Tag Archives: parenting

Parenting without (much) authority

I’ve never liked arbitrary authority, and so I came to parenting determined that ‘because I said so’ wasn’t going to be part of my repertoire. Also, I had a theory that the more arbitrary authority there is in childhood, the less able parent and child are to adapt to the teenage years, or to relate to each other well beyond that point. I wanted to raise an autonomous human capable of thinking for themselves, and that doesn’t go with being their authority figure either.

I remember the point at which I finally realised that my parents didn’t know everything. It came as a shock, rocking my little world to its core. My trust in their authority had been founded in no small part on a belief in their infinite knowledge and insight. So as a parent I made sure my child was aware of my limits from early on. As a small chap interested in dinosaurs, he knew that he could pass me in dinosaur knowledge if he put in the time, and that it was fine to do so. As I’m not interested in power-over I’ve never felt any need to try and keep him smaller than me.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always explained my position and reasoning so that he could see why I thought a course of action was preferable. I’ve aimed to persuade rather than force. We have an understanding that if I do issue an order, it is to be followed without question or hesitation because I’ll only do that in an emergency. We can talk about it afterwards. Driving me round the bend does count as an emergency!

Alongside this, he’s always had the option that if he could make a case for something, I’d take him seriously. We talk about the implications, the responsibilities, the possible consequences. Now he’s a teen, we carry that on to talk about relationship dynamics, consent culture, the implications of drugs and porn and all the other things out there he might run into and need to deal with. I think we have a pattern that means he’s always going to feel able to ask for my advice, but never obliged to act on it.

This all makes my life easier. I have room to say ‘yeah, I cocked that up,’ and to be honest about getting things wrong, making bad calls – because I have no authority to undermine. As yet, there’s been no sign of teenage rebellion – occasional non-cooperation, but that’s fine. He doesn’t have to fight off my authority in order to establish himself as a person in his own right because he’s always been respected as a person in his own right.

For me, authoritarian models within the family are an aspect of patriarchal society that we can do without. Children who are taught to obey are taught that power is what gets things done. You can’t have consent culture and obedience. You can’t have equality if you raise people inside models based on hierarchy, power-over and authority. There is a power balance necessary and inherent in raising a child, but so long as the child has the right to express opinions, and be taken seriously, that power balance can gently fall away over the years, allowing them to stand in their own power in the context of the family.

(And yes, I did ask him if it was ok to write about this.)

Parenting a teen

Yesterday, the Tigerboy turned 13, which means, some new appellation is probably in order. It’s a big date in a young person’s life, a moment of becoming something new, even though biologically speaking he’s been under way for a while – taller, hairier, sometimes grumpier, all the obvious things. Mostly still talking to us, which is encouraging.

What he needs from me has always been subject to change, and although there are a few years at the end of childhood with some stability, he’s never stopped testing the edges of what he can do, and he’s never stopped asking awkward questions. I hope this means I’m passably prepared for the next rounds of change as he moves towards taking more responsibility for himself, and wanting to be out there doing things on his terms.

This is, in some ways, going to be a test of my whole parenting theory, because a fair bit of what I’ve done along the way was with an eye to how things could play out at this point. It’s easy, with a smaller child, to tell them what to do, default to ‘because I said so’ and just keep things cheerfully and speedily moving along. I’ve not done that, except in emergencies or on days of extreme crankiness. Mostly, I have explained, and negotiated, and he’s always had room to be heard, and expects to be taken seriously. Not to get his own way all the time, but to have his preferences noted and respected. My hope is that as we head into teenager-hood, these habits will stick, and we’ll all keep negotiating about what works and what doesn’t.

I remember being a teen. I remember the intensity of my own emotions and not knowing whether to take them seriously. As I still have much the same range, I would be reluctant to write off any teenage experience as ‘just’ a phase. I remember how bewildering things were for me, I remember what I longed for and what I feared. At the time, I promised myself that I would remember all of these things – even the really embarrassing things – so that if I ever had to parent someone else through this time, I would know something about what was going on. Perhaps the worst thing for me as a teen was the sense of not being taken seriously.

I’ve never based my parenting on ideas of arbitrary authority. It will be interesting to see how many ‘that’s not fair’ conversations we have over the coming years. How much ‘you don’t understand’ he feels moved to say. There’s bound to be a bit, but hopefully not a lot. The young person who never has to say that, probably doesn’t have anyone watching their back and putting in boundaries for things where they really haven’t figured out the need for boundaries yet.

Hopefully it will be an adventure. And on the far side of this, the ultimate test of everything I’ve done as a parent: Whether his youth is something the young man will later need to recover from, or whether it just launches him into his adult life.

Scaring small children

It used to be the case that fairy stories were dark and alarming things in which small children who did bloody stupid things could expect to be eaten by wolves, bears, witches and so forth. Yes, said the fairy stories, the world is a dangerous place full of things whose motives are different to yours, things that are hungry, grouchy things with pointy teeth. Go carefully, children. And it was a fair point, because death in childhood used to be really normal.

In the last hundred years or so, child mortality in the west has plummeted, and I suspect in response to this, fairy stories have become gentler. It’s ok kids, happily ever after awaits, with a handsome treasure and the frog of your choice. Interested in writing for small children, I’ve looked at what many of them are fed – brightly coloured, stylised creations with no bearing on reality. Stories in which nothing much happens, and nobody dies. Cute fluffy animals doing cute fluffy things.

Back when I was the parent of a young child, I cheated. We didn’t do unbearable fluff for bedtime. I took a leaf out of my father’s book. When I was about three, my Dad read me The Hobbit, and on we went from there. So I read my small son the entire Dark Materials trilogy, and anything else I thought would be interesting. He fell asleep during reads on a regular basis, cannot have had more than a passing grasp of the plot, but he loved Lyra and armoured bears, and all that came after. Now at 11, I have an emotionally well-adjusted child with a realistic understanding of how the world is, and a penchant for books. Right now, he’s reading Jekyll and Hyde.

The world is a scary place for small children, and always will be. There’s so much that makes no sense, and that cannot be explained to you. I remember being four and wanting to know what death meant and what happened afterwards, and no one could help me there. Many parents just won’t discuss sex, death, why strangers are a danger, what actually happens if you put your hand on the iron, and all those other things that regularly feature in your life as ‘stop’ ‘don’t’ and a grownup screaming at you. “You don’t need to worry about that,” is such a common solution to the alarm of small children. But the thing is, some of them do keep worrying.

I firmly believe that scary stories are good for small children. I’m not talking about traumatising them, but a bit of manageable alarm, a bit of feasible unnerving. It creates a safe space in which you can get fear out into the open. Name it, own it, understand it a bit. And don’t tidy it up with just stories that resolve into nothing to be afraid of after all. The world is a scary place, death and suffering are real. Small children are not stupid, and lying to them really doesn’t help. A child who is exposed to a few darker faerie stories is much better equipped than one who only gets princesses in frothy dresses.

We forget, as adults, that children don’t have as much empathy. They often enjoy violence and gruesome details, in part because it’s all a little bit unreal to them. Think about Tom and Jerry cartoons. I remember howling with mirth at those as a kid, while revisits as an adult have left me wondering what on earth amused me… just as my own child howls in laughter. Talking to teachers, I’ve very much had this impression confirmed – many kids like gory stuff. Horrible history sells.

It’s all about scares that you can live with. Learning to cope with being scared makes the world a more manageable place. It’s the same impulse that sends teenagers off in search of horror films where teenagers are eaten by monsters. I don’t have any of that for you today. What I do have is http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/baronmind/lil-eddie-edgar-allan-poe-for-kids A board book version of The Fall of the House of Usher, in which mildly alarming things happen and small children get a viable introduction to Poe. It may also be a sanity saver for parents who can’t take any more cute fluffy animals, or singing furniture and whose eyes are weary from an excess of bright colours. If you need a giggle, watch the video.

Little rites of passage

When thinking about what to celebrate, we tend to focus on the big, defining moments in life – birth, death, coming of age, marriage, and elder rites. In practice life is dotted with smaller moments of deep significance, too, and there’s much to be said for honouring them along the way.

We had one yesterday. The boy has come to the age of travelling independently to and from school. It tends to be an option here in the UK at 11, with the shift from Primary to Secondary school. Friends of his are bussing in and out of town, also on their own for the first time. For children using school buses, or living very close to their school the moment of independence can be earlier. There are of course many young people and parents who won’t get this little rite of passage, because the school run is by car. For us, the school run has meant walking or cycling, and I’ve done it with him at least once, and often twice a day since he started school 7 years ago. It’s been a significant part of our lives, and a little bit of time we’ve used for talking and sharing. There are other spaces aplenty for that, but it won’t be quite the same.

Go back not so very far in time and the idea of parents on the school run would have seemed preposterous to the vast majority. It used to be that you walked to your local school, if you were any kind of normal person. A few miles in all weathers. Cars, shortages of safe places to cross roads, increased anxiety around stranger danger and an increased addiction to total ease and comfort have all helped shaped the change. It’s easy to drive by, drop the kid off and drive away. Adding to the traffic problems and the road dangers. I’m a dogmatic fundamentalist when it comes to this one: Walking and cycling to school is good for young people. It allows time to warm up the brain in the morning and wind down on the way home. There are social opportunities, and the fresh air and exercise is good. A healthy child can go out in all weathers, assuming the right clothes, and not suffer in the slightest.

There used to be far fewer such moments in the process of loosening ties between parent and child, I suspect. Children used to be freer sooner, and there wasn’t the same social pressure to insulate the young to the current degree. We used to expect that a child could be responsible for themselves walking half a mile or so. These days you have to be much more careful. Grant too much freedom too soon and social services may be called in. With gloomy talk of feral youth, and resentment of young people roaming about in the streets, the young are increasingly battery raised. Free range children are alarmingly rare.

Part of me knows that this moment of shift and changing responsibilities, is a really important moment in the life of my family. We honoured it with something sugary. Part of me knows how modern and weird this is. He could have been sent off as an apprentice by now, squire to a knight, or in full time employment in some other era. Part of me knows that for much of history, statistically speaking he’d have done really well to have lived this long in the first place.

In other times and places, first knife ,first hunt, first kill, first wound would have marked the journey from family bosom to independence, in whatever order they came. Now it’s first mobile phone, first part time job, first independent journey, first car. The moments of significant change are in so any ways defined by the culture in which we live, as soon as you get beyond the more biologically informed set. It makes me wonder what we might pick as some kind of ideal series of transitions and key points.

Tiger day

My tiger child is eleven today. In both clothes sizes and mind, he’s walking that edge now between childhood and teenager status. Just as when he first arrived, I have a keen sense, once again, that every day represents a small shift. He seems to be physically growing all the time as well, although on the plus side, the analogy stops well before we get to night feeding, being unable to talk, and throwing up all over the place. Like I said, we’re not quite at teen stage yet!

Yesterday, walking back from shopping he settled into step with me and took my hand. It doesn’t seem so very long ago that I was having to stoop down in order to hold his much smaller paw, while he learned to walk. For him, that’s pretty much a lifetime ago. I wonder how much longer we’ve got, before he is too cool, too grownup to be wandering around with his hand in mine. There may come a point, somewhere at the far end, when I am old and decrepit, and I am the one who needs to hold a hand for stability and road crossing.

As he goes forth into the wider world, encountering ever more influences, my scope (and willingness) to steer him will both reduce. The odds are, what he hasn’t learned by now in terms of values, he probably won’t learn any time soon. He’s been raised a Pagan child, not to conform to specific standards of behaviour, but to uphold certain virtues – to be honourable, compassionate, and respectful. He takes an interest in the world, and he cares about things. There comes a point, somewhere ahead when he takes a jump, leaves the nest, and holds responsibility for his life and choices. All I can do at that point is make sure there’s a safe space to come back to should he need it, and support, not judge as he gets to learn from his own mistakes. I can’t do it for him, and I don’t want to, his life is his own adventure.

I know a lot of people look at babies and small kids and express a desire that they stay that way forever. I’ve never thought about him in those terms. He was a person from the moment he arrived. He’s always had his own mind, his preferences, his own way of seeing the world and wanting to be in it, and I’ve never expected him to think and feel the way I do. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t, and that’s fine. From that day when he was born 11 years ago, I saw him as someone who would grow up to be an adult, someone who would need the skills, knowledge, insight and virtues to function as an independent person. I don’t think protecting children from what they need to know does them any good at all in the long term.

By the time he goes out into the world, he will be able to fend for himself in all things. He will know how to handle money, how to eat and deal with all the domestic practicalities. He will know to respect those jobs, and the people who do them. He will know how to take responsibility and how to make choices. I can give him a safe space in which to experiment, and take small risks, and hopefully that will be enough.

Looking at him now, he’s a brave, compassionate and thoughtful chap, who engages and delights people who come into contact with him. He knows how to give and how to hold boundaries, and I have every confidence that he will grow up to be a man I shall be exceedingly proud of.

Lying to Harry Potter

I gather that the impulse to lie to children is widespread. All the plots in Harry Potter depend heavily on it with the ‘good’ adults doing it at least as much as the ‘evil’ ones do. It comes up plenty of other places too. No, fiction is not real life, but the ideas that make sense in fiction do so because they have real life relevance. As a parent I’m familiar enough with the desire to be thought well of by my child. Who wouldn’t want that? There is also the terrible desire to want the world to be a good, fair and lovely place for him, and not to want to have to tell him how awful things can be out there.
It’s normal to lie to children and tell them that everything is going to be fine, even when we’re pretty certain it’s not. (Think about how Umbridge behaves around defence against the dark arts issues). Sooner or later the child grows up and gets some experiences that don’t sit right with the lovely, safe world you wanted to create for them. I remember that transition as not only uncomfortable, but undermining my trust in my parents. Many children are smart and alert enough to pick up on the standard lies, and I doubt there’s much comfort to be had in feeling your parents (or Umbridge for that matter) aren’t willing to be straight with you. Lying to them is more about our comfort than theirs, all too often.
This is one of those issues where what is normal conflicts with what is right. Lie to your children and no one will think the less of you. We lie to ourselves alongside it, we say ‘it’ll be better for little Johnny this way’ when really it will be easier for us. (Think about Snape, Dumbledore, Sirius Black). We can so easily project our motives, needs and feelings onto our own children and then go after the things that will serve those needs, whilst telling ourselves what excellent parents we are (Sirius) . I try very hard to make sure I’m not doing that. But then, the idea that our children should come first in all things is culturally ingrained – especially for women, I think. (Harry Potter’s mother personifies this). Saying ‘I want this for me’ feels a lot less comfortable than pretending to be doing it for them and there’s a lot of cultural encouragement to go about this the wrong way as a consequence.
I still carry a feeling of affront that the world is not a fair place, people in authority cannot be trusted (Ministry for magic), and poetic justice seldom shows up. I know most ugly ducklings do not get to be swans (even if Hermione does), and that wicked stepmothers are not reliably thwarted by the direct consequences of their own evil actions. I grew up with all the stories about what the world should be like – as did most people. What I needed was a little more Han Solo saying ‘life isn’t fair, Princess’ and The Goblin King’s observations on the subject: I wonder what your basis for comparison is?
I’ve run into people along the way who are horrified by my determination to be honest with my child. He knows I’m not perfect. He also has an awareness that it’s not all about him. He is not Harry Potter. I will put him first more often than not, but I have limits and he knows about them. He doesn’t expect the world to revolve around him, nor is he waiting for a patronus to come out of a lamp and grant all his wishes. There are times when we have the news on, or are talking about badgers, or the state of the world when I would give anything to be able to reassure him that it’s all going to be fine. He wouldn’t believe me if I did. He pays too much attention. I’d rather have his earned trust than mislead him.
I cannot give my child the world he deserves, where justice shows up with a wand if all else fails, where happily ever after is pretty much a given and good things eventually find their way to good people. He’s made me acutely aware that I can, and should, do more to try and make that a reality. Unlike fiction, reality does not produce tidy story lines and coherent resolutions. One thing Harry Potter reminds me, is how powerless kids feel when you lie to them, how angry and disrespected (the entirety of book 5). I want to do something different.

The mystery of brains

Most of the time, parenting isn’t excessively difficult. Children progress in coherent, predictable ways from one day to the next as skills evolve, understanding grows, bodies adapt and so forth. Every so often there’s a sudden leap, and the impossible becomes easy, the unthinkable becomes the thought. These are always startling and tend to come without any kind of warning.

A lot of it has to do with how the human brain develops when we’re young. My grasp of the technicals isn’t superb but the gist is that the brain has physical structures, and the way in which paths are formed between brain cells shapes how we are able to think. Child development psychology flags up that there are some things young children just aren’t capable of thinking about. Then the brain changes, and *ping* you’re on a new level. It can be startling to watch. Some of the manifestations are simple – going from sky as blue line across the top of a picture to a sense of how objects exist in relation to each other is one of those transitions, but not a challenging one.

Sudden shifts in the way a child is capable of thinking are also very exciting times. As adults we tend to get this less, our brain growth has mostly settled. Perhaps more importantly, we don’t seek it. When allowed to develop naturally, children are voracious in their quest for information. They want to know everything about everything. How we support and teach them inform whether than continues or not. A child who hears ‘because I said so’ and ‘because it just is’ will learn not to bother to ask. The child for whom learning is turned into a miserable chore won’t stay inspired to learn, that natural hunger squashed. And of course children whose hunger for input is fed by television and computer games, who get a steady diet of empty noise and meaningless drivel by way of content, cannot develop much. I recognise that there is educational content out there, but when the aim is to pacify the child and make them easy to look after, the effect is…. Pacification.

From what I can tell by observing my son, and what I remember of the process myself, the sudden brain leaps don’t really register. You forget that you couldn’t think that way before, the new way becomes natural so quickly and there’s not much incentive to question it. Sometimes, you don’t notice how much your own capacity to think has changed. As adults, we’re both less likely to change, and more likely to notice it. Revolution between the ears is a very big deal once you’re physically mature. It is possible, though.

How we think, and the structures we have physically in our brains, develops over time and with use. The person who devotes a lot of time to music does, I gather, have a visibly different brain structure to someone who doesn’t. What we do with our brains shapes what we are able to do, informs what comes easily, determines where we might go next. Anyone who dedicates themselves to a spiritual path, or a path of personal growth, is very precisely working to keep their brain developing.

There are a great many people out there I could wish a mental revolution upon. I wish they could change with the sudden explosion of insight that hits my child every now and then. There are so many people who seem to have stopped thinking, questioning, wondering and growing far too early, settling into the comfort of their own narrow world view and filtering out everything that doesn’t fit. Far too many of them have also taken up careers in politics. But in adults, Road to Damascus moments are few and far between. Grand epiphanies don’t turn up unsought, eureka moments will not come to the person who wasn’t looking for an answer in the first place.

Brains are such fabulous, mysterious, exciting things. I just wish people would notice that more, celebrate the wonder that is us a bit more, think a bit more…

Letting them fly

All fledglings must at some point leave the nest. My son was telling me this morning that when it is time for bear cubs to go it alone, the mother bear chases them up a tree and then abandons them. He said he’s glad he isn’t a bear! For him, it’ll be a slower, more gentle process over the next eight years or so, but it is a process we have most definitely started. This week he’s away on a residential thing with the school, having adventures. By slow degrees, he will learn to leave the nest and fend for himself. My definition of being a successful parent is that I will get him to the point where he doesn’t really need me anymore.

There is a lot of similarity between teaching and parenting in this regard. Getting it right means getting them to the point where you wave them goodbye and watch them strike out into the world. Students and offspring alike must not be under your sheltering wing forever. The trouble is, keeping them there can be really tempting. It is very human to want to be wanted, to need to be needed. And so we can easily hang on to children, and students because we like the comfort of them being there and needing us. It can tempt us to hold back a few things, to not tell them everything, so that they still need us for a few bits and pieces. It’s not the right way to go.

In many ways students are easier, because they are more readily replaced. Most of us, on waving the newly adult offspring goodbye, are not going to go and create a whole new person to replace them with. Some of us will get a puppy instead. Students tend not to be around for so long in the first place – perhaps a few years. That makes the letting go easier, and if you’re any good as a teacher, the next one will turn up soon enough.

It can be tempting, with students, to take them on when they aren’t right for us, or to try and keep them once we find that we aren’t the teacher they need. Saying ‘there isn’t anything I can usefully teach you’ is hard. Having a whole flock of students feels like kudos, feeds the ego, helps us feel important and worthwhile. Pushing just one away feels like admitting defeat, or being a failure. It isn’t. Failure is keeping them when you can do them no good.

Of course once you’ve got a child, you’ve got a child and this is a very different scenario most of the time. It’s much less usual for a person to have to consider that they cannot parent the child they have in the best way. But it does happen. Seriously physically disabled children, or ones with profound learning difficulties can be more than it is feasible for a parent to manage. Sometimes what you need are professionals who do not have to manage things 24/7. I can’t begin to imagine how hard and painful a decision that must be to make though. There are the parents who fail so badly that social services intervene and tell them they can have no role in the child’s future. There are also the parents whose offspring reject them. That can happen at any stage in life, and as they get older, if we have messed up, they are more likely to flee from us.

What of the parent who tries to hang on to the child they are unable to properly take care of? We may feel every sympathy for them, may pity their problems, recognise their grief, but it’s not enough. Regardless of the age of the child, no amount of thinking you love them justifies trying to hang on to them when they really need to be somewhere else. It’s far easier to recognise when you aren’t the right teacher for the job than I imagine it must be to recognise that you aren’t the right parent for the job.

Getting trained as a teacher isn’t difficult, but how many of us are trained as parents, or know where to go for help when we can’t manage the workload? It’s one of those issues where I can see the problems all too clearly, and the solutions seem hard to imagine in the context of the kind of society we have.

To those who will inherit the earth

I had one of those parent jobs this morning, the sort that you know is coming, but dread. There are so many things in this world that it is horrible to have to explain to a child. However, I don’t believe on fobbing them off with half-truths. Once a person is able to ask a question, they need to hear an answer. This morning it became necessary to point out that the world is not an inherently fair or just place, and that the people, bodies, institutions we should be able to rely on to treat us fairly, are not always reliable. It didn’t come as a shock to the lad, I think I was confirming what he’d already suspected, but it’s better to talk about these things.

So we talked about institutionalised racism, which he thinks is crazy because people are people and judging them on skin colour is stupid. Allow me a moment of happy pride over this. We talked about the history of laws, and where they come from. Because go back a few hundred years and in most of Europe, there wasn’t much legal protection for poor people against rich ones. The UK was better than average. We talked about the way in which the crimes of poor people still seem to be taken more seriously than the sneakier financial and environmental crimes of the wealthy. We didn’t get round to huge corporate tax dodgers, but we could have done. We talked about libel laws, and how your likelihood of being taken seriously depends on how rich and famous you are. To be poor and maligned is still to be maligned. It is a life no less damaged.

There are a frightening number of things around us that I can point to, to illustrate institutionalised stupidity and unfairness. Of course he needs to know, this is the world he is poised to inherit, the one he’s going to need to survive in. The odds are increasingly stacked against the poor. The desire of consumerism still gets priority over the needs of the environment.

What I feel is overwhelming shame. This is the world I get to pass on to my son. Ugly with corruption, cruelty, and systems that cannot be trusted to deliver fairness. And ok, most of this I have not created, or planned or supported in any way, but how much time have I spent trying to make it better? Not nearly enough. Every day there is something in the news where the short-sightedness, the inhumanity, the greed and horror of human choices shocks me. And no doubt my child too, because he’s listening. A bus full of people who, between them, didn’t have twenty pence to save a girl from a ten mile walk at three in the morning. She was attacked as a consequence, by a guy high on cocaine. The small evils we commit against each other on a daily basis go to make up such wrongs.

The latest one to be grating on my nerves is this: Plans that mothers who defy court orders over access to their children, be punished by having their passports taken away. On the grounds that it’s not fair to the child to be denied access to a parent. If a guy doesn’t want to have anything to do with his children, he’ll still have to contribute financially, but he can walk away. Never see them. There are no suggested sanctions to make reluctant fathers see their kids. It’s not a gender thing. Reverse who has the kids and it still holds up. We collectively abuse the parent who undertakes to do the parenting, and let the one who is disinterested do as they please. That’s no kind of fairness or justice.

The temptation is to keep my head down and not fight the many wrongs that I run into. The fear that I live with is that by protesting, I will draw adverse attention. What, after all, is to stop any of these systems from crushing me? If I call a government body out over unjust behaviour, what is to save me from unjust treatment at their hands? And yet, to stay silent, to refuse to notice, to keep my head down, is to tacitly support any wrong I turn a blind eye to. We have a conspiracy of silence. All of us. For the sake of a quiet life, an easy life. We don’t complain, we don’t draw attention to ourselves, we don’t invite the unfairness we know perfectly well is out there, to come round and pick on us for a change.

Dear children, this is the world we have contrived to make for you. We are poisoning it, and many of its structures are corrupt. Close your eyes and ears, pretend it’s all shiny and happy. Don’t look at anything that hurts. Play this game instead. Watch another TV program. When you get older, you can use alcohol to blot it all out.

And they all lived happily ever after.

The challenges of peace

I’ve never been interested in the kind of peace that comes from burying your head in the sand, or from accepting oppression. These things can look like peace, might even feel like it, but they aren’t true to my Druidic ideals and I try not to go there. That said, there are so many things I cannot fix and have to let go of, because if I took their absence of peace into me, I would go crazy.

It’s one of those curious ironies that the quest for meaningful peace can call for some serious bouts of equilibrium shattering. Steeping way outside my comfort zone seems to be a regular feature. I’ve had a dose of that already today, in the ongoing saga of trying to deal with things between my son and his father. This is not new. I’ve been trying to speak for my son all his life, to explain what he thinks and wants, to support him in getting where he needs to be. For me, this is intrinsic to parenting. How it works, varies, and depends a lot on how people see me. For some I am, or have been, the pushy, demanding mother, over reacting, over emotional, putting my own feelings onto my child and demanding attention through him. I mentioned dark reflections yesterday, and those words have been painfully hard to hear over the years. I’ve heard them from the child’s father, and the child’s father’s girlfriends, from teachers and other professionals. Arguably people who all had something to gain from disbelieving me. But I’ve also found plenty of teachers and other professionals  who recognise my lad, understand how he feels, embrace and celebrate what makes him different, and do everything they can to enable him to flourish. It may not be a coincidence that I’ve never had any negative feedback about me, there.

The teacher who blamed me for my child’s distress belonged to a school that went on to send one boy to a special needs school for his behavioural issues, and did not recognise that the other child in the scenario had autism. He’s since got the much needed diagnosis. Maybe if they’d listened to my concerns rather than telling me I’m hysterical, three families would have had the support they needed, rather than leaving them to struggle unrecognised. Peace comes at a price, and often the price is a willingness to sacrifice peace. I’ve gone off at a tangent a bit here.

It’s very hard remaining peaceful, or working for peaceful outcomes when you are hearing things you do not want to hear. It’s easier to reject the message bearer, devalue or demonise them so that they can be safely ignored. It is not easy to take a good hard look at yourself, question your own motives and assumptions, and consider that you may be the one who got it wrong. Of course, in a scenario where one person will do just that, and the other cannot hear they are less than perfect, there tends to be a resultant culture of blame that has nothing to do with who is right, and everything to do with who is self critical and able to bend. In conflict situations, rare are the times when any of us couldn’t have done a better job, one way or another. Sometimes the better job would have been to leave sooner. There is a kind of peace that can be held by believing that you are never wrong and never need to change, but it’s a fragile, unhealthy peace that takes you further and further from consensus reality.

I wrote some words today. They are not new words. They are variations on words that I’ve been saying for all of my child’s life. This is what he needs, how he feels, what he wants. If those words were listened to, it would serve to help the person I like least in the world. But it would also help the child, and that matters more. The quest to bring peace into his life, brings serious disquiet and challenge into mine. But one day, he will reach the point of being old enough and wise enough not to need me to do this for him, and hopefully by then he’ll have enough of an example about what true peace looks like, what is worth fighting for, what should be forgiven and what is just human, that he can go out there and do a good job of things. Got to be worth a go, that.