I read this fantastic column by Adele Horin in The Sydney Morning Herald the weekend before last. It completely sums up my mentality/parenting philosophy and something I want to shout at all those friends of mine who are so stressed about how their kids are going at school.
I don’t know, maybe it’s having the beautiful Ogga boy – in fact, not maybe, I know it to be so – having a child with special needs does quite dramatic things to your parenting. Well, it did/has done to mine. I know, that if I hadn’t had Oscar, I would SO be one of those parents stressing about my kids’ grades and what they were going to become. Because quite frankly, nothing less than major money-earning fame or world-changing scientist/doctor was going to cut it, or basically anything which would mean they could keep me to the life I’d like to be accustomed.
But I have endured years of people judging Oscar, of rating him, of ranking him, and then of talking about him to me in terms of his deficits. The final straw was the second official assessment we had done (compulsory) at this hideous place in Chatswood where nearly everyone with a child with special needs on the north side of the Harbour Bridge has to take their child who clearly has issues before starting pre-school and then again before school. I had one friend say to me that if she got to the car without crying and only drank one bottle of red wine that night, it was a pretty good assessment. The most flabergasting thing about all of this is that the specialists working at the centre think they are highly empathetic and sensative to families. What a load of crap.
The first assessment for Oscar I took Mum as Chef had to work and we had no idea of what we were walking in to. This was a v.e.r.y. b.i.g. mistake. You see Mum is the queen of the inappropriate comment. For example, “I guess when you went into labour at 21 weeks he was trying to abort,” or “I’m getting so fat too”. She was the one who said, “so if he’s functioning at two-thirds of where he should be for his age now, does that mean at 10 he’ll have the ability of a seven year old?” I mean JESUS – I’m barely holding it together as it is, I don’t need someone to actually say what I’m thinking in my head.
Anyway, the second assessment they suggested I put him on the same drugs they use for ADD kids, because he was so distractable. That was when I kinda walked out.
There are a few moments I’m proud of myself, as opposed to smacking myself in the head for another fine example of my stupidity. One of them was, at the beginning of the second assessment, when we all sat down together at the start of the half day from hell, and they said “so, what are you hoping to get out of today” and I replied, “absolutely nothing.” The look of complete and utter shock on their face was s.e.n.s.a.t.i.o.n.a.l.
I did – because my Mum raised me good ‘n that – feel the need to explain myself and give them something to help them all lift their chins off the floor. So I said something along these lines:
“Today you are going to put a spotlight on what Oscar can’t do, and that is of absolutely no use to me in helping him be the best he can be. You’re not going to tell me anything I don’t know, you’re just going to say it out loud. What I do know is that he is happy, he makes people laugh, he is highly empathetic and one of the most loving people I know, and quite frankly, they are the main traits I want any child of mine to have. So really? I’m here because we have to be, and view it purely as something we have to endure.”
The silence in that room, was priceless.
Anyway, what a side-track that was. This is the article, but here are the best bits:
I have not been immune from the disease of competitive parenting. When my children were little, I refused to participate in the unstated contest that pitted the good sleepers against the criers, and the fussy eaters against the budding gourmands. I knew such behaviour had more to do with luck – good or bad – than innate intelligence – theirs or mine. I was laid-back about ascendancy in the playground and blase about their first steps, knowing from avid reading of the Penelope Leach bible, Your Baby and Child, nearly all children walk eventually. It was the early readers among the children I knew who set off the first jangle of rivalrous feeling. Precocious eight-year-olds, it seemed, were devouring Morris Gleitzman, while mine was being bribed, $1 a book, to persevere with Goosebumps.It’s a long road between Goosebumps and King Lear, and on the way parents would be hard-pressed to say what the race was about, and what the prize. It has to do, I suppose, with wanting your children to be smart and competent enough to succeed in a hard world. We look around and see young adults dependent beyond their years on ageing parents, financially, and emotionally, and sense it is tougher than before for the stragglers, the dreamers, the ordinary to make it in even the modest way we did. We all know lawyers, doctors, journalists who would never make the cut if they were starting out today, but have taken enormous pleasure in their work.
It has probably always been the case. Parents, however covetously, want their child to shine. However disguised their ambition, parents hope their child at some time will be the first, the best, the brightest. They want the world to see their child as they do: as special.
It has to do, I suppose, with wanting your children to be smart and competent enough to succeed in a hard world. We look around and see young adults dependent beyond their years on ageing parents, financially, and emotionally, and sense it is tougher than before for the stragglers, the dreamers, the ordinary to make it in even the modest way we did. We all know lawyers, doctors, journalists who would never make the cut if they were starting out today, but have taken enormous pleasure in their work.
This sense of competition comes also from the insidious knowledge we gain when we first have children that we parents are supposed to be able to control and shape their lives. It is we who are on the line. The quicker we disavow this burden, the easier and more joyful parenting becomes. But it is a hard anxiety to shake, and from Freud to the Parental Responsibility Act in NSW, which deems parents responsible for their children’s misdemeanours, we are never free of reminders that we are supposed to be in charge. So it is not far-fetched that some parents seek to bask in the reflected glory of their child’s achievements, like a couple spotted in the US, with a banner on their car proclaiming: “We are parents of an honour roll student.”
But whatever shapes children’s lives, it seems we parents can be quicker to compare their accomplishments than their qualities. We can be guilty of focusing on their grades – and how much easier that will be with A-to-E reporting – rather than their good natures. We rank their abilities and underestimate what gives them pleasure in life. We worry that the scholar has no friends, that the gregarious organiser has mediocre grades. We look in vain in the musical one for the supposed mathematical ability; we wish the computer nerd could kick a ball, and the champion athlete could write a coherent essay. We want the easygoing one to show a bit more dynamism, and the intense one to be more easygoing. It is sometimes easier to find fault in our children than simply to have fun with them.
But let me tell you, this HSC mother has kicked the habit of rating . It was Professor Matt Sanders, of the University of Queensland’sParenting and Family Support Centre, who once said to me children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush. And I know that in the long run, it will be personal qualities, like kindness, that will matter, not a few digits on a piece of paper.
…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush.
I can’t tell you how much space this has been occupying in my head since reading it. Over and over, almost like a mantra
…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush.
There is no rush.