Good Parenting #

Psychologist and parenting expert and author Steve Biddulph says;

“Some parents don’t really raise their children, they just manage them”. (Kerrie O’Brien The Age, 18/07/20)

If you’re born into a poor family, the stress on parents makes life very difficult, he says, but the children of the very wealthy face a different kind of stress.

“These are rich kids but they are neglected. It’s an odd combination of high expectation but low emotional connection. Expensive private schools I consult to tell me this all the time — the job of parenthood has been abrogated to others."

What he sees is many students in after-school care until late, up to 9pm, while others are sent away to boarding school and come home only on weekends, even though their parents live five blocks away. It’s far from ideal.

“If we can just help young parents to feel secure and relaxed, it’s the foundation of mental health for kids,. Little children need to get this memory, in their bones, of feeling absolutely safe and secure, of Mum and Dad delighting in them and being there for them."

Back to the socio-economic idea: if you can be born in the middle, income wise, life tends to be more nurturing and normal. “The parents are much more likely to come home in time to kick a ball and they really want to be with their children. That’s a much happier childhood.”

That’s not to say things are rosy for families in the middle tier. Financial pressure on them is changing and not for the better. Now, he says, it’s very difficult to live on one wage. “In a world that’s vastly more prosperous than the 1950s, it’s bizarre that we can’t give people the time for parenting.”

In 1970, as an exchange student living in a village in Papua New Guinea, Biddulph had a revelation. He saw mothers and fathers in a neolithic culture being warm, tender and close to children — and to each other.

“People would often hold your hand for half an hour while having a chat.”

British attitude to children #

“Anglo-Saxon parents traditionally have been among the coldest in the world. We loved our kids just as much but the culture frowned on shows of affection. We are still thawing out from that."

The upper class was good at sending their offspring off to boarding school, sometimes as early as seven years of age.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in 1865. Kipling spent the first years of his life in India, remembering it in later years as almost a paradise. “My first impression,” he wrote in his posthumously published autobiography Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown, “is of daybreak, light and colour and golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder.” In 1871, however, his parents sent him and his sister Beatrice—called “Trix”—to England, partly to avoid health problems, but also so that the children could begin their schooling. Kipling and his sister were placed with the widow of an old Navy captain named Holloway at a boarding house called Lorne Lodge in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth. Kipling and Trix spent the better part of the next six years in that place, which they came to call the “House of Desolation.” 1871 until 1877 were miserable years for Kipling. “In addition to feelings of bewilderment and abandonment” from being deserted by his parents, writes Mary A. O’Toole in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, “Kipling had to suffer bullying by the woman of the house and her son.” In Something of Myself, however, he recounted punishments that went far beyond correction. “I had never heard of Hell,” he wrote, “so I was introduced to it in all its terrors. … Myself I was regularly beaten.” On one occasion, after having thrown away a bad report card rather than bring it home, “I was well beaten and sent to school through the streets of Southsea with the placard ‘Liar’ between my shoulders.” At last, Kipling suffered a sort of nervous breakdown. An examination showed that he badly needed glasses—which helped explain his poor performance in school—and his mother returned from India to care for him.

Kipling stated in Something of Myself,

“She told me afterwards, that when she first came up to my room to kiss me good-night, I flung up an arm to guard off the cuff that I had been trained to expect.”

Even George Orwell sent back from Burma for education, attempted a renunciation of his privileged schooling by slumming it in Paris and London, going underground with the miners in northern England and in fighting with the socialists in the Spanish Civil War.

Churchill is another example (neither of his parents had much time for him) – he was a lifelong alcoholic depressive, obsessed by violence and motivated in his active military service by an obvious death-wish, and in his command by a relish for killing brown people. By the 1930s his life looked like a chaotic failure.

World War Two was the salvation of him, because it was the only moment in history when the outer world was more violent, deranged and insane than his inner one.

Also, Prince Charles,, now King Charles III, a more sensitive figure than his father but whom Philip had nevertheless put through the rigours of Gordonstoun and the Navy, suffered from his father’s no-nonsense approach.

It was Philip who forced Charles to end public speculation and marry Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and, when the marriage ended in divorce, much blame was attached to the exacting way in which the Duke had brought up his eldest son.

The crisis provoked by Diana’s death in 1997 brought criticism of the monarchy out into the open, but the Duke played an important part in planning the funeral that went a long way towards rebuilding public trust.

In 1994, when he wrote Raising Boys, fathers spent an average of eight minutes a day with their kids. “When I revised the book for the 21st century - by 2010 … that figure had trebled. Many, many dads are spending hours a day with their kids. So the whole profile of fatherhood has shifted. You see dads pushing prams, taking kids to the shops; that was an absolute anathema back then.”

It’s a revolution and it will pay off, says Biddulph, who was born in Yorkshire in the 1950s. He jokes that his hometown was the world capital of bad parenting. “It’s not like that now but back then, discipline just meant calling kids names. And, of course, hitting them. The problem was it just didn’t work, the kids developed terrible self-esteem or they rebelled and it just got worse."