Thursday, August 23, 2012

Perspective

 "We never washed you. Not till you were twelve. And look how you turned out."

Some friends of mine are going to be having a child soon. I've talked before about how I have offered limited advice to people in the past that centers mostly around the idea that as long as you do whatever you think is right with conviction then you'll be fine. And the reason for that advice is the simple fact that there are so many bloody opinions on how to do absolutely anything related to parenting that you cannot avoid hearing a better way to do whatever it is that you are doing. All of which are told to you with a suggestion that doing it your way might be the core reason why your child grows up to be mentally unstable/stunted/gay/a Blackburn Rovers supporter.

What's great about quite a lot of those things are that some are period-specific as far as advice goes. And it's unshakeable, no matter what current modern science (specifically for the country you're in of course) says about it because once upon a time it was common wisdom that their way was one of the absolute right ways. So the whole Truby King style of parenting which dictates a strictly enforced routine, rules forbidding, "unnecessary contact" between the parents and child (especially if the kid wakes up) and separate sleeping rooms from the kid's birth make perfect sense in this context. Not to modern parents though who can't wrap their head around the idea that because the kid is crying but not scheduled to eat that it's been put in a different room to "learn" that it should be quiet. Actually I know a person who admits to being attracted to this method of parenting solely because they read King's 1907 book Feeding and Care of Babies and the manner in which it was written seemed so much more professional than the way parenting is talked about on Supernanny. So in other words they nearly chose a method of parenting because - compared to a reality TV show that deliberately shows difficult cases - they read a book that was written in posh.

Then there is the Benjamin Spock method of instinctive parenting - which enrages other parents who think you're letting the child get away with telling you what to do, and that they'll grow up soft. Especially galling to them is that - when they offer their own sage wisdom as to why the child will likely grow up unruly and wimpish - the response is that you are just meeting the child's specific needs. "What the child needs is a good hiding" is pretty much what they want to tell you at the point. They see reasoning as gifting authority to a kid that didn't earn it - which is clearly harmful in their worldview. Here in the US the very mention of Spock can perturb some parents to a level of apoplectic rage solely based on the fact that Spock was an open anti-Vietnam leftist. They draw a straight-line logic from parenting with affection to a specific individuals needs to explain why liberals like recycling, NPR jazz and Volvo's. Because there can't be a logical reason for that - it can only have been instilled in someone through abuse.

And most enraging of all to some parents is the attachment style of parenting (based mostly on the Continuum concept) that promotes almost constant skin-to-skin contact, advocates co-sleeping and really only works with prolonged breast-feeding. My family went for that last one - with our first child permanently strapped to one of us in a sling like a monkey. So we endured other people pointing out (they're being helpful you see....) that your child is being suffocated "in there" and that everyone knows that co-sleeping definitely means you will kill the child - which is probably your aim anyway because co-sleepers secretly hate children. Or something.

I like the culutural differences more though because it truly clarifies how the whole thing is a crap-shoot. So a prime example being in France nobody burps their babies. But if you followed that logic in the UK then people will actually intervene physically to do it to your child because they know not doing it is abusive in some way. Those cultural differences are easier to identify though and are passed off as quirks of the other country. But when your own grandparents point out that what you're doing is well known to be wrong it's harder to just firmly state that you know what you're doing and it's all okay. I do recall responding to a much older person at a bus stop who helpfully asked if I was going to break my child's neck by having it in a sling that at one point in their life the healthiest things known to humankind were lard and corporal punishment at school. It's that sort of thinking anyway that always brings out the bizarre points from parents/relatives that they never put up with that shit with you. Oh no - you weren't allowed to misbehave like that and you went to sleep when you were damn well told. Because they did it the right way. This is usually followed up quite quickly by a snarky comment about how you can't be irritated or surprised by your own child having a colossal tantrum/hitting/not sleeping because that's exactly what you were like as well. Then that's followed by a throwaway comment like, "...we never washed you. Not till you were twelve. And look how you turned out." There is no doubt that parents and relatives will confidently tell you that the way you are holding/putting the baby to sleep/comforting it will be harmful and that it didn't do you any harm. At which point you have to  resist the urge to point out that yes - it did do harm. It's why you are emotionally detached from them, have night terrors and can't chew turnips without getting flashbacks.

Mostly what I tell people interested in what I would advise is to remember that being a parent is unique in the sense that there's an assumption from anyone with children that they automatically know best and are free to comment/criticize they way you parent. It's possibly the only arena in life where the actual ability or quality of what you did is tossed out the window. If you were a shit contractor or a mediocre accountant then that would have some baring on the value of any points on those subjects. But not with parenting - it's a given that because you got pregnant/ejaculated in someone and a baby appeared nine months later that what you say is wisdom. The only way to protect yourself against this fact is to say ridiculous things to point out that being a parent yourself still allows you to be an idiot. Which is why I have said (at an old church, no less) that "I will get that child all the axes a child could want..."

I call this idea that all parents are experts the Alan Hansen phenomenon. He will sit pompously on Match Of The Day pointing out why any aspect of what a football club/player has done is not as good as how he did it. He's paid to do that so fine. And the fact that he's won everything in club football many times over gives him some weight to do that. But that doesn't stop me from thinking a lot of what he says is nonsense (because it is). Add often sat with him on MOTD are Mark Lawrenson (the emo-depressive on the panel), Alan Shearer (wide legged wanker with zero ability to convey anything enlightening), Les Ferdinand ("I destroyed the Blue Peter garden once") and Garth Crooks (thinks what he says have as much weight in the world as the head of the UN Council On Human Rights). All pompously pointing out where everyone else went wrong from an ivory tower that suggests they are the finest experts to grace the earth. Didn't matter what they won, or how. They are the Voice of Football. But consider that Lawrenson has now predicted 39 times in a row that Liverpool will not lose (during which time they've almost perfected that art). It's almost as if he has no idea what he's talking about. And yet his opinion is considered sage. Much like that of any parent who has - 39 times in a row - declared that hugging their male child is poncey and will make the kid respect them more.

But the reason for all the above wasn't just a friend telling me the time is nigh. It's that I have been thinking about social perspective a lot lately. As in parenting by letting a child cry it out makes sense to some, but to others can really appear abusive. A good way to see this is that most parents can spot the subtle differences between a type of crying in a child under 5. There are lots of reasons for crying - and almost none of them indicate actual, genuine pain. But if your kid does an "it's not fair" cry, or cries because something was alarming rather than painful then it warrants a different type of response. Non parents see that and instantly judge you as harsh, distant and unloving. And I've seen column after newspaper column from parents who insist that the best thing you can do when a child cries at night is to close the door and let them run out of steam. To me that instinctively seems unloving. But I'm also aware that that's just my opinion on how to parent. But that the point there is that I'm going to do it my way and with conviction. And that your perspective is what makes my behavior look a certain way that it really isn't. And vice versa.

But it's wholly innocent and entirely about perspective. Recently I suffered a flashback to an uncomfortable innocent moment I had as a teenager. My behavior was completely innocent and normal. And yet to some people around me I was likely nefarious and scum. Basically I was dating a girl who was taking a college course that required her to wok at a small parochial primary school a few times a week. Being the nice guy that I am I would walk well out of my way up to that school to meet her after work. Now for some reason there was a requirement that she leave either right before the kids came out or just after - never at the same time. And for the sheer practicality of it I think she only ever made it out before once or twice for the entire time she worked there. So for a prolonged period I would arrive and stand in the middle of a cloud of parents. All of whom would watch as I - a ridiculous looking idiot of a man with scruffy fluorescent green hair (for a period of the time), my eyebrow and lip piercings visible (and the idea that I had others surely suggested) - would arrive and seemingly watch an entire school of children leave. I would never be seen to be picking up a younger sibling. And I wouldn't be meeting a relative or anything of that sort that would explain why on earth I was there. It would actually seem that I just showed up in the village one day to stand outside a school. And I quickly became aware of the nervous glances and questioning looks. Now - I didn't dress like a twat the entire time. In fact one of the odd things about me at the time is that one day I'd look like I'd been molested by a craft store, but the following one I'd look like a Next catalog.. And although I did smoke at the time I wouldn't do that outside that school (although many of the parents there did). I also made the conscious decision not to stand about with my headphones in - blaring whatever atrocity I listened to at the time and demarcating my generation's whinge that we are so bloody unique in how completely different we are to everyone else (yawn....). So truth - a nice young man waiting for his girlfriend to get out of work. Other people's perspective - a bizarre looking deviant who spent parts of his day watching kids in an attempt to pick the right one for the well he's dug under his house.

I suppose it's just irony that now I have my own kids that I also genuinely have a well under my house now. 


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