Miriam Donohoe

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Parenting is hard enough without the pressure of raising a fairytale family

Miriam Donohoe

Published 04/04/2014|02:30

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They f**k you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you.

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It is timely this week with all this talk of parents leading their children down the rocky road of problem drinking, obesity and addiction, to be reminded of this famous verse by the British poet Philip Larkin.

Even though it was first published more than 40 years ago, this poem still has enduring appeal – an unfortunate thing for today's under-pressure parents, the vast majority of whom are doing their best for their offspring.

This verse is often quoted by troubled teenagers, most of whom don't have a clue who Larkin was. It was even recited by a British appeal court judge in a particularly acrimonious divorce case in the UK in 2009. Referring to the emotional damage caused to a nine-year-old child, he said: "These four lines seem to me to give a clear warning to parents who, post-separation, continue to fight the battles of the past, and show each other no respect."

Parents are under attack more than ever these days. Hardly a week passes that we don't have yet another new study painting us in a poor light, or advice rammed down our throats on how to be the perfect mother and father.

Our job is hard enough without having to put up with a lot of this rubbish.

On Monday, a My World/ UCD/ Headstrong study said well-intentioned parents who try to foster a continental-style respect for alcohol by introducing children to beer and wine before they hit 18 are adding to the underage drinking crisis in Ireland.

The same day, we heard that we are responsible for the spiralling child obesity problem because of our bad eating habits.

And a report presented to a meeting of the American Heart Association claims that authoritarian parents take away a child's own ability to regulate themselves. Go figure!

Gordon Ramsay also had his say, lashing out at parents of obese children, calling for them to be taken to court and fined if kids become obese and out of control.

Britain is considering a 'Cinderella Law' to make it a criminal offence for parents to "deliberately harm a child's physical, intellectual, emotional social and behavioural development".

Parenthood is already a perilous job, and mothers and fathers have more than enough in coping with the day-to-day life pressures without being constantly persecuted by reports and so-called expert advice.

Of course no parent is perfect, and there are some very bad ones out there. But most, no matter their background or financial circumstances, do their best to give their children the best possible upbringing and start in life.

The fact is, despite the crippling recession, we probably have the best educated, best fed and most sensible and conservative bunch of children in history.

My widowed mother is a tee-totaller. Yet I was out with the gang experimenting with alcohol in the local pub at 15 – when she thought I was elsewhere (sorry, mam). Who do I blame for that behaviour? Certainly not continental-style drinking at home.

I went away to college at 17. At the age that my two kids were when they were in fifth year in school, I was living in a flat in Dublin, managing a budget, with no adult on hand to make sure I was out of harm's way.

I sometimes shudder at some of the stuff I got up to. But it was all part of growing up.

We are doing our kids no favours by being over-protective and wrapping them in cotton wool. That is not equipping them with the skills and coping mechanisms they need when they are eventually let loose in the world.

Young people need a bit of leash. They need to experiment and to find out – often the hard way – what is good and what is bad, Along the way there will be some casualties, unfortunately.

There are too many unrealistic expectations of parenting, and huge pressure to have a nation full of healthy people who don't abuse alcohol or drugs, all with great lifestyles who live happily ever after.

That is a fairytale. The reality is different. And that is called life.

There is a great saying, "you didn't lick it off the stone", and to some extent we all become our parents.

In my case, I would regard that as a great thing.

So instead of persecuting parents, how about this alternative verse to counter Philip Larkin's famous poem?

They do their best your mum and dad.

They always mean to, yes they do.

They fill you with more good than bad

And add some extra, just for you.

Irish Independent

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