A Parenting Meme

I seem to have caught a bug that both my husband and son have had, and have been obliged to take a day off of my writing schedule. I really dislike doing this when I’m smack bang in the middle of something, but my wits are notably dulled. Anyhow, the lovely Emily reminded me that my understanding of motherhood was very UK-based and that the situation across the globe is marked by significant differences. So I thought I would put together a little meme and tag my international blogging friends in the hope of getting a better picture of the cultural differences at stake.

How do you view your role as a parent? What are you there to do?

I’ve always felt it was my place to be a good role model, not in terms of anything fancy, like achievement, but just to show him how to love, and that it was okay to be sad or to make mistakes, and that a sense of humour is the most useful resource in life. I came to this conclusion after realizing that my beautifully expressed explanations about how and why we did things caused my son’s eyes to glaze over after at most a sentence and a half. So it has to be show rather than tell. Now that he is thirteen, I think the most useful thing I can do is sort of fade into the background while still being there for him should he need me. I just have to look stable and unchanging, so that he feels safe to do the dramatic work of growing up.

In your social circle, are mothers expected to work or are they encouraged to stay home with the child?

This was a tricky one for me. I was surprised when my son was little how few mothers seemed to have full time jobs, and at any baby groups I went to I was treated like a real pariah for doing something so peculiar and un-mummyish. But it just so happened that after my PhD came a research fellowship and then a job and I knew this was not a career trajectory I could exit and re-enter. At that time, hardly anyone I worked with had young children, or indeed any children at all and so for years I never mentioned my son. The general feeling was that motherhood did not mix with academia. Just recently there has been a baby boom in my department and so the culture has changed a lot, too late for me, but good for others.

How do you feel about your child’s education? What’s good about it, and what do you wish could be done differently?

I wish I could say otherwise, but the move from the state sector to a fee-paying school has been the making of my son. Before he was bored and completely switched off education. Now he is really stretching his intelligence and gaining in confidence. I just wish that there wasn’t so much testing and so much pressure to get good marks. It’s completely counterproductive with children.

How do you share the childcare with your partner (if it is shared)? Do you tend towards different activities or different approaches to parenting?

Up until my son was about five, I did everything, which was not a good idea at any level. We came from radically different parenting cultures; my husband was one of a pack of four and the children were pretty much left to their own devices, apart from television which was strictly limited and extra curricular activities like playing musical instruments which their mother was, um, keen they should practice. My brother and I were seven years apart and so we both had a lot of quality individual time spent with our parents but we were very much encouraged to find our own passions, and it must be said that we were naturally inclined to do so from an early age. So to begin with my husband and I disagreed on every possible parental intervention. Thankfully we have found ways to make our different approaches into virtues and to recognize how to divide up the chores according to our strengths and weaknesses. Anything that involves disengagement from emotion, obligation or stoicism goes to my husband, anything that involves communication, rapid emotional climate change and direct intervention comes my way.

What are the most important virtues to instill in a child?

It’s a bit of a cheat, but I think it depends on the child. I’ve tried to encourage my son to be able to see the other person’s point of view, which hasn’t come naturally to him, and to be flexible and ready to negotiate for what he wants rather than fixated on one immutable desire. I haven’t done so well with the latter! But what pleases me is that he has a good, generous heart and is very kind to those younger and more vulnerable or those suffering. Those are important virtues to my mind.

What’s the relationship like between mothers at the park and the school gate? Would someone you didn’t know help you out in a stressful moment?

I found that school gate thing horribly cliquey and never hung out much with other mothers. It seemed to me that you had to be like them to be in with them, and I’m not good at that club stuff. I’ve always found other mothers to be very helpful, however, in a crisis, and more than willing to pitch in. One thing you do note in England is that no one would ever dream of telling off someone else’s child. It would be considered a highly impertinent thing to do. If a child were causing trouble in the playground, the correct procedure would be to identify the child’s mother and alert her. Intervention would only be suffered if the child’s behaviour was dangerous, and even so, yelling or scolding would be poorly viewed.

What do you fear most for your child?

I fear accidents and illness most. But I also fear damaging encounters with girlfriends, disappointments in work, loss of direction and impetus (although he is an unusually directed sort of child) and peer pressure towards alcohol and drugs. My son is at present very proud of his powers of refusal and his unwillingness to conform to anything anyone says he should do that doesn’t appeal. Long may it last.

How do you discipline your child and what are the errors you would put most effort into correcting?

I like to think that if you are hardly ever cross with a child, he pays more attention when you do tick him off. I prefer the carrot to the stick, myself, and tended to give lots of praise and love to good behaviour. Inevitably there have to be disciplinary moments and I would always try to be short and firm and never, ever, do any u-turns after I’d said no. I tended to leave my child in his cot or bed to think things over when he was very little, and as he got older so he would naturally go there at the times he felt the world was against him. Now he’s a teenager I need a whole new game plan. At the moment I’m tending to be tolerant of most things (I always thought it wisest to pick my battles) because it’s a bad idea to insist a 13-year-old boy should be compliant. Just escalates the situation. In any case, he’s perfectly well aware if he’s done the wrong thing, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. I did voice a protest on the weekend, though, when I found the empty sweet packets he’d got through with one of his best friends. Thankfully I can’t think of a worse crime than that of late.

Do you think the life of a child has changed much since you were young?

Fundamentally, probably no, not much. But education has altered beyond recognition. School was a holding zone you were obliged to be in, and everyone knew that. Now it’s a huge machinery with all kinds of pressures and opportunities. I do think the internet and new technology has changed children’s lives, though. Mobile phones support them in their tentative independence, and the internet provides a whole new network of games, skills and relationships. I’m as sure as I can be, however, that if I were a child in this age, I would still spend all my time reading books.

What’s the best compliment your child could pay you for your parenting skills?

That I could always make him laugh.

I tag: Charlotte, Smithereens, Mandarine, Ms Make Tea, Bloglily, Yogamum and anyone else who would like to do it. Please do link back to this site as I very much want to read everyone’s answers.

19 thoughts on “A Parenting Meme

  1. Since I’m not a mom I don’t think about these sorts of questions, but it would be interestingt to see how parenting roles change with different cultures. Do you think it’s gotten harder or easier? I always think it must be much harder to deal with a teenager than a small child, but then if you’ve done a good job instilling the right values (or whatever the proper terminology is) than maybe the teenage years aren’t nearly so stressful? Just on a side note–I’m reading an Angela Thirkell novel (Demon in the House), which is narrated by a single mom. Her older sons are off in the world, but she still has a 13 year old at home, and as I’m reading I keep thinking of you. Granted the situations are very different, and it’s set in the 1930s, but Laura Morland has this wonderful sense of humor–her son is sort of precocious and talks incessantly about his trains, but she manages him so well. It reminds me of some of the posts where you’ve mentioned your son. Anyway, it’s quite entertaining!

  2. Bloglily – cannot wait to see what answers you give!! Danielle – you are wonderfully good with questions. I think over the years it’s….sort of become different. There’s always something, I find, some little issue or problem we’ve been struggling with that resolves itself just as the next one comes along. But we have just been through a really lovely stretch, since five or so, when he’s been a delight to be around and, most importantly, I’ve been able to sleep through the night and have more and more time to myself. I’m a bit anxious about what lies ahead in the teenage years. There are such adult problems looming, and my son still seems so young to me. Still, my main aim is just to keep us talking, even if his best topic of conversation is World of Warcraft 🙂 And thank you so much for the tip off about the Thirkell novel – it sounds perfect for me in all kinds of ways, and I’m going to go and look it up just as soon as I’ve posted this! Yogamum – I have my moments of being a screaming harridan 😉 I’m looking forward to your answers very much indeed!

  3. Perfect proof that there are women in this world (like you) who were born to be mothers, and other women (like me) who weren’t (I like to think of my job in life as being the one who helps mothers when they need a break, but I couldn’t do it full time). Interesting the way you describe those “mother cliques.” Not being a mother, I never even thought of that as something that might happen, but it makes perfect sense (especially when I consider the fact that there have been a few times in my life when I was with a bunch of women who were not talking generally about their children, which is fine, but rather having “in” conversations about specific teachers, school events, etc. that kept me completely locked out of the conversation). All the things you say you worry about most are exactly the same things my own mother has always said worried her most. And I agree with you: if I were a kid today, my nose would still be buried in a book whenever no one else was demanding anything of me.

  4. Such an interesting post. Since I am not a mother I haven’t thought about these things, only scowled at the parents in public places (like bookstores) who allow their children to run wild, screaming and yelling and ruining the place while they tuck themselves into a corner and ignore the whole situation. I only have my own upbringing to compare things to. I loved being sent to my room for misbehaving. It was more of a relief than anything since then I could sit and read all afternoon without being bothered by anyone 🙂

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  6. Great stuff here, Litlov…

    Old enough by many years to be a grandparent… still not. When I think back… I catch my breath at my ignorance, that my two sons have survived has much to do with luck and precious little to do with my skill and knowledge as parent… but not for trying, not for lack of caring!

    We begin as parents in such abysmal ignorance–so dependent on received “knowledge”… (that is, transmitted ignorance) … and only learn, if we do, by experience…. too late.

    What a wonder that we have survived at all as a species.

  7. I am glad you started this meme. I was really fascinated by the way my American parenting attitudes differed from my London counterparts.

  8. Mandarine – I very much enjoyed your answers! Thank you for replying and giving me so much wonderful food for thought. Emily – I always think it’s a wise decision to not have children if the idea doesn’t appeal. It’s hard enough when you really want them! But I’ll bet you are perfectly loving and nurturing and have all the qualities you need to mother, if you had wanted to. You’d certainly have passed a wonderful sense of humour onto them and a highly laudable love of reading! Stefanie – oh you remind me of a question I should have asked about attitudes to children in public places. I am never comfortable with little children running about the place and yelling and would much rather they were quietly entertained or elsewhere. I did love the thought of you running gleefully off to solitary confinement 🙂 Jacob – I think the trying and the caring are the important parts, no? That’s what tells the child he or she is loved, not the getting it right. Thank goodness, because I know exactly what you mean about doing all the learning too late! That’s so true for me, I think. Emily – thank you so much for giving me the idea! I suddenly realise I didn’t tag you, too. You’ve already gone beyond the bounds of duty for me, but if you were interested in doing the meme, I’d love to hear your answers.

  9. Stefanie’s comment reminded me of several moments lately when I’ve watched parents struggle with taking care of their children and trying to, say, buy stamps at the post office at the same time, and I feel such sympathy and also such relief that I don’t have to deal with the problem — I’m with Emily on this one that I’m not born to be a mother, at least I don’t think so. Actually, I probably would be a pretty decent one, which makes me want to have a child even less. I don’t WANT to have to be a good mother! I know just how hard the job is! I’m glad your son is thriving in the new school — that must be a joy to watch.

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