Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Rare Parenting Blog

Somebody turns 22 today. And he's fucking awesome.

But this is not about him.

I went to Google images to find a nice "meme" that I could use as a Facebook birthday card and, just like trying to buy a real greetings card, there was nothing suitable. They fell into two very obvious camps - soppy or rude. I have no desire to be either of those, so I wrote my own.

But while I was browsing I saw this, and I've seen it before. You all have:

I've seen many people use it as a Facebook share, and in other places too.

It's the biggest piece of garbage I've ever seen.

So you're setting out to make your kids hate you? Hey, great plan!

You are not their friend first? Well, your loss. You could be the greatest friend they ever have. And vice versa.

Stalk them, drive them insane, worst nightmare, hunt them down.....

What sort of parent is that? Yeuk. And again I say YEUK.

If that's how you want your relationship with your kids, go for it. Count me out.

I fully accept the idea that there's more than one way to raise kids successfully, in fact there are billions of ways. It's a bespoke job. Every child is different, every family is different, every parent is different. I definitely did not raise my youngest the same as I did my eldest because I was 13 years older, and with a shitload more experience, but they both turned out fine.

What these two journeys had in common was the same end goal, and the same basic method. It was just tweaked for the circumstances.

And I did not raise my kids the same way I was raised because the situation was entirely different, but I took the best from my upbringing, left out the bits I don't think worked very well, and added stuff from inspiration and from the successes of others. I often broke all the rules, and I had to think on my feet a lot. And I ignored criticism, because it was groundless.

Having seen my objections to the piece above perhaps you are thinking I'm a very permissive parent. Some think so. Others...well, I've been accused of being too strict. I love it when you get accused of both ends of a spectrum (it usually means you've found a balance).

Many of you have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. When my kids were younger I would get two regular remarks.

1. Melanie, you are too strict with your kids.
2. Melanie, you have great kids.

And the hilarious part is that they often both came from the same person. And lots of them. I think understanding cause and effect is a dying art.

Strict? What does strict mean? Apparently it means making certain demands, and, on the other hand, saying no and sticking to it. But demanding what? Saying no to what? The devil is in the details.

My parenting philosophy is really very simple. First, show love. Then, be firm but fair. If you never forget that you will be fine, because that's all there is to it. The problem is that people confuse sentiment with love, confuse unkindness with firmness, and confuse indulgence with fairness. They do it in all their decisions and relationships, so why wouldn't they do it with their children?

Look at pet ownership. I am good to my animals. They are well-treated and loved. Love, not sentiment. I do not think of them as children. They are not my children. Many people think of their animals as children, and that's their relationship, not mine. I do not interfere with their relationship. They, however, see fit to criticize mine. I do not allow my pets on my bed, I don't refer to myself as their "mom", I don't buy them endless toys, or put clothes on them. I call "Here" as I go out the door and my dogs trot along beside me. When I come back in they sit at my feet. This is our relationship. It has existed between humans and dogs for tens of thousands of years and suddenly it's not good enough? I do not want a cuddly-wuddly minature dog in a rhinestone collar that I have to carry around. I want a traditional canine companion. So, no, it's not my child. And for this I have been criticized.

But I take no notice, because I know the problem lies with the critic. They are projecting endless insecurities of their own. Not my problem.

With children it gets even more complicated. Admit to smacking your kid's arse and people freak right out. Some of them would report you to authorities.

The fact that children have had their arses smacked for tens of thousands of years, and the human race has achieved the dizzying heights it has, never enters their head. Somewhere in the last 50 years the sentimentalists have decided we can't do that, because some parents overdo it, so we can't do it at all - it's gradually becoming unacceptable.

But it didn't stop there. Did it?

Saying "no" is bad. Raising your voice is bad. Don't even let the poor baby-waby hear the tone of your voice change. And OH MY GOD we can't insist on them doing anything they don't want to do. We can't insist they amuse themselves when we're busy. We can't expect them do to do things for themselves. We wait on them hand and foot.

Bollocks. These are trainee adults, and they have a lot to learn in a very short space of time.

If you look around you you'll see a third generation of spoiled brats, with no self-discipline, an entitlement complex, and a list of neuroses as long as your arm. Making therapists rich. Giving teachers ulcers. Unable to care for themselves. No ambition, no clue.

And what's the result of this soppy parenting? I'll tell you. By the time they get to their teens they can't be trusted - so their parents end up stalking them to find out what they're doing, they can't be relied upon - so their parents drive them insane reminding them, they can't control themselves - so their parents become their worst nightmares trying to make up for years of no consequences, and they don't even have the good manners to be home on time or let anyone know where they are - so their parents hunt them down.

And having had no rules for the first ten or so years, suddenly as they become independent they don't know how to conduct themselves when out on their own, so they screw it all up. And suddenly the parent who wanted to be a parent first but chose to be a soft parent, has to become the heavy parent - and gets hated for it.

You cannot suddenly decide to clamp down on them at 13, or 16, or 18..... when they've been allowed to run rings round you since birth - that doesn't work.

They'll take no notice of you. Seriously. If you suddenly change tack, they'll ignore it. They'll look for ideas, they'll look to some sort of substitute authority. Where? Probably their friends, their peers.

Among those friends there will be good ideas and bad ideas. You can be the friend with the good ideas. If you are convincing enough, you can overshadow the dumb ideas, at least most of the time. Yes, you CAN be a parent and a friend at the same time. It isn't even difficult. It does require some insight into what a friend is.

Kids will make mistakes, it's what kids do. They won't behave well all the time. They won't always do the right thing. NOBODY DOES.

But if, right from the start, they have parents who set a good example, and instill character into a kid, he'll sort it all out for himself.

Or...well...maybe this is about him. Because there were times, many times when I heard that other, oh so familiar stupid shit from the critics of other people's parenting. Some of you know how it goes. It's where they tell you that your kid's behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be dealt with. And then they disapprove of EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE SOLUTION.

Firm but fair, with love, is the only workable solution, and it takes time. Slow and steady wins the race.

22 years eh? Look at you. A fine man. I ignored my critics, because they didn't know what they were talking about.

Now then. Raise your boy well. It really isn't that hard.


  1. "The problem is that people confuse sentiment with love, confuse unkindness with firmness, and confuse indulgence with fairness." Well said.

  2. Another place they look for clues to compensate for the lack of guidance is cults, including fundamentalist churches.