Wednesday 1 December 2010

Add this one: Graffiti Parenting

I grew up in the 1960s, when my mother shouted, as I hopped out through the back door, Be home by six.

She might have added, I don't mind what you do, so long as you don't cross Mansfield Road, and you don't get into trouble.

I was probably aged eight or nine. I thought I was free. She knew half a dozen people would tell her later what I'd got up to.

Sometimes I slipped the net and walked both sides. I ran with kids who had piano practice at 4, and kids with cigarette burns dancing up their arms. I learned who Mozart was and which house you avoided, unless by age ten you could handle yourself in tricky situations: there lived the old couple who would give you money if you let them take a photo of you with your top off.

These days, my mother's I don't mind would be read as I don't care. My old mum would probably be labelled a neglectful and dysfunctional parent. She might be offered a parenting course or an intervention project based around family counselling.

But isn't it true that today's only the starting point for the future? Which is why this is such a fundamentally wrong idea. Because, six years from now, my mother's grand daughters could be summed up in a graded pass, their suitability as parents marked. Even before they have children.

When did it happen? That we got to this point when an exam in parenting seemed like a good idea?

What event in my life happened to make someone else think I'd trust in them, and not me? When did they assume that I'd look to schools to tell my kids how to parent? Do they think that parenting's beyond me? That I need someone else to tell me how? That only someone else can say what's best for my kids? And that I, the grower of knuckle and bone and blood and guts, am merely here to 'reinforce' the approved learning, delivered by my wall-hung TV screen?

It speaks loud and clear about the culture we're living in. When it's believed that I'll uncritically accept someone called an Expert or a Director or a Chief Executive and never question what they say. When someone thinks that I see the word Charity and immediately assume it must be an organisation bound to be transparent, good, and honourable. When someone believes my trust in myself and my community is so low I will surely look to the authority of an examining body with an assessment criteria to tell me how to improve.

Maybe my mum taught me a great deal of parenting wisdom. Maybe my raw sixties backstreet education came in for something. Because I'm not going to nod in agreement. I won't watch passive while my language, emotion, my parenting, is stripped away from me and layers of someone else's words are slapped over my life.

Sometimes, Parenting UK, there's a space for visceral, guttural language, and it's here. Fuck off.

In this world, where all our humanity is steadily subject to someone else's judgement and control, I am standing out as a graffiti parent.

Parenting looks like shit, and it's the most profound art you ever do. That's graffiti parenting.

I run counter culture, defy your judgment, do my own thing. I get it wrong, show myself up, rage and weep. I put it right, patch up, make amends, paint it over, strip it back, celebrate the raw, experiment again. I threaten, weep and laugh with joy. I tell my kids off and praise them, ignore them and help them, deal with them unjust and fair. I'm inconsistent, contradictory, permissive, authoritarian. I'm a crap parent and the best parent. I explore all states. I'll laugh at my aspirations and my fears before you can ever find them. Because this parenting, I own it.

To my children I pass it all on, mixed with messages of culture, society, politics, books, art, energy. And only they are qualified to tell me whether I got some things right.

It's our future. I reserve that space - graffiti parents - for my kids. Not yours, Parenting UK, mine. In time, I expect they'll make graffiti of their own lives in their own ways. I want them to pass that on, down the line, to my mother's great grand children. That system works for me. It may have been working one way and another like that for thousands of years.

So I'll tell my children this. Celebrate all of your parenting. The shit and the art. Never pass your own parenting lives over to someone paid to judge you. Never give up your own self knowledges and self doubts and self beliefs to a school teacher who'll score them with a tick sheet.

That person will disempower you for life and disengage you from your children not yet born, when they peer at you and say, You must try harder. Grade D.


Gweipo said...

I bumped into a fellow parent at school this morning. She told me the most hilarious thing. The other day she didn't something silly and completely innocuous. Her 3 children aged 8-12 gave her a strong lecture on her inability to exercise restraint and make the right choices, and deplored her lack of self-censorship. She has no idea what cuckoo left those three in her nest!

Sigh, we so obviously grew up in a different age.

Kelly said...

This great post is making the rounds on Facebook, you know.

Monday Ramalamadingdong and I lost our job. We were babysitting two beautiful little girls while their mom did some uni courses on Monday mornings. They are two and a half years and six months old. Mom's classes are done now and she doesn't need us anymore, and we are going to miss those little girls!

OK, it was actually R's job, but I liked to drop by to "help." And actually, some days he did need help. It's hard for a 15-year-old boy to be in charge of two little girls for 3.5 hours every week. They cried, and wanted to play, needed diaper changes, and food, even on the days he was tired or had a headache. Some days they were sick and cranky too. Just like it will be when he's a parent.

I was so thrilled that he had the opportunity to do this. I have encouraged all my boys to babysit, and Peanuts got to join in when I stopped by to help. N, the older girl, loved having a 9-year-old boy to order around. This is not an opportunity the kids in school would necessarily have time for.

A friend was telling me about some research that found that kindergarten and grade two kids exposed to young children and babies on a regular basis were less likely to engage in bullying behavior. The schools in our town began to ask parents with babies to visit classes once a month, so the kids could see how a baby develops over the course of a year, and get to know one. This friend of mine had done this with her two little ones. Observing the school over the course of those years was what convinced her to home educate.

The point of this long comment is that you are right. You can't teach parenting in schools. You don't even necessarily learn it from your parents. (My husband and my mom both had really dreadful parenting, and yet they each made a conscious decision to learn to be good parents themselves.) You learn parenting by being allowed to be with kids, and help take care of them. Some people are lucky enough to get a few lessons before they get their own kids, but it isn't necessary. To be a good parent you just have to want to be a good parent. I can think of a few in the wealthy and famous crowd, or a few in the "professional educator" crowd, who clearly don't really have that desire.

Kelly said...
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Kelly said...
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Kelly said...

Triple posting? That's a first even for me. And did you see the size of that thing I posted?

Jemmo said...

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad..."

No really, they do. It's not their fault, bless 'em. They just can't help it. See, it's in the manual under 'Job Description' (go look it up - I'm sure you got one). Right there after the bit about how we never had the interweb and 24 hour TV in our day, and before the bit about how kids' music/fashion/rebellion isn't as good as they used to be.

And it's there, written in black and white in the manual every parent gets when they conceive (you have still got yours, right?) for a reason. That reason being that (Shhh! Don't tell the Daily Fail!) IT'S OKAY TO FUCK YOUR KIDS UP! You really can't help it, so try not to obsess! Because while you're busy trying things out and getting things wrong and cursing because your carefully researched and prepared new parenting technique, as recommended by Richard and Judy and that blog you like so much, earns little more than a blank look and a shrug before the little darlings bugger off to go learn some more about life by, y'know, living it... while all that's going on, they are doing the things kids do, often despite all the parenting techniques (as recommended by Dr Expert) that are thrown at them. They are growing and creating and learning and playing and living and fucking up things all on their own. They're learning about how it's ok to fuck up, and how no one has all the answers, and how sometimes, most times, the best way to find out how to do something is to do it wrong a lot first, and how the worthwhile lessons in life quite often are mundane and little and cheap and casual and you find out about them quite by accident, not in a sodding GCSE textbook.

And then there's the thing that Parenting UK forgets. The thing that is the saving grace for many a crap parent who muddled their way through without the benefit of a government approved course on what various companies and academics and TV stations and newspapers have decided counts as good parenting. It's the thing no one ever seems to mention and it is this: Children… (pauses for dramatic effect) turn into adults! Really! They do! And that's the time when it's their turn to sort out the shit and baggage that their parents have unavoidably left them with, and somehow, strangely, miraculously, most people actually do. And the ones who are most successful at sorting out that shit are not the ones whose parents took the Parenting 101 course and got the certificate with a gold star and a kiss on the bottom from Dr Expert (married, no children, sponsored by McDonalds and Nutri-sweet). It's the ones who respected their kids enough to freely give their time and love and honesty. The ones who actually knew that children are all different, so it's a good idea to give in to the fact that each of your kids is unlike any other child in the world, and to therefore get to know them personally and appreciate them for their uniqueness and raise them accordingly. With not a percentile in sight, cos when you grade kids' life skills against an average, you usually end up with average kids.

GCSE Parenting should be dead simple, and should consist of one easy to understand concept: All parents will fuck their children up, no matter how hard they try not to. Good parents accept this and give their children the tools to un-fuck themselves when they are grown.

kelly said...

I know that if I was a child today, that I would have quite probably been shipped off by social services to a "proper" home.

I spent my childhood in pubs and social clubs, surrounded by a fug of cigarette smoke and bad language, falling asleep in a booth at the back of the pub. I learnt to play cribbage by the time I was eight, knew how to pour a Guinness by the time I was ten, and knew the system on the fruit machine at eleven. By eighteen I would pub-sit for the locals when they went on holiday because I knew so much.

When I wasn't in the pubs, I was roaming around the farm I grew up on. I would raise the orphan lambs each year, getting up through the night to make sure they were fed, and when the barn burnt down I was expected to help move the cattle at 2 a.m. even though I was nine years old. No one stopped to consider whether it was an age appropriate activity.

I loved my childhood, it was exciting, wild and I never felt unloved, unwanted or neglected.

I'm a parent myself now, and despite a dysfunctional upbringing (my sister and I were once arguing in our Dad's work van, when he fell 12 feet or more out of the tree he was doctoring and landed with a slam on the van bonnet. Stopped the argument dead I tell you.)

I don't smoke, I don't take my children to bars and pubs on a Saturday night, but I firmly believe that it was my slightly off beat upbringing that gave me the ability to question the why of every thing...and to know deep within my core that standard schooling is not the answer for us.

I want my children to have this opprtunity too.

Twinsplustwo - Emma-Kate Thompson said...

Fabulous post. As a mother of an AS/ADHD child who has had the spotlight turned on us before I 100% agree. No way would I trust schools who barely know my children from amongst the crowd to teach them parenting. Parenting is as individual as children and parents and should be spontaneous not planned like an essay. After all, my son's teacher "knew" him so well he got himself suspended for verbal professional misconduct towards him. Says it all.

Grit said...

Thank you for these comments people. I can only stand and say the applause, applause is rightfully yours.

Maire said...

Wonderful postband wonderful commenta, thank you all!

Leaf said...

When my big girl was still little, and I'd come to recognise some parenting mistake I'd made that I came to realise she was suffering for and/or from, I used to comfort her, and myself, by telling us both the story of the mummy lion, her cubs, and the thorns in the paws.

Mummy lions sometimes have to lead their cubs to and through acacia scrub in the savannah. Acacias have big sharp thorns around them, on the trees and on the ground. This makes them useful protection and dangerous in their own right. Quite often cubs and lions get thorns in their paws that hurt. It isn't always clear whether the thorns hurt less than what it was the mummy lion was running from. All mummy lions can do is teach their cubs how to avoid some of the thorns some of the time, and how to get all or most of the thorns out of their paws afterwards.

My big girl, and my other cubs, still like that story, finding it helps them understand how things are sometimes, and so keep faith with themselves, vital for life.

Thank you all for your chutzpah in challenging the stupid status quo of 'nanny-state knows best'. It ain't necessarily so. We know! We do !