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How To Rear Children 2005-02-18

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Intolerance.
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‘The best mothers are the lousy ones’, says Ms.Anne Atkins somewhat paradoxically in light of the fact she is the author of a new book called ‘Child Rearing for Fun’.

‘Long before I had children, I realised I would be useless at it.

‘We will fail, we will “do it wrong” — and the sooner we realise that, the more we can enjoy it’.

It’s this allowance of mistakes which Ms.Atkins prescribes as the antidote to the current vogue for and — some might say — over-reliance on so-called child-rearing experts. The success of televised parenting programmes such as ‘Super Nanny’, ‘Brat Camp’ and ‘Child of our Time’ are just a few examples of the media tapping into the anxiety-driven appetite to seek help in raising our kids.

‘Even the best mothers in the world feel inadequate’, Ms.Atkins says.

‘That’s why there are bookshops heaving with volumes telling us we are not good enough parents’.

Today’s wave of ‘paranoid’ parenting may stem, at least in part, from the guilt that working parents feel about not spending enough time with their children. However, Ms.Atkins believes this guilt is misplaced.

‘If you need to work to provide for your family, then you should applaud yourself — not beat yourself up about it’, is her response to that issue.

Ms.Atkins suggests many factors are at play when it comes to our apparent loss of confidence in our ability to cope alone. She blames government bodies for what she sees as heavy-handed policies interfering with a parent’s autonomy to decide what is best for their child. She also laments the fact that the role of parenthood is no longer valued in society. She speculates that this is why parents feel insignificant, disempowered, and are racked with self doubt. The loss of the extended family means that the support networks mothers relied on in the past are no longer there, so they have gone elsewhere for words of wisdom. And, in a ‘secular’ society, parents have become what Ms.Atkins calls ‘safety obsessed’. As a ‘Christian’ married to a ‘clergyman’, Ms.Atkins feels that, without the comfort of religion, many parents are so scared about their children’s well-being that they cannot relax enough to enjoy the experience. Her feelings led Ms.Atkins to publish ‘Child Rearing for Fun’, which draws on her own experience of being a mother to five children — ranging in age from adulthood to ‘toddlerdom’.

‘If there is one thing I wished I had been told before I had my children’, she says.

‘It is to trust your instincts and enjoy the experience.

‘The human race has been rearing children for millennia.

‘By and large, we have done it quite successfully, without any of the help now considered essential’.

Having just ‘penned’ a book offering such ‘help’, isn’t Ms.Atkins — who also shares her philosophy on life in a regular slot on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought For the Day’ — guilty of adding to the problem?

‘I know there is a nonsensical element about me saying, “you don’t need to read a book to know how to raise your child” — and then writing one myself’, she concedes.

‘But I think parents need to be told that they are doing the right thing, and be encouraged to keep going.

‘We no longer believe in ourselves — and so feel the need to constantly refer to so-called professionals for guidance and approval.

‘There is a sense that because they have a “white coat” on — or “letters after their name” — that they know best. ‘This is simply not the case; parenting is not a skill you learn by “doing a diploma” — it is something innate inside you and also something you learn as you go.

‘We have lost our confidence.

‘Today you would think bringing up a child was an impossible task, but it’s not — anyone can do it’.

What Ms.Atkins may lack in ‘letters after her own name’ she certainly makes up for in experience. She explains (in between answering the door, making coffee for her 19-year-old and her friends, and screaming after the dog who escapes out the back door) that with five children (Serena, Bink, Alexander, Benjamin and Rosie) their Oxford home is a busy one. One of her children has ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ (a form of ‘autism’), and another ‘obsessive-compulsive’ disorder, so parenting has been ‘less than straightforward’ for her — and her and husband, Shaun. Ms.Atkins does not complain, saying:

‘God has given us the qualities we need — the love, commitment and dedication’.

Her faith has provided support through these times and has shaped her view that good comes out of bad. In this way, she argues, we should not seek to shield our children from the outside world, but help them embrace it.

‘Everything in the life of a child can help shape a stronger future’, she says.

‘A childhood in which nothing went wrong would be a woefully inadequate preparation for the rest of life’.

However, one failure which Ms.Atkins believes children should not be exposed to is that of the failed ‘marital relationship’ and ‘divorce’. She is unashamed in her ‘Christian’ conviction that a child’s happiness is heavily dependent on the institution of marriage.

‘The first and most obvious service we can perform for our children is quite simply stay married… get married and stay married’, she states in her book.

But, although it is peppered with these moments of nearly off-putting frankness, Ms.Atkins has not written this book to tell us ‘what’ and ‘what not’ to do; her over-all message is that rearing children is not about instruction from others but following our own intuition and the application of our own commonsense. However, for those who are looking for guidance, she has condensed her own common sense philosophy into three S’s: Security, Self-Worth and Significance.

‘Making your child feel secure it is the most important yet simplest thing in the world’, she says.

‘Feed and clothe them, cuddle them and get married.

‘They need an environment that makes them feel safe, and these things will give them that’.

Secondly, according to Ms.Atkins, a child needs to have a sense of self-worth which, she explains, stems from feeling loved.

Never withhold affirmation or affection from them — even when you are disciplining them’, she says.

She also advocates spending time with them — be it a scheduled day out or an impromptu ten minutes to read them a story. Lastly, she believes that children need to know that they matter.

‘To know they are significant they have to learn that their actions matter’, she says.

‘Society has become terribly embarrassed about punishment — but a gentle smack or sending your child up to their room is all part of learning cause and effect’.

So there you have it. You don’t need experts or books. Just the confidence to trust your instinct and a dose of good oldfashioned common sense. But, to stress her point, Ms.Atkins refers to Mr.Benjamin Spock, the US American paediatrician who is regarded as the pioneer of the parenting books she is so critical of.

‘It used to be said that every parent needed a copy of Spock, if only to biff his child over the head with when he was naughty’, she says.

‘But he was right about one thing when he said: “Trust yourself; you know more than you realise”.’

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[…] 2005-02-18 How to Rear Children […]


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