Sunday, 13 December 2015

Parental blues

Who'd be a parent? Wherever you go, other people are privately (or publicly) judging your parenting skills. Neighbours, relatives, teachers, total strangers. Not to mention your own nagging self-criticism. And not to mention all those contradictory parenting guides.

There can't be many parents who're blithely confident that they're doing fine, that they know what's good for their kids, and aren't always looking over their shoulder at what other parents are doing.

I'll admit to a bit of censorious tut-tutting myself. Kids who run riot in restaurants. Kids who sit next to me on the bus and are jumping up and down for the next 20 minutes. Kids who drop chocolate wrappers in my front garden. But at least I keep my petty whinges to myself and don't load the parents with yet more guilt and self-blame.

So many people think they could do a better job than the parents themselves. Surely all that's needed is a bit more discipline, a bit less lazy indifference, and a few basic behavioural guidelines. How hard can it be?

Those who're doing the parenting could tell them exactly how hard it can be. Relentlessly truculent children, relentlessly hyper-active children, relentlessly destructive children. Just put yourself in our shoes, they might say, and you'll see what a constant struggle it can be to turn wayward children into civilised human beings.

How thankful parents must be if they're blessed with polite, considerate, diligent children who're a delight to have around and not a permanent embarrassment. And how sympathetic they must be to those whose children are an endless headache.

I've never had children, but I sometimes wonder if my own children would have been little horrors or little angels. In my worst nightmares, they would have been the offspring from hell. And the censorious tut-tutting would have been a deafening clamour.


  1. It's all a crap game really, the more I see, the more I acknowledge it. Observing in the last month and ongoing, the dereliction of one child who is now fighting for her rights, whilst bolstering her 3 sibs and I'm friends with all of them, the kids are all in their 40s. I walk a fine line while seeing all sides.

    Anyone parenting should go read Philip Larkin. My role model.


  2. I was pretty relaxed as a parent. Kaitlin was a bit of a hothead and could have embarrassed me a couple of times, but I figured it was just part of the process. We did a lot as a family working on projects up on the land on weekends, so she learned a lot and we built a strong bond.

  3. Practically every time I go shopping in the local supermarket there is always a kid screaming somewhere in the aisles. No matter where I go it seems that it's mother and the child follow me around. I find it distracting and annoying. I have difficulty concentrating on my shopping list.

    At the checkout it gets worse! Either this woman and her kid arrive just behind me, cutting of my retreat, or they are at the front of the queue with the brat picking up sweets from the well placed display and throwing them into her trolley. These woman seem to be completely oblivious to the racket their kids are making.

    There are also packets of condoms on offer by the till, and I have often been sorely tempted to throw a handful of packets into her trolley and watch the fun. . . .

  4. Kids here in Costa Rica are generally well behaved...a bit noisy, but not objectionable...and they are endearingly confident with adults - once mum has approved the adult.

    Goodness only knows what kids of ours would have turned out like...but I'm sure they would have been more disciplined than the dogs...

    I like the idea of adding the condoms to the basket....some of the kids I see when visiting mother in England would have me reaching for the knout...for the parent.

  5. I only felt judged by the in-laws. Both my husband and I were said to be over-protective for everything from physical safety (we wouldn't allow our preschoolers to hold sparklers on July 4th) to food choices. And don't even get me started on their advice about my child with autism. Still infuriates me to think about it. As much as I have differences with my own mother, she was always completely supportive of how we raised the kids and never fails to tell me how great they turned out. Have never received that from the in laws!

    I do admit to feeling critical of other parents in public. I would never say anything, but it's pitiful to see parents on their phones, ignoring their children. Or worse, yelling at a child who is really just being a kid.

  6. Children that misbehave in public certainly are a pain in the arse, and usually the mother is either so pathetic and whiny that the kid has long since stopped paying any attention, or is just as objectionable as the kid.
    You can read a whole pile of parenting books before realising that they're mostly rubbish, and then there's the whole area of baby-related advertising with its nauseating soft-focus lovey-dovey bullshit.
    We had one child (now seventeen) and from the moment he came into the world we've just been winging it; using our best judgement in the hope he didn't turn into a serial killer or a politician.
    Happily he never embarrassed us in public, didn't have tantrums, and has ended up a kind well-adjusted (if somewhat cynical) young man.
    The wife and I have never considered ourselves 'natural' parents - some seem to take to it like a duck to water - and it's with great relief that we find ourselves at the point where the groundwork is done and it has all worked out in the end.

  7. www: Ah yes, Philip Larkin: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had,
    And add some extra, just for you."

    Jean: She could have embarrassed you a couple of times? Only a couple? You obviously escaped lightly!

  8. Keith: This is it, so many parents seem oblivious to their children's noise and disturbance. They seem to hear nothing and see nothing. Yet sometimes the sheer volume of noise is deafening. You must try the condoms trick sometime. I'd love to know how it went!

    Helen: Costa Rican kids sound amazingly civilised. What's the secret? Perhaps British parents could pick up a few useful tips....

  9. Bijoux: Well, at least your mother was a helpful counter-balance to your in-laws' criticism. She could reassure you that your in-laws' opinions were just that - opinions and not facts.

    Dave: Glad to know your fumbling attempts at parenthood have worked out so well and your son has turned into a civilised adult. That must be a great relief. "in the hope he didn't turn into a serial killer or a politician" I like it!

  10. And the less said about my own parents and their inept version of child-rearing, the better.

  11. I parented one child who was mostly an enjoyable experience till he grew up to his teenage. Our problems started then and lasted for almost a decade before he settled down and became a delight again. I have so far been spared the grandparent experience but my siblings have all been blessed with that and they seem to quite enjoy them. I enjoy my grand nieces and nephews as well as a number of grandchildren of friends. Perhaps it is our system of bringing up children that makes it a different experience here.

  12. Ramana: Glad to know your son turned out okay in the end, after a decade of nail-biting! As you say, the Indian system of child-rearing must produce better results than the British one. Screeching, uncontrollable children seem to be all too common over here.

  13. You're wrong there Nick, these screeching, uncontrollable children can be controlled in the same way my generation was in the 40's and early fifties. If I played my parents up either I got a slap round the head or legs, or a "bloody good hiding" as my old Dad used to say.

    Now thanks to the politically correct do-gooders you cant do that, you're not supposed to even shout at them; that's classed as 'verbal abuse' and you could have your child taken into care if he/she phoned Childline. Hmmm . . . . perhaps that's not a bad thing after all . . . .

  14. Keith: My father never slapped me. He had a different technique of keeping us kids under control. We were in permanent fear of his atrocious bad temper, which could erupt quite unpredictably at any time. But I'm sure there are ways of raising considerate, well-behaved children that don't involve either fear or physical violence. Maybe Ramana could give us some tips?

  15. A badly behaved child (as opposed to a child behaving at a deveopmentally normal level) always needs something.
    As we say here in sweet liberal la la land: "All behaviour is communication"

    Love is the antidote to bad behaviour. Love a kid every way you can think of as many times as you can and all will be sweet.

    There's a fascinating article about Indian parents, I'll try to get you the link

  16. Kylie: That all feels right to me. Behaviour as communication. Love as the answer to bad behaviour. I'm sure I would have been a less truculent child myself if my parents had made any serious attempt to discover my personal needs as opposed to their arbitrary idea of the ideal son.

  17. Kylie: No time to read the article right now, I'm about to go to work. Will read it later on. Thanks for the link.

  18. Kylie: A very interesting article. I agree with her that parents should be nurturing and protecting their kids until they're old enough to be resilient and independent. Being tough with your kids when they still feel vulnerable and insecure is emotionally destructive.

  19. I generally ignore criticisms from non-parents figuring they have no idea what they're talking about. I don't mean that to be rude, I just know that's it is far more complicated than you can understand if you've not actually raised a child.

    As for striking a child, no. The research showing how harmful that is is plentiful and basically you are teaching a child that you can get someone to do what you want through violence. I raised two kids without ever hitting them. They were active kids who certainly tried my patience at times but I would never take out my anger on them like that. And non-violent parenting (which is not the same as overly indulgent or neglectful parenting) works. My kids were well-behaved and successful is school. It distresses me to know there are still so many people who think it's okay to abuse kids.

  20. Agent: I'm sure you're absolutely right that non-parents have little idea what parenting actually involves.

    Given your job, you're in a good position to know the results of violence-based parenting. It distresses me too to see how many people still think it's a good idea. Maybe it's just ignorance and they need to be taught how to bring up kids successfully without resorting to violence.