One of the challenges of parenting teenagers is knowing when to speak and when to back off. I have raised my three to ask questions and to think for themselves, to follow the path that they consider right even if others are insisting that they should be going another way. I have hammered home the message that there are many sides to any argument and that they should seek out why others hold an opinion before forming one themselves. I want my children to become adults capable of critical thinking.
Other adults in their lives have not always appreciated the rough edges resulting from this upbringing. Learning to debate cogently and persuasively is a tough skill to master, and some adults do not welcome having their opinions dissected by someone they consider to be lacking in knowledge and experience. To them I would say, learning has to start somewhere. If my children appear brusque then do not dismiss them as rude and irrelevant, teach them by responding to their points calmly and clearly.
We have had a number of fairly heated discussions around the dinner table recently; my elder two children have developed strong views, some of which I do not always agree with. In many ways this is gratifying as it demonstrates that they have learned well. In other ways though it worries me. Some of the views that they hold appear to be at odds with my own core beliefs. It has made me look at our family values, especially the conflicts between what I hold as important and my husband’s views. Obviously my children have been listening to both of us throughout their lives.
Politically I would put my husband to the right of me. He would counter that notions of right and left no longer apply. He is very much against state intervention. I would argue that this is an ideal; in practice the state should be investing in its future (educating young people) and taking adequate care of its most vulnerable (the poor and the sick). We both despise the current political elite and feel strong resentment at how they choose to spend the huge amounts of money forcefully removed from us in the form of complex taxes.
As no political party adequately represents either of us, elections are always times of soul searching as we decide which of the charlatans standing will receive our votes. We always vote.
Our children have soaked in our views alongside those they have picked up elsewhere. When I disagree with their stated opinions I try to discuss calmly, despite finding it hard at times to accept that I have raised young people who think this way. I recognise the irony of my discomfort, I have brought this situation on myself.
Politics is messy, views differ widely, and no individual has much power over what happens anyway. Perhaps I could have shaken off my concerns had it not been for two other incidents that happened in the same week as our most recent elections, which gave rise to these initial debates.
The first to grab my attention was the reported changes to the English Literature curriculum and the suggestion by exam boards that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had forced these through due to his personal preferences. I was livid at yet another damaging intervention by this odious little man. Whilst not quite standing up for him, my husband did not condemn his actions, claiming that studying any book for an exam will strip the enjoyment away anyway. He appeared to miss the point I was trying to make entirely. I am aware that I am not always good at stating my key point clearly and concisely.
Whilst I was still raging over yet another assault on teachers’ ability to educate, and the narrowing of students’ exposure to diverse literature, another news item demanded my attention. Elliot Rodger became the latest in a long line of American serial killers, and the documents he left behind suggested that he was driven by a hatred of beautiful women because they would not have sex with him. An on line society was mentioned that appears to promote a belief that men are entitled to sex. Perhaps I am hopelessly naive, but I had no idea that such extreme and damaging views could lawfully be promoted in a supposedly civilised country.
And then, with all of this swirling around in my head, I started to see the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen appear on my feed.
I am all too aware that women live their daily lives with problems that a large number of men just don’t seem to get. I am just one of these women, and the Everyday Sexism project has been highlighting the issue for some time. This though is the nub of my problem today. I feel that I need to have another conversation with my children, yet feel ground down by the disparate opinions that we have already recently aired. How do I get my sons to see that this is a significant problem that they should be considering, and not just mum going off on yet another of her rants?
Nobody ever said that parenting was easy. Reading back over all that I have just written I realise that I am trying to cover some pretty hefty issues. They need to be covered, but it will take time. I guess I am just aware that so much is currently being discussed in the media making it a good time to be talking about it as a family. My kids can go read other’s opinions, critically examine the plethora of views, and then come back and discuss the conclusions they have reached.
Is it bad that I am worried about what my husband will contribute to the family discussion? I suspect this shows me up as being less open and accepting than I sometimes like to claim. I know that he often amuses himself by winding me up, by attempting to tie my arguments in knots with his ability to remember little details that can appear to erode my opinions. He is cleverer than I, but this does not necessarily make him right. It can be harder for me to accept that I will not always be right either.