Good Parenting #

Children are our most valuable and precious natural and national resource.

There’s an African proverb that essentially says, “A child not embraced by the village, will burn it down to feel its warmth.” They are our children. This is our village.

Another one says, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” Recent investigations of child abuse indicate that it takes whole institutions and countries to ignore such abuse.

As Tim Winton notes: Children are born wild. Society’s primary function is to socialise them into consensual productive citizens by properly training teachers, police, prison officers and social workers. Otherwise children turn into feral creatures, monsters or savages. They’re trained into it. Because of neglect or indulgence. And when we meet them in the street, and have them in our classrooms, and haul them into the courts, we recoil from them in horror and disgust. Our detention centres and jails are heaving with them. If we don’t deal with root causes, band-aid solutions of more law enforcement will not solve our problems.

Australia is seriously failing its next generation in education, housing and assimilation into society. Suzie Miller in her play Jailbaby, shows what happens when we jail young children. Australia incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than China, Guatemala or the United Kingdom. The United States leads the world in per capita incarceration, but Australia has more people incarcerated who have not been tried or sentenced.

Children as young as ten are incarcerated in some Australian jurisdictions.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the most incarcerated people in the world.

Australian jails are brutalising. They ought to be a measure of last resort. But young people can be sent to jail simply because there are few diversionary programs in regional, remote or rural areas, or because rehabilitation programs may be full. And it happens in the dark, because newspapers seldom cover the lower courts, unless a celebrity is on trial. Lower court judgements are rarely published. On busy days, if you blink, you will miss it.

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.”

Robert Lowell was born to an affluent well established American family. However, he was the unplanned and unwanted child of Charlotte Winslow Lowell and Robert Traill Spence Lowell III, a naval officer who later worked for Lever Brothers, the English soap manufacturer. His mother was judged, according to the standards of the time, to be ironhanded and manipulative; she viewed her husband, a meek man whose soul, Lowell wrote, “went underground” in his forties, as feckless, dandyish, and abstract—a judgment Lowell shared, though he tempered it with pity. Together, these two horribly matched people created a troubled, physically powerful, emotionally frail, and altogether brilliant child, whose provocations shaped their lives. Various strategies to cope with Lowell’s unruliness were adopted and discarded, but, eventually, his poetry was judged to be good enough to make acceptance worth whatever its costs. The family psychiatrist, Merrill Moore, informed the Lowells that their son was a genius: everybody would have to “adjust” to him as he was. This held true throughout his life.

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 Biddulp 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.”