Parenting is the hardest job in the world. And the most rewarding. Sadly, many seem to have lost the way. Or perhaps never found it. There is a plethora of parent labelling out there – it seems you could be anything from a lawnmower, helicopter, free range, tiger, elephant, dolphin or attachment to name a few.
We watched a disturbing story on Current Affair the other night. It followed the events of a number of teachers who worked in one of Australia’s more challenging schools. Each one of them had been severely traumatised by violent, destructive, threatening, abusive students.
“It’s accepted that students can walk out of a classroom, it’s accepted that they can push tables into you, it’s accepted that they can say that they are going to stab you, and that there’s no follow-up,” she said.
This story followed hot on the heels of a thought provoking article in the SA Weekend magazine just last weekend.
It featured the thoughts of award winning, internationally best selling Aussie author of young adult fiction, John Marsden. Who also happens to be a teacher. A person who happens to love teaching kids. That’s quite something. He has recently published a book titled The Art of Growing Up. He says we are in a state of crisis when it comes to parenting and teaching.
In it he voices some strong opinions about modern parenting. Some would say his views are controversial. To me, they sound like refreshing common sense. A commodity, I have come to realise, that is not so common.
“Everywhere I look I see awful mismanagement of young people and the results are toxic and the consequences are dire, and we see the damage that causes in schools and lots of other areas of life too.”
He talks about the impact of ‘pussy footing’ around, of hinting in hushed tones, of not addressing issues directly, of being afraid to voice the need for parents to manage their responsibilities as parents. That reminded me so strongly of when I was working and my children were young. As a full-time worker, school holidays and sick children created many challenges in juggling the role of parenting and work. But between us, family and friends, we managed. To me it was a given that this was part and parcel of my role as a parent.
Then came the time when I worked in management. Boy did that open my eyes to a whole different perspective. The pussy footing started. There was a burgeoning demand for work to take on the responsibility of what I had always considered parenting choices and responsibilities. Like organising time off to care for children when there was no leave left to take. Suddenly management had to bend over backwards to make it possible. Similarly. making provisions for breastfeeding in paid work time with a dedicated room provided on premises. These were demanded rights by many a parent.
I wondered often what had happened to parenting. Why was management required to assume major responsibility instead of playing a supportive role? I could understand a middle ground, where parents and management problem solve and make compromises that suit all parties. Sometimes it did work this way. But at other times the demands exceeded what was reasonable or possible from a work perspective. So then the unions got involved. And it got ugly.
The same kind of thing began to emerge more and more frequently in schools. Until we are now in a state of crisis. Many it seem are happy to abdicate responsibility for raising their own children to others. And then fingerpoint and blame when things go wrong. Schools feed hungry children breakfast so they have the energy and nourishment to concentrate and study. Schools are expected to teach sanitised and politically correct versions of values and beliefs, many of which should be taught at home with schools playing a supportive role encouraging respectful behaviours.
Whilst Marsden believes very strongly that a state of crisis exists, he also very clearly says that not all is gloom and doom. It’s just that some things need to change.
Marsden believes parenting is often driven by irrational fear. Of parents not understanding their own anxieties. Of parents not being present in their childrens’ lives in a meaningful way. He does not mean quality time. That, he says, is one of the greatest modern con jobs. It should be quantity, not quality. As a stepfather to six sons he has plenty of life experience under his belt. Realistically, he says, being a ‘good enough’ parent is good enough.
He offers the following parenting tips –
1) ‘The first principle of good parenting is to be aware of the unhealthy ways we construct childhood and adolescence. Parents may need to rethink their prejudices. Their children may not be as perfect as they pretend to be, and their teenagers might be better than is generally acknowledged.’
2) ‘We must give our children fear. It is a rich and immensely valuable experience to know fear. The only myths many modern parents want to offer children are Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We are scared to give them the Bogeyman as well, not realising how nourishing the Bogeyman can be.’
4) ‘Parents should strongly — even forcefully! — encourage teenagers to get paid jobs. They are, after all, members of a family, not business class passengers on a plane.’
5) ‘People who feel angry or upset when they get a glimpse of children’s hatred or greed or sexuality or rage or dishonesty are overlooking the fact that the child is acting in the same way as every other human being in the history of the world.’
6) ‘The only important academic skill needed by children is literacy. We must ensure that children have access to books with realistic characters, credible situations, authentic language and we must not shrink from showing life in all its many forms.’
8) ‘Parenting means teaching children to get their own Weet-Bix.’
9) ‘Every parent should wish for their child nothing more than ‘I want him or her to experience life to the fullest’. Every child should be able to exult in the 10,000 joys that life brings, and feel with full force the sadness of the 10,000 sorrows.’
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”