Archive for September, 2013

Community care

September 29, 2013

Childcare. Outside School Hours Care. Family Day Care. Occasional Care.

So much caring.

And yet it somehow feels a bit… isolating. Or institutional.

Or removed.

Across the span of three boys, my experience of childcare has ranged from utilising a service practically full time, to twice a week, to not at all. I have used an Outside School Hours Care service, and I am currently studying Children’s Services. I have friends who work in childcare services, friends who use childcare services, and friends enrolling their yet-to-be-born babies in a childcare service. It is pretty clear that, in the world I inhabit, there exists a need for babies and children to be looked after. To be co-raised.

This would be simple if we lived in a village, or perhaps on a commune. There you would find a greater sense of babies being born not just into families but into whole communities. But the economics and geography of our suburban way of life has seen a shift in expectation and need. Families are living separately. Grandparents are busy living their own lives. Lots of things are expensive and people just need to work. Babies and children are loved and nurtured and wanted, but they nevertheless have to fit in with this societal model. Eddie Groves and his ilk cottoned on to this and in an instant the care of our children changed from shared obligation to managed industry. It was outsourced, and with the change came profit, policy, and pressure.

But what if we could reverse the trend? Bring the care of our children back to a shared level of responsibility? Open up our doors again and repair our fragmented communities? Our streets are not empty during the day – there are those who do not face a daily commute who could provide the service and “mind the children”. There are wise retirees who could share their knowledge. Stay at home mums and dads who could share their care. Friends and neighbours with hours to spare. There are childcare professionals yearning to break down the walls of the industry and get back to the home.

We can and should return to a sense of shared community where our children are concerned. We don’t all have to bake scones and chat over the back fence necessarily but there should be a rejection of bureaucracy and an opening of doors. We can offer our own after school care. We can support the families who need to work outside the home by remaining in the community with their children. We can encourage the valuing of this support by reiterating its core task: the care of our most beloved. What is it really worth to us? Surely a priceless commodity. And not everyone is up to the job.

The pessimist in me fears we have lost too much trust. The walls are too high and the risks too great and the regulations keep us all safe. But the optimist thinks it’s all there in our hearts and perhaps all we need to do is ask.

Fine Lines

September 19, 2013

I am constantly fascinated by the ups and downs of this parenting life. The ever contrasting needs. The chiaroscuro of emotions.

Raising children makes for such an unpredictable ride, such that no two days are ever alike. The benign enquiry of “How are you?” should really be met with the response “As of today? Not too bad” or “Right now? Not so good” to resemble honesty. It astounds me how one day can be commenced with confident enthusiasm, to be followed by a day marked with angry resentment. An anxious Monday can lead to a victorious Tuesday.

The myriad emotions which mark the territory of parenthood are separated by the slightest of margins. We toe a very fine line between pride and shame, between admiration and disgust, between joy and despair. It pays to remember how close we are to the edge at any given moment. Tomorrow will shine a different hue.

The decisions made when parenting also come with a coin toss. How far is it ok to push? At what point does supportive parenting become aggressive control? Have we crossed a line if we force a child to do something, even if we know by experience they will appreciate it afterwards?

Sport is the typical arena where a push can become a shove. For competitive children, a challenge is something to be met and, if possible, bettered. More laps. More goals. A higher score. Why climb the mountain? Because it’s there. For these children, a little push can go a long way. As a parent, you are rewarded for your efforts, and the line between effective guidance and destructive parenting seems distant. It is easy to tick the boxes with a competitive child: their drive to win suits society’s demands. They will behave, achieve and aspire in a dread of losing to others. Their fine line? Failure. Skills to cope when this line is crossed are essential in the competitive kit.   

But what of the non-competitive child? The child to whom a race is at best, pointless, and at worst, already lost? Rather than seek to conquer a challenge, these children shy away from conquest, preferring instead introspective, cerebral pursuits. Why climb the mountain when somebody else already has, and it looks impossible anyway? It seems almost counter-intuitive that a child should baulk at progress, at their own achievement, even when rewarded. Yet if in the wrong field, or at the wrong speed, they may do just that. These children need pushing, but for them the line is wafer thin: push too hard and in the wrong direction and you risk rejection. A pull can be more effective: lead the way and they may follow. But in their own time. The non-competitive child can be paralysed in their fear – and expectation – of failure, or they can be unmoved in their apathy. For them, choice of pursuit and gentle praise are imperative, but you have to tread carefully: one false move and you’ve lost them.

The line is fine in love too. Our children are everything, and yet, they cannot be, for parenting should not be all-consuming. To be sensible we must tread carefully on the side of support, comfort, guidance. The line divides from smothering, suffocating, ultimate loss. We cannot give ourselves entirely to our children, for then we are left with nothing. The hardest times are those when we violate this rule: when we have given too much and are left raw. This is perhaps the toughest parenting line to tread. Where our instincts would have us give our all, our better judgement must be called to save ourselves. It is the line between loving our children enough, and loving them too much.

We step. We stop. We tiptoe. We dance, erratic between the lines, in the hope that we’re getting it right.