Parenting wars and social functioning.

Media wars, putting parents against each other. I was always used to the “mum wars”, the articles that would promote opposite sides of the coin between breast and bottle feeding, those that would portray reusable nappies as unhygienic and hard work whilst others highlighted the impact on the environment that disposables have. The working mum vs the stay at home parent. The opinions of parents in the media shift like the tides but all seem to serve one purpose, keep the mum wars going.

September is no different, each September the anti home education press hit out with claims of terrorist breeding grounds, neglect, abuse etc. While home educators respond across social media and in various interviews to promote it as a positive and valid choice for thousands of children across the country. Stories hitting the press about goings on in schools get people talking about the rules and policies in place in mainstream education yet still home educators are met with the questions about socialisation.

I found myself in a debate this week following this story hitting the news. A Christian couple choosing not only to deregister their child but to actually sue the school for allowing another male student to attend wearing a skirt. Now in my eyes the school did no wrong, the child was in school uniform, gender is a protected factor under the equality act so the school would have been in the wrong to discriminate in their uniform policy. They have provided a safe, supportive and accepting environment for a child to explore their identity and that, as far as I am concerned, is pretty brilliant. The parents who have removed their children from the school have not had any of their rights breached, they have done what many other parents across the country have done, disagreed with something within mainstream education and  chosen to remove their children, as is their right to do. It does not need to be a court case surely?

But sure enough people came forward with the view that “boys are boys and girls are girls” ok? So what exactly does that mean? for me people are people and, regardless of sex or gender, children and adults alike should be encouraged to be kind, compassionate, brave and honest. Nurturing is just as important as hard working whatever a childs gender, and what a child is wearing has no impact whatsoever on these traits. why should a boy not be allowed to wear a skirt in a society that widely accepts girls in trousers? Of course there is the “cultural norm” but these norms are fluid through time, they are not fixed, so its ok to question them.

I was told that “the purpose of parenting is to teach the child and help him grow into an adult, not to let him do whatever he wants” and that ” truly loving and supportive parents will guide their child. Independence comes later.” While being told that the parents and the school were in the wrong for allowing a boy to wear a skirt.

“one of the purposes of school uniform is to familiarise the child at a relatively early stage with the truth that not everything in life will be a matter of his personal preferences”

It is one thing to be yourself as an adult, but young children at primary school level need to learn to function socially first.”

REALLY?

So lets put this out there, we want our children to learn that to function and fit in with society they can’t be themselves? We will prepare them for adulthood by teaching them to function socially, we will do this by placing them in a room, divided into groups of 30 or so other children, segregated by age. We will tell them what they HAVE to wear and what shop they must buy this from and we will punish and humiliate them if they do not comply. With no choice or personal preference?  Flipping that into “real society” ?It doesn’t work. When I have been in adult education and in employment I have been with people of all ages, and sometimes I have come across people who I don’t get on with for various reasons. Have I been forced to spend time with them? Nope. I have been able to step away, make a cup of tea, have a breather. Absolute worse case scenario, I handed my notice in and left. My personal preference.

Lets consider this idea of learning social skills and learning to function and how that learning is promoted in these schools. Here children are being told where to look, to walk in single file between lessons and if they feel sick they will have a bucket next to them and carry on with their work. No worries  about the spread of illness or a persons right to privacy during bodily functions.  Meanwhile at this school children are made to wear signs around their necks and are isolated from their peers if their uniform is deemed incorrect. And here children are isolated and miss their whole 60 minute lunch break if their parents are unable to pay for their school dinners.

I am struggling to make sense of how any of this is of benefit to our children and their learning. It seems to bare no resemblance to our society out here “in the real world”. Yet still, the debates and arguments continue with groups of people seeming so obsessed with their rights that they forget about the rights of others. We are all just parenting, doing what is best for our children. There is no denying that our children are all different, unique individuals, so why do some find it hard to accept that they need different approaches? And it seems to me, that many of the people shouting the loudest about children needing school to learn how to function socially, probably went to school themselves, and are those who seem to struggle the most with acceptance, manners and functioning socially.

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The mum guilt of a feral child

I laugh about my children being wild, its an ongoing joke. But in reality I am surrounded by children who spend their days playing, and not caring if they get muddy. Children who don’t have to worry about keeping a uniform clean or shoes dry and mud free to wear the following day. Every now and again I find myself out with the children during the weekend, surrounded by other children who aren’t as free as those I am usually with and it just jolts me. I hear a snippet and think “oh, that’s odd” and then I look around and ponder, perhaps I am the odd one!? Cue, parenting guilt!

My children are the ones climbing trees, rolling in leaves, splashing in puddles, dancing in the rain, getting covered in mud, rolling down hills, soaking wet and sometimes it gets to 9pm and we suddenly remember we should have some dinner! Other children might be tucked up in bed, mine might be out looking out for bats and other wildlife! Mum guilt.

Back in the summer time it was my experience at Chessington, we thought our visit would be quiet, not realising that local schools were closed for polling and there turned out to be a number of children there. At one point the 3 yr old was playing and splashing in the fountains and under jets of water, he was having a brilliant time, absolutely soaking wet  (water is definitely his happy element) when we heard a lady shout to her child “don’t get your shoes wet”… and it led me to think “why bring your child to the fountains in Chessington if  you don’t want shoes to get wet?” When I took to social media with this question I was ridiculed myself and my question answered by a whole number of mums justifying why someone would take a child to Chessington world of adventures in shoes that weren’t to get wet. It was suggested that perhaps that parent was looking at my child running with wild abandon under the fountains, giggling and shrieking in delight and thinking “poor child will be cold and wet”. Would someone feel sorry for that wild child? mind momentarily blown by the anonymous mummies of the internet.

Last week it was my children, in clothes and pants swimming, not just paddling, actual swimming, in the sea on St Osyths beach in Essex as the sun went down.

During the week we were on a visit in London, and when walking through St James Park my 3 yr old and my nearly 13 yr old began to hand feed the squirrels. A popular past time of people visiting St James park given how tame the squirrels are there, they will come and take food from your hand. My children were shocked and quite saddened to see a small group of children chasing the squirrels across the grass, clearly scaring them. Parents stood on and watched this with no apparent concerns that their children were scaring the animals despite signs around the park asking for wildlife to be respected etc… There was also a number of random passers by who were happy to shoot us disapproving looks as the three year old joyfully sat still and quiet allowing the squirrels to approach him. One was even overheard informing her daughter that they were dirty animals and they would bite when the daughter excitedly asked if she could also have a turn feeding them.

Today, my parenting “guilt” moment occurred in Hampton Court Magic Garden. My wild child ran in, spotted the sand and the water streams and off with his shoes and socks in he went. And in he fell. Oh how wet he got! The smile on his face was amazing, his laughter infectious. Yet still I hear another parent tell their child “no you mustn’t, it is far too cold to take  your shoes and socks off”  while glaring at me and my child, their child staring longingly at the water. I look around and sure enough it is only my children with bare feet. The sky is full of dark clouds, threatening a downpour (which did hit as we left) but the joy on their faces spoke volumes to me. It told me that it was right for them.

I get that we all parent differently. I also understand that most of us parent inevitably experience that mum guilt at some point. But what really hits me is what these incidences have in common. They stand out to me because my guilt is triggered by the apparent disapproval of random other mamas. My children are laughing, happy, giggling and experiencing the real feel of their environment. Other children are under strict control and are definitely not giggling merrily as they stare on, staying dry, keeping clean. I wonder if their comments are said to mask their own feelings of mum guilt? Are they feeling it or are they genuinely judging my parenting negatively when they see my happy, smiley children? And why does that mum guilt hit me albeit short lived, when in front of me are some of the most awesome, happy people that I know?

Mum guilt can jog on!

 

He’s not going.

Is it “back to school” time? Is today the day that I could have chosen to dress up my little boy and send him off to nursery?

Shall I pause to imagine trying to wake him, get him up and dressed alongside the baby and his older siblings. Trying to tame his mad curls and get him into clothes pre chosen, and ironed. Breakfasted, washed and out of the door on time?

My view at 9:30 this morning?  both small boys sleeping on my bed.

My morning? I got up and had breakfast and a cup of tea with Ryan before he went off to work. I had a bath. Then N woke up and we came downstairs with the baby monitor. I managed to get some admin work done and sort out a stock discrepancy for work while he had some breakfast, then A got up. I did some laundry, sorted the animals and then M woke up. A decided to go fetch him for a nappy change. She played with him and made him giggle which put a big smile on her face.

I woke up J and then the older children got to work on their Mathswatch gcse program. Working on algebraic conventions and coordinates this morning, both children complementing the practise lessons and their first set home work tasks and scoring 100%.

N has played dinosaurs, and done some drawing. He has played with his siblings, fussed the dogs and looked at his books. He didnt even get dressed until 2pm! We enjoyed a chilled out lunch cooked by A. We got into the car and I dropped her off to see a home ed friend for a couple of hours while J got engrossed in one of the games on the pc.

J and I looked through news reports and maps to show what is going on in America, he was shocked to see the wildfires and the hurricanes. To see such immense flooding on one side of the country compared to see the huge flames engulfing the other side took his breath away. It posed the question “what can we do to help?” and a decision to research and send money to fundraisers to help. It sparked conversation that involved N as well regarding weather, and water and the spreading of fire, at the same time as highlighting the geographical differences from across country and between us and them.

Its now gone 4pm, and our day is far from over, I have dinner to prepare and we have a documentary to watch on iplayer as part of the gsce history studies. But we have had no stress, no rush. No arguments. My 3 year old is as wild and free as ever and his spark of curiosity and his ability to pick up parts of what his teen siblings are doing amazes me.

Do I worry that he will miss out? on what? learning? No, he has been learning since he was born. He has learnt to eat, to walk, to talk. He has learnt to use the play gym equipment by copying older children, he has learnt to recognise colours and numbers and to start to recognise letters. He knows his animals and dinosaurs. He is always learning, I dont expect that will stop.  Friends? why would he miss out on friends? He has friends, some go to school or nursery and others do not, but he mixes with children of all ages very happily, his confidence is through the roof and his social skills are superb. Maybe I should be worried that he will be clingy? well Im not, because he isnt. He is secure, happy and confident. He knows I am always there when he needs me, he knows I am there to cuddle and kiss him if he gets hurt and so he is happy and safe to explore the world. Shall I worry that he will miss out on experiences? I half dont even want to answer that one. Read the blog, see what he experiences all of the time. No, that is not something that even begins to worry me.

Tomorrow we will be back to our home ed adventure playground meet, it has been a long summer away from there and we are all looking forward to that social routine commencing and being with friends old and new. So the children are excited to be getting back to routine and seeing their friends, just like the children who are going back to school this week. Its just a different environment. And if any of them really want to put on a smart uniform and pose by the door so that they arent “missing out”, then they will be allowed to do just that.

A September poem

The first of September 

Autumn is here 

gone away are the summer days 

carefree and filled with cheer 

The shoes are all polished 

Lined up in the hall 

Ironed shirts and school ties 

on hangars on the wall

Hair has been cut

knots tamed and dirt removed 

Pe kits washed and packed 

and a fridge full of packed lunch food. 

For children all over

strict routine returns 

For they must comply and tow the line 

Because that is how a child learns.

Except thats not how it has to go

September the first is different for some 

because for a large group of children

learning is still fun.

September doesn’t mean the end of adventure 

for there are some children, wild, feral and free 

for these children in autumn the fun doesn’t end 

these children find wonder in all that they see.

Childhood is magical

it is over so soon,

it shouldn’t be all spent

inside a classroom.

A person is educated 

any time, way or place.

learning is forever, 

it isn’t a race. 

So let them be wild

they can be anything they choose

build joy, love and memories

you have nothing to lose. 

By Katie Gray 01/09/2017