Raising Useless Children – A disaster of Helicopter Parenting.

My eldest daughter’s first year of secondary school included a residential outdoor education trip. She had already been on one in primary school at a similar centre so I wasn’t going to bother attending the parent’s information meeting. Until she came home with not only a list of things required to take but skills needed to be allowed on the trip, including:

  • Being able to butter her own toast
  • Cut up dinner
  • Pour herself a drink without spilling
  • Getting dressed by herself
  • Brushing her own teeth.

As with all comprehensive schools in Scotland, integration for students with additional support needs was policy (although these children never get the actual level of support required due to systemic underfunding). The school also had a unit attached for students with autism who may find a full day too difficult. I assumed that my daughter had collected the wrong form and that the list was to double check children’s support needs in order to ensure the appropriate level of staffing to ensure that all children could attend. I went along to the information meeting assuming it would be a waste of my time (since I’d sat through a similar one the year before).

I was wrong.

My daughter had indeed brought home the right letter. And, the list above: for children without any additional support needs.

According to the head teacher, every single year at least one or two children attended who couldn’t do some or all of the above for themselves, because their parents did everything for them. The children, age 11-12, were all boys.

I was utterly boggled at the idea that a 12 year old couldn’t pour themselves a glass of juice. It’s a skill I assumed most kids had perfected at nursery level with the ubiquitous sand and water table. But, no. There are genuinely 12 year old boys who have never had to butter their own toast. Whilst my eyebrows were attached to the ceiling, this did, at least, explain the number of 8 year old boys in women’s change rooms at the pool – not for reasons of safety, but because they couldn’t dry themselves with a towel. Having never tried. Quite how schools cope with this particular group of children during upper primary swimming lessons is beyond me. I’d be tempted to go with: if you can’t use a towel, you can’t go swimming, obviously for only those children who should have needed no support.

I’ve been banging on about this for a decade now, mostly on Mumsnet where very few parents of girls were surprised by the level of learned helplessness. Especially those who hung out on the relationships board full of women needing help to get their husbands to put their own dishes in the dishwasher or dirty pants in the laundry. Husbands who assumed their job and penis prevented them from actually being required to not be an asshole. Even if the wife worked full time and they had 6 kids. She was required to come home and do another full day’s work. He got to do his ‘hobby’,  which is code for being an asshat. Inevitably, some handmaiden would rock up to say that insisting your partner is capable of operating the washing machine was awful because their husbands do nothing and a dude capable of putting dirty pants in the laundry was the baseline for awesome men. This would be men who can operate satellite TV, Netflix, and google. But incapable of working out the clearly labelled on button on a washing machine or dishwasher.  After more than a decade on Mumsnet, I’ve come to believe that we’ve raised a generation of young men more entitled, selfish and mean-spirited than their own fathers who, in the 1970s, at least pretended to be acquainted with kitchen equipment.

Despite all of the above and many, many years in playgroups listening to women whose husbands were utterly useless as human beings, I was still shocked by Saskia Sarginson’s recent Guardian column on her utterly pathetic adult children who still live at home and can’t work out how to use a litter box. Children who apparently pay no rent or buy any food. Or, feed a cat without whining to Mummy and Daddy about their siblings.

I’m hoping the column is all exaggeration and hyperbole, but, frankly, I expect its completely true. After all, when my eldest started uni a few years ago and lived in halls for first year, helicopter parenting continued. The students were only expected to clear after themselves in the kitchen and take out the bin. There were cleaning staff who vacuumed , cleaned the bathrooms, and a deep clean of the kitchen. Several students in her halls had parents come up on the weekend to help their children clean their rooms and do the very few chores expected of them. And not parents who lived round the corner. Quite frankly, global warning would decrease significantly if these parents stayed at home instead of driving 6 hours in an SUV to do their kid’s laundry.

My daughter did suggest I come down to ‘help’. There was much hysterical laughter on my side. I did get a drunken phone call a few weeks later to the effect of ‘you know all the times I thought you were horrible making me do stuff. I was wrong. Thank you for ensuring I’m not an idiot’. Obviously, this particular call has since been denied. And, there was definitely no retracting of me being horrible in other ways than forcing her to clean the cat litter, learn to cook and take out the recycling.

I’m not suggesting I’m a perfect parent. We could be here for days if my eldest was going to list my failings. The youngest, now responsible for cleaning the cat litter, has an excellent side eye for moments of parental unacceptability. However, the best part of having an adult child is watching them live their lives capable of dealing with crap, both literally and figuratively, without falling apart or requiring their mother come every few weeks to help with laundry. Granted, I would prefer mine not to be on the other side of the planet, but she’s having a brilliant time and that’s what matters most. Even if I’m insanely jealous of the weather and an affordable public transport system.

As for Sarginson’s children who have somehow become adults with zero life skills, well I feel sorry for them. Being forced to live with your parents whilst an adult because your wages don’t cover rent and food at the same time is the consequence of a malicious government and unfettered capitalism. Living with your parents because you are incapable of operating a washing machine or feeding the cat is a consequence of piss-poor parenting. It’s not funny or something to brag about. We need to start addressing this type of learned helplessness and infantilisation as harmful to children. Whilst child abuse is completely inappropriate here as a term, raising a child who cannot care for themselves is more than just raising entitled lazy brats. Its unfair and cruel to expect a child who has never once washed a dish, or buttered their own toast, to be an actual functioning adult.

What happens when these children try to live with long-term partners? Have children? Or, after their parents die? Will they even be capable of maintaining a long-term relationship if they’ve been raised to believe that others will always pick up the tab and do all the wifework? That you are so important that basic life skills are unimportant and mean. What will Sarginson’s kids be like in 5 years? Because my assumption would be unhappy.

There is a huge gulf between a 12 year old who can’t butter their own toast and an adult who can’t care for the cat for 2 days, but both are predicated on the desire of the parents to be ‘needed’ at the expense of the emotional and physical wellbeing of their children. And, in this case, publicly humiliating children for a couple of bucks from the Guardian.

Sarginson, and her, partner have reared 3 children who have no understanding of reality. Parenting is the least glamorous job in the world and women are held responsible for the majority of child rearing. Fucking up is normal because no one is perfect. However, 3 adult children who never pay rent or buy groceries who can’t be left alone for a weekend without whining and carrying on isn’t funny. It’s utterly pathetic.

 

Bibliography

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, (Icon Books, 2010)

Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds, (Icon Books, 2017)

Arlene Hochschild, The Second Shift, (Penguin Books, 2003)

Susan Maushart, The Mask of Motherhood, (Penguin Books, 1999)

Susan Maushart. Wifework: Men get one thing marriage that women never do -wives, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002)

 

 

#womenwrites: “child prostitution, racism, capitalism, misogyny, and queer politics.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute”: a review of the BBC’s Three Girls by Rahila Gupta at  openDemocracy

… The drama was careful to address some of the race, class and gender tropes that have coloured the national debate. Victim blaming is frequent in situations of male violence; in Rochdale it comes from the police who described the girls as coming from “chaotic, council estate backgrounds” (a euphemism for ‘white trash’). The drama’s writer, Nicole Taylor, is careful to counter this narrative by choosing Holly as her protagonist – she is from a middle-class family forced to move to a council home after her father’s business fails. “Chaotic lives” better describes Ruby and Amber whose parents are nowhere to be seen until episode two, when their mother suddenly appears to pick Ruby up from the police station.

The drama also rubbishes the trope that these girls were making “lifestyle choices” as the social worker alleges. Sara Rowbotham, a sexual health worker and the only member of the establishment these girls trusted, argues compellingly that “there is no such thing as a child prostitute, what there is – is a child that is being abused” in trying to get complacent social workers and police to take action. The widely-held view, encouraged by the police officers themselves, that the police were reluctant to take action for fearing of stoking racial tensions just doesn’t hold amid ongoing “stop and search” tactics which target black men, lead to very few arrests and even fewer convictions, and do cause racial tension. My view is that the race argument was a cover for a deep-seated misogyny that these girls were ‘slags’ therefore no police action was required. …

How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation by Clelia O. Rodríguez

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again?

The PWR BTTM debacle demonstrates why queer politics don’t protect women by Jen Izaakson

New York queer punk music duo PWR BTTM, a vowel-less take on “power bottom” (Google that term, if you like), have become the center of controversy, due to multiple allegations of sexual assault levied against guitarist and drummer Ben Hopkins.

On May 4th, Vice dubbed the group, who identify as “queer, non-binary, and transfeminine,” “America’s next great rock band.” One week later, on May 11th, Kitty Cordero-Kolin, a member of the DIY scene in Chicago, posted in a closed Facebook group, alleging that Hopkins had been seen initiating “inappropriate sexual contact with people despite several ‘nos’ and without warning or consent” at shows. This initial post was shared on Reddit, so the story spread, prompting swathes of PWR BTTM fans to come forward, accusing Hopkins of abuse, sexual harassment, preying on minors, and using misogynist slurs. One woman, referred to as “Jen,” told Jezebel that Hopkins raped her after a PWR BTTM show last year.

Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all by Marcie Bianco

… In the age of celebrity feminism and performative male feminists, the idea that feminism is about “equality for all genders” has become increasingly fashionable. And yet, to me, nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all—as if focusing a movement, or policy, or activism on women alone is taboo. Or too risky. The knee-jerk, “all lives matter” refusal to center women in this latest iteration of feminism is, I believe, a significant cause of the stalled gender revolution. We cannot address or end the systemic oppression of women if we refuse to center women in that fight. And that means reconsidering what we mean when we talk about equality and power. …

“Why It Matters That the Portland Killer Was a Far-Left Extremist” by Val Perry Rendel

“Before you #notallBerniebros me, I’m not talking about people who preferred Sanders in the primary but voted for Clinton in the general election; those are known as “rational people.” I’m talking about the people for whom it is an article of religious faith that the primary was rigged, and they are hellbent on vengeance. Corrupt corporate crony capitalism, they cry; to them, the DNC is a bigger threat than Trump, and the entire system is rotten and must be burned to the ground before the new socialist order can be ushered in, or something.”

Whole Foods represents the failures of ‘conscious capitalism‘ by Nicole Aschoff

“Mackey has loudly declared unions akin to herpes and state regulation little more than “crony capitalism” – that all we need to solve things like the climate crisis are better, smarter, “conscious” capitalists. The crisis of Whole Foods belies this notion. There’s no way to “fix” corporations’ compulsion to produce ever more, ever more cheaply. It’s written into the DNA of global capitalism.”

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

… “At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are “different” in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.

“They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not to really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong. …

Why there’s nothing racist about black-only spaces | Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

” …. Some white people have got so upset about their exclusion from parts of the Nyansapo festival, an intersectional black feminist gathering scheduled for 28-30 July in Paris, that the mayor of the city called for the festival to be banned, until organisers clarify details with her, and anti-racist groups have claimed that Rosa Parks would be “turning in her grave” at the event.

In the same week that some men have kicked up a fuss over not being allowed to attend women-only film screenings of Wonder Woman it seems a discussion is needed as to why spaces that are centred around marginalised groups, whether they be women or people of colour, are not racist or sexist.

Unofficial safe spaces have existed for all denominations for centuries, and self-organising has long been a key part of anti-racist and feminist movements. As one of the editors for gal-dem, a magazine and creative collective written and produced exclusively by women of colour, I think about our position of racial exclusivity a lot. In some ways I appreciate it might be difficult to grasp why such spaces feel so necessary. The simplest way to understand why the Nyansapo festival has elements that aren’t open to white people (the festival is split into three areas, one specifically for black women, another for black people, and a third for everyone) is to acknowledge the racism we suffer in western society. There’s no moving forward unless we accept that racism against people of colour is deeply systemic. …”