John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

Why Won’t Our Kids Let Us Mold Them Into Who We Want Them To Be?

 

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“You will find as your children grow up that as a rule, your children are a bitter disappointment – their greatest object being to do precisely what their parents do not wish and have anxiously tried to prevent.”

 

“Often when children have been less watched and less taken care of – the better they turn out! This is inexplicable and very annoying!”

 

(The words of Queen Victoria, taken from History Extra – author Denys Blakeway)

 

Queen Victoria was a lucky woman, for, in spite of having nine kids, she only saw them when she felt like it or had to as a PR exercise. I’ve been glued to series 2 of the same name over the past week because the queen’s fetish for getting pregnant is all the more impressive when you find out how little maternal instinct she possessed. She also had a son like Kurt – Bertie – who ended up being a decent King, which means there is hope.

 

If indeed, it was easy-peasy to raise children, child psychologists and writers of those lying, fucking parenting bibles, would be out of a job. And if Queen Victoria can have one of those kids, what hope is there really for the rest of us? While the old man and I plod along (what should be) the home stretch of parenting, astoundingly we are still confronted by those occasions when like Queen Vic, I would prefer not to do this job at all, and the other night was one of those.

 

Some of you might have picked up my leaning towards being a bit of a control freak, worry-guts and helicopter parent, and that night was one of those that I’m sure will resonate with most parents of teenagers. Tossing and turning in bed, praying that my son would return home safely; promising God a lifetime of attendance at church if only he took care of him; and then as soon as I heard his key turn in the door, I was down the stairs like a crazy woman, berating him for his selfishness.

 

Such nights are less common now that NC has abandoned us and Kurt has survived his teens. Either the sleep medication really does work, or somewhere in my sub-conscience, I have accepted that my children may be adults and let go…a little. It’s sexist I know, but you don’t worry as much about boys, especially when they are of the puppy dog variety like my son, who would rather eat their own shit than throw a punch.

 

That night’s insomnia, however, had less to do with a fear for his safety and much more to do with the visceral disappointment and bruising realization that our son was going to let us down again. Parents of children such as our son will understand this feeling, although I imagine that parents of normal children will secretly condemn me for my honesty. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t got the tee-shirt…

 

It confirmed that I will never be able to mold my son into the adult I expected him to be. I adore him and I know he loves me, but he adamantly refuses to let me turn him into an upstanding citizen of society with the moral compass that we had at his age. He is fundamentally a good person, but convention, abiding by laws and keeping promises are just not his bag, and no matter how many sleepless nights I have, or how many times I try to clip his wings or lock his shackles, he breaks free of them, usually with greater aplomb.

 

When we plan our children, we have all these loopy ideas about how they will turn out while secretly praying that they will inherit the good bits from each of us. The reality is, we consider all the physical stuff at length, then glaze over the personality stuff and make assumptions. I remember that my hope was that our kids would inherit the old man’s brain and my skin and the old man hoped that they got his brain and his motor skills with a remote control and any type of ball. Genes, however, can have a distorted sense of humor and ignore those best-laid plans, claw back into the murky depths of the family tree and fuck you up with a child that resembles great-great uncle fuckwit who lit the Great Fire of London and bred those rats in his home-made lab.

 

Like their mother, neither of our kids can catch a ball.

 

How your children turn out is a lottery. I’m not saying that nurture and education are ineffective, but in some cases, the genes are simply too powerful.

 

I won’t bore you with the intricate details of how my son tested the last vestiges of my endurance the other night, or as is his want, made the bloody deadline by the skin of his teeth in spite of it. Just not in the way I would have approached it. There was no planning, no sense of responsibility or urgency, no anxiety or anal preparations; he had about two hours sleep the night before and on the day, instead of the loving support of a family who would have willingly packed him off with his lunchbox and a pat on the shoulder, he got the cold shoulder.

 

I don’t know why he makes life so hard for us on himself. Perhaps the frontal cortex of his brain should shoulder some responsibility; perhaps he is simply a pig-headed idiot with some growing up to do who will always do things his way and worry about the consequences afterward. All I know is that he does things differently to us and when I moaned the next morning about how he had kept me up all night, he told me that was my problem.

 

And perhaps he has a point.

 

All I can hope is that one day he proves us wrong and out of the ashes will appear a phoenix, a rehabilitated version like Russell Brand, and I will have to eat my words as I proudly tell my friend’s, ‘that’s my son.’

 

 

The Naughty List And Outsourcing Parenting At Christmas

Anyway, according to my hairdresser, who planted the grapevine and is obviously the fount of all knowledge around here, there are now several Christmas apps where parents/kids can connect with Santa before Christmas. You input all your kid’s information into your phone – nickname, age, shoe size etc – so that Facebook nets all their personal details really early on in their life – and then when your child misbehaves, you call Santa to reprimand aforementioned embarrassment to kid-kind and pray he adds them to his naughty list.

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I just can’t understand where this increase in anxiety in our kids has come from, can you?

 

I suspect that this is another example of outsourcing parenting, and call me old-fashioned, but imagine you’re four or five years old and naive AF – because the reality of the world hasn’t set in yet, you still live through your imagination, and your Mum has yet to dress the Christmas Tree when you’re out – and in the lead up to THE biggest and most exciting event of the year, Santa puts you in the doghouse.

 

Worse – this strange man is going to be in your room in a few weeks time!

 

I thought Christmas was one of those sacrosanct, untouchable festivities – like birthdays – that you couldn’t mess with, not even to teach your feral kids a life lesson. Because…PTSD.

 

Every parent has lost the plot in these awful weeks leading to Christmas. In desperation, we’ve all lobbed cruel, empty threats about Santa filling their stocking with coal or vegetables – but a REAL FUCKING PHONE CALL from the big man himself? Seriously? That’s got to be ten on a scale of one to ten of terrifying that makes the scary man you know is hiding under your bed laughable and ensures that you’ll never be alone in your bedroom again – and certainly not on Christmas Eve.

 

It also makes Santa, Bad Cop, and as there are so few symbols of peace, love, and generosity left to cling to these days, I think that’s kind of sad.

 

Personally, I prefer the gentler approach of an idea I saw on Facebook, where you wrap empty boxes, put them under the tree and each time your kid misbehaves, you throw one into the fire.

Empty Nesting: I Know I Will Miss Them, But Will I…Really?

As we approach freedom the next stage of parenting with mounting trepidation, I do question whether I’m ready. I adore both my kids and I will miss those rare moments of family harmony when the four of us sit around the table, laughing and joking together and I can almost forgive them for drinking my wine.

 

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For the most part, I think we’re all ready and my easy acceptance of this change to our living arrangements has very little nothing to do with my children’s living habits that mean I have to clean the cooktop at least five times a day, wash towels after one use or am still woken up at all hours of the night when they come back home after a big night, quietly.

 

You reach a point in middle age, (and as a couple), where you need your lives back. I am ready to embrace the next stage of my life and as the chicks strive for more and more independence in OUR home, I assume that the resulting friction must be part of the natural order of things and it’s their way of telling us they are ready.

 

I have many syndromes, as many of you know, but I would bet my life that ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ will not be one of them.

 

54717ba4da0dd117796895bc3ab37b24While the buggers have shown some signs of a move towards independence, it is still very much on their terms, so sometimes it feels as though we live in a frat house. Not that I continue to mother them. I don’t cook especially for them – although there is still that assumption that I will knock up something wonderful to suit each of their exacting requirements and tolerances at the drop of a hat when they are at home, even on those nights where I’d prefer to replace food with wine. I don’t clean their bed linen or do their washing.

 

I realize I sound selfish and that some of you will be mumbling in horror, ‘you’ll miss them!’ And I know that I will. But I yearn for the day I can find a clean towel in the linen cupboard when I need one, or when I can stand in the shower and the shampoo and conditioner gloops stuck to the glass screen after my daughter’s daily altercation with them, don’t affect me.

 

When I see them in my newly empty nest in the future, I envisage it will be on my terms, on special occasions of my choosing, (like Christmas and my birthday), when we will finally be free from the deep-rooted resentment that cohabiting can exacerbate. Or until that day, I am told, when the first returns, tail between their legs, to beg for their room back.

 

While they need to escape my nagging, I crave silence and a time when I don’t have to be on call twenty-four hours a day; a time when I don’t have to worry that their friends drunken exploits will wake the neighbors or if they’ll leave the gate open for the Princess’s Great Escape. To be frank, I don’t know how families in other cultures continue to live together until their children marry. Some species of the animal kingdom have a “hatch and leave” policy, which sounds far fairer.

 

Right now, a solid eight hours sleep, a kitchen that doesn’t need to be hosed down each morning and a break from the bleats about our fucking Internet, sounds massively appealing.

 

 

 

Who Stopped Halloween?

To say that Halloween was a bit of a let down this evening would be an understatement.

 

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We’ve been deprived of the middle-aged enjoyment of watching other people’s kids behave appallingly under the influence of sugar over these past few years because we lived in the apartment, and a crazy part of me had missed the revolting-ness of it.

 

I have such great memories of Halloween with my own kids. NOT.

 

I even bought some fake cobwebbery and plastic spiders from the two-dollar shop to lure the innocents to our house, (already the grimmest in the street), but it seems that it’s so ugly the kids were too terrified to venture down our cracked, broken steps.

 

I’m mainly disappointed because I came up with this fab idea for preventing last year’s demonstration of the disparity of manners between the greedy kids and the rest of them. It turns out that the big universal bowl of lollies that kids dip their hands into freely managed to unwittingly shame every parent whose child grabbed more than four lollies, so this time I carefully filled pretty, small muffin cases with an assortment of sugar – the perfect size for little hands.

 

But only two pairs of little hands knocked on my door and earned their lollies, and I feel cheated of that trip down memory lane to the world of little people. Added to which, all those snakes and jelly beans in my stomach are laughing now at the immense weight loss I made at the pool today.

 

I’ve been swamped by images of Halloween cup cakes, masks, fancy dress and party ideas for weeks on Facebook and now feel like the only one who didn’t go to the party.It’s not like it would be appropriate for me to go to the local park and hand out lollies to the little people there as a consolation.

 

I can’t think where this broodiness has come from because I’m a million miles away from looking forward to the next generation of little people in our house. If truth be told, I’m hoping that Kurt puts his career first.

 

But how come the whole sordid, brainwashing commercialism of this Celtic festival didn’t reach our street? Or did Malcolm stop that as well?

The Hardest Part Of Parenting Is Agreeing How To Parent

When we were in London a few months ago, we listened to LBC, a talk radio station where current news topics are raised and listeners call in to voice their opinions. family-1517192_1280

 

One of the topics was about the LGBT community and how universities are providing halls of residence strictly for LGBT students in a bid to protect them from bullying. The DJ was adamant in his opinion about the debate when he stated that life is tough, segregation is a short term solution and the priority should be to get to the root of the problem and fish the bullies out.

 

His reply to one caller went something like this:

 

‘Well, where are they going to live after university? Homosexual town?’ It was cutting, but on point.

 

As you know, the issue of whether to protect and enable the “square pegs” and minority groups, or simply throw them to the wolves to best prepare them for the harsh realities of society is a topic that raises its ugly head frequently in our house, in regard to our son Kurt.

 

If couples are lucky when they enter the void called parenting together, they’ve had the foresight to run through the job description, exchange ideas and agree on a game plan that will ensure them the best chance of going on to become the perfect parents that they envisaged.

 

More likely, though, is that they fall into it, thrash and struggle – often at polar opposite sides to each other – and eventually reach some middle ground in which to cope.

 

Every child has their challenges, but in some cases parents get thrown a real test from up high such as a physical or mental disability, or circumstances such as divorce or death interfere, and all those expectations and fixed ideas of what sort of parent we will be are compromised and thrown out the window.

 

Sorry, but I defy anyone who says such circumstances make you stronger.

 

One of the most difficult facets of dealing with our little curved ball of a son is agreeing how to discipline him, because the old man and and I are very different people, have been moulded by very different backgrounds and have very different preconceived ideas about how to best parent our challenge of a son.

 

We agree about the premise of boundaries and we share the same moral values, but our individual relationships with Kurt are very different, just as it is for most sets of parents and their children, I imagine. I don’t believe in parents having ‘favourites’, but it makes sense that the relationships we share with our kids who are more similar in personality and outlook to us are usually more straightforward.

 

This parenting issue has been compounded for us since the old man started to work from home, because he is here all the time now, watching over me like an hawk, waiting for my parenting skills to fail or for any signs of weakness so that he can whoosh down on me and tell me how it should be done.

 

Maybe I’m imagining that…but that’s how it feels, although admittedly, he assures me that I do exactly the same thing.

 

So just as he has come to accept the landslide that is the infernal mess of NC’s bedroom – because she is nigh on perfect in his eyes in most other ways – it feels as though he waits for Kurt’s next fuck up.

 

And from past experience we know with a certainty that there will be many other fuck ups, because our boy has ADHD and is oppositional, doesn’t sleep well, struggles socially and has poor self-esteem – I could continue, as anyone with a child with ADHD knows, but there’s a lot even I will not reveal – so it frustrates me that he can’t feel more compassion for the bumpier road ahead of our son while I frustrate him for being so weak.

 

And in spite of knowing that the old man loves Kurt, I can’t help myself from getting seriously defensive on our son’s behalf.

 

Admittedly, Kurt refuses to help himself, which confirms my place as piggy in the middle in the household, a position I always found frustrating during ball sports at school.

 

And while I agree with the old man that ‘life is tough’ on the outside and that society won’t make allowances for our son – and that yes, he is officially an adult – in my mind, the job we signed up for was unconditional and forgiveness goes a long way.

 

A friend who has been through a similar journey once told me that ‘unconditional love’ is the only way forward with these children, but boy, does our son make even that difficult at times. I am tougher on him than my natural instincts would want me to be because I have learned over time that “enabling” him is not the answer either, but sometimes I want to claw out the old man’s eyes for his lack of compassion.

 

“Parenting” can be the toughest challenge some of us will ever experience and who’s to say which approach is the right one? I don’t have the answers. Sometimes I think it would be easier to toss a coin when it comes to making the sort of parenting calls we have to make, but most of the time we put our heads together and rely on our instincts, wine and prayer to make the right decision.

 

Because we’re the parents and that’s our role.

 

Fortunately, it has recently become accepted in society that parents fuck up their kids’ lives.

12 Awful Things I Don’t Miss About Having A Child At School

The first term of the academic year is winding to a close, fortunately in tandem with the time the kids start to become really feral from the intense pressure of having to concentrate for a whole ten weeks. And I imagine that while some mums are dreading the next two weeks of holiday, some will be cracking open the Chardy to celebrate the break from routine.

 

Kurt is reaching the end of his first semester at TAFE and I can see the tiredness begin to creep in, the requirement to regiment his lifestyle so he can get up in the morning start to take its toll, and an eery sense of malaise settle over the apartment. still-life-851328_1280

 

I was at a friend’s house the other day – a beautiful house set in suburbia, surrounded by moving (!) bushland – and the only object to spoil her perfect, state-of-the-art kitchen was the number of gawdy, good behaviour charts stuck to the fridge.

 

And in spite of being surrounded by other mums, much younger than myself, (hence, trying to be on my best behaviour and not blowing the whistle on how terrible children really are), I might have inadvertently shuddered at the memory of what having a child at school entails.

 

It brought me back to ‘those days’ of trying everything, (bar selling my body), to get your child through school. Not the good behaviour charts, necessarily – because we worked out very quickly that they were pretty ineffective with children such as Kurt when ADHD kids can barely wait a minute before they expect their reward – just ‘school days’ in general.

 

Can it really be almost a year since Kurt’s last school turned their back on him?

 

Not that life has become drastically less challenging since Kurt was asked to leave school, but I never fully appreciated until now, just how torturous the many rules of mainstream education can be for some kids, as well as for their parents.

 

Here’s what I don’t miss:

 

  1. Homework – This could be numbers 1 through to 12, such is the relief that I don’t have to touch it these days. I’m unreliably informed that homework is actually voluntary and am still dumbfounded that I never got the memo.
  2. Uniform –the concept of uniform is a sound idea, but the reality of rustling together all the correct pieces of clothing at 7am on a Monday morning when you realise that some vital component has been left at the weekend sleepover, still haunts me. ‘Mufti’ days should be banned unless every parent is reminded by text that morning.
  3. Packed lunches – so much time, so much thought and preparation wasted on food that will be thrown away, bartered with, or left to biodegrade in a school bag.
  4. Notes and Admin – Schools hadn’t heard about a carbon footprint in our day, or seen the statistics for the success rate of one piece of paper making it all the way home.
  5. Performance nights – there was the fear of shame if your child was picked versus the indignation when they weren’t. The inner ear damaged created by the ‘training band,’ and the wet knickers from the uncontrollable laughter at their expense.
  6. Birthday parties – the traumatic pain of being the parent of the child who never gets an invitation.
  7. Sport – the pain/pride of being the parent of the child who is always a ‘supporter’.
  8. Early band/sport practice – the full dehumanization of parents is achieved when you force them to get up earlier than their day job requires to transport a child to an activity that they only want to attend to see their friends/for the free breakfast.
  9. The playground – #shudder
  10. Cafeteria duty – a debilitating-to-working mums scheme set up by evil schools to highlight the school’s most stoic/perfect mums.
  11. Lost hats – a test of morality for those mothers who see the solution to a problem of a lost hat by sneaking into lost property after school hours with the stealth of a ninja to steal another pupil’s hat, even though they’ve taught their child that theft is up there with joining ISIS. Closer to the lesson of ‘what goes around, comes around’.
  12. Those telephone calls from school – the best excuse for becoming a functioning alcoholic and practicing your  best drama school line of ‘sorry, you’ve got the wrong number’ in lots of silly European accents.

And I haven’t even mentioned selling raffle tickets for a cause you don’t give a shit about, parking or having to buy the teachers gifts…

Anything to add?