As I get older, some rather interesting and unexpected things are happening. One rather pleasing development is that some of the crap I've got shoved at the back of my wardrobe is actually coming back into fashion, meaning less trips to Primarni are needed in these credit crunching times. Even stranger and more shockingly, I find I am beginning to mellow. Gradually the waves of time are washing over me, and like a piece of glass in the ocean, my sharp edges are slowly being soothed and smoothed and rounded. Or, to put it another way, as I make cock up upon cock up upon cock up, I am becoming less judgemental of other people's cock ups.
Parenting can be a heady mix of both solidarity and judgement. The vast majority of us are struggling along, fuelled by the most heart bursting levels of passion and love for our children, and desperate to offer them the best that we can. There's often a great feeling of compatriotism amongst groups of mothers, as stories are shared, help is offered, and differences are accepted. A warm acknowledgment that, as John Lennon put it so well, 'Whatever gets you through the night, is alright'.
But there are also some areas of hot debate. BBC3 is currently running a parenting series, 'Bringing Up Britain', and I've already managed to catch 'Is Breast Best?' and some of the series 'Misbehaving Mums to Be', about pregnant women who smoke, eat too much, or not enough, and so on. Inherent even in the titles of these two programmes is an element of judgement. There are some parenting behaviours that we describe as 'best', and others that we describe as 'misbehaving'. Discussing some of these shoulds and should-nots can be a tricky business, as they are emotive subjects, liable to push buttons and cause upset and offence. There are those who argue, perhaps quite rightly, that we should 'live and let live', respect another's right to choose, and keep our peace. But even if we are magnanimous and tolerant to a saintly level, there must be somewhere that we draw the line and judge a parenting choice to be just plain wrong?
Yesterday as I walked through the streets of my nearest town the woman in front of me clipped the young boy in her charge around the ear. Somewhat ironically, she was punishing him for pushing his sister, and her blow was accompanied by an order 'not to hit people'. I felt shocked, but to my shame, I did nothing, just shuffled off, not wanting to get involved. Afterwards I wished I had, and I reflected on how strange it was that if a grown up man had hit a grown up woman in the street, there would have been an outcry, but that somehow it is still acceptable for a small child to be hit by a big adult.
For me there is a distinction between a personal judgement of an individual's choices and a passion for changing the wider social construct that feeds, supports or even enforces them. The actions of the woman in the street were part of a bigger picture, informed for her by her own background and tolerated by every person, myself included, who passed her by as she struck her child. Many of the women interviewed on 'Breast is Best' chose to formula feed because they felt breasts were sexual, and / or they did not wish to risk exposing themselves in public. A young girl pregnant with twins on 'Misbehaving Mums' was effectively starving herself because she did not wish her body to get big or fat. Whether we choose breast or formula, Gina or Sears, stay at home or back to work, our choices are perhaps never truly individual, and change, if needed, is best sought and addressed at a social and cultural level.
Well I started this post rummaging around at the back of my wardrobe and I seem to have accidentally fallen into a strange land of morals and ethics, so I apologise if you were hoping to read about my laundry or the sticky patch on my kitchen floor. Sometimes when I start composing a post for this blog I feel a pang of fear that something I say will upset or offend or be perceived as judgemental, and that perhaps I should just stick to the more lighthearted stuff. But I do feel, quite passionately, that we should be able to discuss the tougher questions of parenting, without allowing ourselves to take things personally. This is hard because we all like to feel we are making the best choices for our children. But if we do not speak and debate freely, we will not be able to improve the world for them, now and in the future.