Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Letting children make their own choices (or not)

Tonight I am pissed off about lots of things.  But for clarity's sake I've decided to focus my energies and attentions (for that read: violent rage) on one particular topic.  (You have been warned!)

Now I am the first, ok, usually second or third, to admit that I am slightly, a teensy tiny bit of a control freak.  This should not really come as a surprise to anyone, least of all myself.  I spent the first sixteen years of my life able to control precisely nothing, so these days I find it hard to pass the baton, to, well anyone.

However I was delighted this morning to discover that I am in fact a control freak lite, controlling what little I can, and worrying about what I can't, without actually stepping into the realms of Nazi-ism, unlike the woman being discussed in the article I read this morning.

The article is about whether or not Mums should be choosing their children's friends for them.  Yes, you heard me right.  Remember that old saying "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family"? Well scrap that.  Apparently these days kids can't choose either.

I made the mistake of clicking through to the original article even after I saw it was in the Daily Fail.  So really, this seething rage I'm struggling to quell right now is entirely my own fault.

Look, straight up, I don't watch the fucking Apprentice so I don't know who Katie Hopkins is, although apparently she's the "star" of it, or some shit.  But regardless of her place in pop culture, she is a mother.  A mother who doesn't want her children mixing with, and I quote "friends that i deem beneath them".

She postulates that because "intelligence is catching" (this based on a recent study she heard about but doesn't cite) she only wants her children to mix with the clever and motivated kids at their (state) primary school.  This doesn't sit right with me, but if that was all she said, I doubt I'd have been so moved to write an entire blog post in reply.  However, the actual article begins with:

"Looking at the garish party invitation in my daughter's hand, my heart sank. The venue was bad enough: the dirty, sticky soft play area at our local leisure centre. But the name of the birthday girl told me all I needed to know.
With her pierced ears, passion for pink leggings and array of electronic play equipment, Charmaine is definitely not the sort of child I want my daughter associating with." *

Can anyone else pick out the part there that refers to the child's academic abilities and/or dedication to her school work.  Or did that just sound like she was describing your typical seven year old girl? Oh no, my bad, your typical working class seven year old girl?

Hands up, I don't personally agree with piercing children's ears but as of yet I haven't seen any evidence to suggest it actually impairs their ability to succeed at school.  I mean, she has a point with the passion for pink leggings, many a high school drop out has started that slippery slope to the Job Centre with a passion for motherfucking pink leggings.  I'm sorry for the swears.  It's just so GAH! Is this woman for real?!

What she wants to say, but seemingly doesn't dare to is that she doesn't want her semi-posh kids mixing with kids that come from families that don't have as much money and/or social esteem as hers. End Fucking Of.

It's amazing how far we've come as a society isn't it? Truly breathtaking.  We've come so far around it's like we're right back where we fucking started.

Ok, enough, I have to stop with the f-word or you'll all be thinking I'm exactly the kind of kid she is talking about.  Well I was. Working class, broken home, constantly changing schools, a whole manner of quote social issues unquote.  I was also incredibly bright and to my teacher's delight, eager to learn, I excelled academically, although Katie would apparently still have thought I was a failure because I was pretty much always late.  In primary school (all 5 of them) I was often late because my alcoholic father drank too much.  He couldn't organise himself or attend to his own commitments, i.e. me and my sister, never mind any extra-curricular shit like getting me to school on time.  Oh hang on, that would be just curricular then.  When my Mum dropped me off, I was on time, but I suffered panic attacks so then I'd run back out after her, thus the end result was very similar (late for registration and caused disruption to fellow classmates, sorry you guys!)

It would usually go something like: Mum dropped me off at school, I'd go in, take my coat off, and hang it on my little peg, which in at least one of the schools had a picture of an umbrella over it, then I'd make small talk with other 7 year old friends, sit down on then mat or carpet for register and zone out waiting for my name (always near the end)

At some point my brain would pipe up: "What if she leaves?..."
"Huh? Wtf you talking about?" (I didn't swear when I was 7, not even in my mind, I just added that in for affect, sorry)
"Well, what if today is the day she leaves your Dad?"
"She wouldn't do that, she wouldn't leave him, she wouldn't leave us"
"She might.  She might go today.  While you're at school. And you won't know, until you get home.  By then it will be too late..."
And so, tormented by the idea of being left with my loving but inept father and 2 year old sister I'd sprint out of the classroom, out of the school, out of the grounds and up the road after her.

In the article Katie says:

"If his parents can't be bothered to get him into class on time, they clearly don't care about the  education of their child - and, worse still, are hindering the learning of others. My girls are as frustrated with this continual tardiness as I am. Is it beyond the wit of a parent to get their child to school on time?"*

I'm not sure that the words "worse still" are really being used in the right context there, since I doubt many people would agree that not giving two shits about someone else's kids' education is worse than not caring about your own child's future, but I digress.

See what people like Katie might fail to realise is that for some children, school is a wonderful escape from their troubled home lives, and that was definitely the case for me. But for other children, and indeed other parents, school is just yet another load to add to their already over-burdened life.  They can't get their children to school on time because it's beyond their capabilities at that time.  Maybe they have substance abuse issues, maybe they have mental health problems, maybe they find it difficult to wake up in the mornings, maybe they are useless cretins and should never have had children, I I DON'T KNOW, but what i do know is this:  Children who come from less educated and and less priveleged backgrounds don't need judgement from those who do.  They don't need ostracising, they don't need their attempts at friendship rebuffed because their classmates parents' don't think they're "good enough" to socialise with their precious offspring.  They need nurturing and encouragement and inspiration and social inclusion.

Children don't look at other children and see earrings and pink leggings and electronic toys and sticky soft play parties and see someone of a different class, of a different culture, they see another human being.  Different perhaps, but of no more or less value than themselves.  We would do well to learn something from them.

It's a bloody good job my best friends parents didn't adopt a similar policy, I can tell you that much.  If they had I'd have been screwed! They are two wonderful, smart and kind people who I know without a shadow of a doubt want only the very best for their daughters, and yet they allowed their girls to make (and this is shocking) their own decisions about who to make friends with.  And I was one of them.  I don't know if Emma ever saw me any differently than anyone else she hung around with, because we were nine years old when we met.  I noticed her house was bigger than mine, and it was on the other side of the school, her parents didn't fight and when I went round to tea sometimes I got to eat stuff I'd never tried before.  Maybe when she came to mine she saw it was smaller and I do remember her once quizzing me on what I'd had for tea and being beyond confused when I tried to explain the concept of "savoury rice" to her.  That was the extent of it.  Because children don't think like adults.  Thank god.

I left home when I was 15 and I had nowhere to go but my friends parents took me in for a short time, and without that initial practical, and more long term emotional support I dread to think how that decision might have worked out for me.

Maybe that is exactly the kind of shit this woman is trying to avoid.  If she doesn't allow her children to mix with anyone from a lower socio-economic class then she's unlikely to have teenage girls taking up residence in her spare room for several weeks while their crazy relatives turn up causing trouble. (I'd like you all to note it was the crazy folk causing the trouble and not me)  Although she might be in for a shock, because haven't you head the latest? Turns out, children and adults from all walks of life can fuck up! I'm sure you'll all be amazed to learn that even intelligent, driven, wealthy people can fail epically! The super smart, punctual, ambitious children she's cherry picking to invite to her children's birthday parties in primary school might wake up one day in high school, decide the parental pressure is too much and start snorting coke.  But by then they'll be bosom buddies with her little ones, so I hope she has a plan B.  Might I suggest, just going out on a limb here, that she try actually letting her children decide for themselves who they want to spend time with?!

I want the best for my children.  Almost everyone who has children wants the very best for them.  The phrase "in with the wrong crowd" doesn't come from nowhere.  Sometimes kids make poor choices about what to devote their energies to, who to spend time with, and I can imagine how heartbreaking it must be as a parent to feel that your child may not reach their full potential because they weren't being inspired, and encouraged by their peer group, or at least not inspired and encouraged in a healthy direction.  I just think that our job as parents is to equip our children with the skills to make decisions for themselves, to allow them to make their own judgements about a playmates character, and to be there for them if later down the line it turns out they made bad decisions, or poor judgements.

In the meantime, I'm just grateful that, for all it's pitfalls, my childhood allowed me to socialise with whoever I chose. So that I could inspire and be inspired by other children from all walks of life, so that as an adult going out into the real world I was able to interact with people from all sectors of society, and treat each and every one as a living, breathing, worthwhile human being.

*Excerpts from Daily Mail Online published Feb 2013


  1. Great post! I couldn't agree more.

    I came from a working class background too, had my ears pierced when I was a baby and no doubt wore the seventies equivalent of pink leggings.

    And now, despite living in a very middle class area, I go out of my way to take my kids to sticky leisure centres. They're great fun and my girls have a blast.

    That woman is a moron.