Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Caveat On Jumping to Conclusions

This is far from how I looked, I must say.
If you walk past our house at the moment you'd see that my husband keeps me in a cage. Half-naked, the pressure of the bars leaving red marks on my skin. The door is latched but not locked. Obviously I'm too scared to leave without permission. Either that, or I'm deriving a sexual thrill from my captivity, regardless of the children in the room who are able to watch this gratuitous display. They're so inured to the sight that they don't bat an eyelid. In fact, after a time, George crawls in with me. It's disgusting to see such a display. Appalling. There are no words.

You might be tempted to call social services or the police. You might be tempted to whisper or make comments about how terrible the situation is in my house and what my children are exposed to. You might even feel like popping an anonymous note through the door telling me where I'm going wrong. People do this. I know that, because I've had it happen.

If you actually stopped and came into the house you'd be able to see around the corner of the settee. You'd see that on my chest is a large ginger cat with a severe wound on his leg and a plastic cone on his head. He's just had his shattered leg repaired with intensive surgery. There's just enough room in the cage for him (and his cushion), me, and a litter-tray, food bowl, and water bowl. I'm not actually being abused by my husband or shamelessly living out sexual fantasies in front of the children. I'm trying to help the cat heal faster by giving him comfort at what is probably a pretty terrible time for him. I'm spending a couple of hours a day with him, at the very least. It's not easy, but it's best.

Yes, this is a kind of allegory. You may wander past this blog and look in and wonder at my life. You may tell me that I and people like me 'probably all freely have sex in front of [our children]' or be 'appalled' at the fact that my life and my children's upbringing doesn't closely resemble what you believe to be best. But, as with most things on the internet, you need to remember a few things. Blog posts are rarely the sum and measure of a person's life. They don't present every aspect of what happens in a house. They are written by real people who actually exist in a real place and time. These people really have feelings. And I don't just mean me - I also mean the many other people I know who are subjected to vile rants because their beliefs don't match with those of the (usually anonymous) commenter.

Even if my blog posts were not a highly edited glimpse into my life, even if they reflected the absolute reality of everything that goes on in my house, rather than just reflecting the high points and the low points, I would still have no reason to be ashamed of my parenting. It's rather astonishing that this needs to be pointed out to people. My children are very healthy and happy and well-adjusted to life. They are kind and generous. They are naughty and playful and conscientious and they do well at school. They are protected and they are loved and they are held.

My children are looked after from around 6a.m. (5a.m. if we're unlucky) until 8a.m. most days by their father, who then leaves for a very responsible, very demanding, and very selfless job. They are looked after from 8a.m. until 9p.m. by me. Of course we're still on duty even outside of these times. Until recently, when Ben started afternoon school, there were no regular breaks or time out. From mid 2005 to September this year parenting has been a 24 hour responsibility, as it is for many parents. There is no placing them in daycare or leaving them with babysitters outside of the family. There's very little leaving them with babysitters within the family either. There is being on call all day every day, and for a large portion of the night, too. That's including Christmas, Easter, weekends, and holidays. Now that duty has been reduced to 22 hours a day during school days – but even then you have to be on hand for the sudden phone call from the school. It's a hard job, but a very, very rewarding one.

I don't parent like every other parent, but then I don't tell the other parents I meet to stop bathing their children every day or not pierce their young daughters' ears. I don't tell them to make their children run around naked more or to stop spanking them or grounding them or feeding them junk food. I don't tell them to stop smoking around them or to keep them away from tabloid newspapers. I probably grumble about these things in private. I'm not a saint by a long shot. But I wouldn't have the gall to call them out for it. I certainly wouldn't leave anonymous notes to that effect.

I bring my children up in much the same way that my parents brought me up. I hold them when they need holding. I read to them and cuddle them and watch television with them. I hold their hair back when they're sick and clean their mouths afterwards. I let them into my bed when they're scared in the night. I discipline them when they're naughty and praise them when they're good. I let them have sweets, but not too many sweets. I feed them good food, but I also indulge their fancies. I'm not going to change my style, since all the evidence points to the fact that it's pretty successful. But I'll let the people who know me judge whether or not I'm a good person – those who actually come into my house and see my children and interact with me, rather than those who are looking in from the road or who drop anonymous notes through the door. The same goes for this blog. I'm happy to enter an intelligent debate. I'm happy to consider alternatives. But I won't accept irrational and accusatory comments from anonymous callers. Not any more.

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