feel bad. Sure, I get attacked as a feminist and I get attacked as a mother, but as a marriage of the two? Nope.

I can talk mothering with anybody from a corporate-cruching career mother to a bonded-on-with-superglue attachment mother and find enough uncommon ground around raising kids that if I wasn’t already perfectly happy being the-weirdo-in-the-corner, I’d take it personally. But I am, so I don’t.

And as ‘feminist mothering’ is my over-riding thing about mothering, all the rest – breast or bottle, disposable or cloth, sling or pram, SAHM or working – is just so much background noise to me. I just don’t care that much because I don’t think it matters that much, at least not in terms of whether they make me a ‘bad mother’. Kids will grow regardless and will be, more or less, OK. It’s a cliche, but as long as you make your kids feel loved – and there are many different ways to achieve that – the rest is just gravy.

And I know that some will argue that all those ‘versus’ debates are as much a part of a feminist mothering philosophy as any other mothering philosophy, and I’d say that’s true. In a way. What, for example, could be more feminist than the debate around SAHM v. working mother? But I’m less concerned about the fact of whether I – or others – stay at home or work, and more concerned that my kids grow up with an understanding of why we have that debate – and why we don’t have a similar one about ‘working dads’ – and why it shouldn’t even be a debate.

My feminist mothering is more centred on a state of mind than anything else. You may say I’m wrong but – as you may guess – I don’t really care.

In short, I’m way more concerned about what goes on in their heads than what goes in their mouths or on their bottoms. And about how they understand why I do what I do, rather than what I actually do.

And I know that attachment mothers will tell me that their parenting is about their kids’ minds, too, fostering, they argue, emotional security. To which I say, yes, you might be right. And I know that critics of attachment parenting will tell me that such parenting is about creating over-dependent kids who can’t grow up. To which I say, yes, you might be right.

See how that works? Because I don’t really care, I can be that bloody blasé, but more importantly, I don’t know who’s right. Do you? Is it even possible to measure ‘right’ in such a way? For every person telling us they were kept in a sling till they were 12 and they’re perfectly fine, I’ll find you another telling us they never had a conversation with their career-mad mother till they were 17 and they’re perfectly fine, too. And vice versa, of course because people love to blame their parents for stuff, don’t they? That’s how Oprah made her millions, after all.

Seems to me it’s all a crapshoot, so you may as well just pay yer money and take yer choice. Because one thing’s for sure: we’re all making choices we think are right. And to me, that’s the best we can do. And, on a personal level, choices are ‘right’ if they for work for you and your family, even though politically such choices may have undesired ramifications.

Now before you think I’m getting all up myself without a stick, I don’t know if my feminist mothering will turn out to be right, either. Who knows, maybe Boogie will grow up to be a Page 3 ‘girl’ and L’il Boo will grow up to be Jeremy Clarkson. And then, oh, how we’ll all laugh!

But I do it because I think it’s right and I don’t give a flying fuck what anybody else thinks because they’re not going to be sitting beside me on the Jeremy Kyle show in 15 years time while my daughter tearfully recounts her Barbie-free childhood and the audience throws rotten tomatoes at me. Nope, that be just me in the single seat of shame watching L’il Boo hold his sister’s hand as he nods sagely before telling the story of the day he wanted to wear a dress and I let him.

*My apologies for this post which seems to swerve off in multiple directions in a distinctly direction-less fashion. It started out as a piece on attachment parenting and the current debate about it following the publication of Badinter’s ‘The Conflict’ and Pollitt’s piece about it on Alternet. But sometimes I just can’t stop myself from rambling streams of consciousness. You know how it is. I’ll focus eventually. Probably. Oh, and you should know that I’m not particularly happy with this post because it kinda says what I mean, but it kinda doesn’t. Live with it.

Interesting random fact about attachment parenting: the first time I ever heard of it was years ago when I caught a documentary on TV about it. The longest segment of the programme featured a group of attachment parents sitting around while their offspring gathered around tables in the middle of them undertaking an activity which seemed fairly untypical for toddlers. Had you asked me afterwards what attachment parenting seemed to be about, I would have replied, ‘Apparently, it’s about teaching small children to play with sharp knives.’ Because that’s what they were doing; cutting fruit and veg with kitchen knives. Actually, I understood even then that this was a fairly small part of the philosophy, but from the length of the segment – and the astonished-but-concerned tone of the commentary – you’d have thought it was the mainstay of the movement. Clearly, we were supposed to laugh at these weirdo parents with their zany and child-harming ways. I did laugh, but only at the producers for being such a bunch of morons.