The bad mother

Perfection Pending

This post is part of a parenting Blog Hop over at Perfection Pending

I felt like the world’s worst mom on Friday, and I suspect that my youngest son may concur with this opinion of my mothering skills. I would ask him except he is fast asleep, snuggled up in bed with his favourite teddy bear, on a Monday morning in term time. Even teenagers taller than their mothers benefit from a favourite teddy bear when they are ill.

On good weather days my son will sometimes cycle to school. As he is one of those computer game playing, stay holed up in his room type teenagers, we actively encourage this rare exercise. On Friday he set off in the morning with a friend, the second time in the week that they had cycled in to school together.

Being early in the year my son has had a full winter to lose whatever semblance of fitness he managed to acquire last year. As we live on a hill he finds the final mile home tough. After a busy day at school he just wants to get back to his computer, and the prospect of traversing that steep hill is off putting.

The routine has been the same in previous years. When his fitness levels are low he will sometimes phone to ask me to rescue him; to drive down to the cycle path, load him and his bike into the car, and bring them back the easy way. As I am not easily persuadable, especially when I know that he will benefit from the exercise, he will claim that he feels ill.

This has worked on a fair few occasions. However, when he started to get ill from just cycling three miles along fairly flat terrain, and recovery took about fifteen minutes from entering the house, I grew wise to his cunning. When he called for assistance I refused to collect him, an act that caused a great deal of complaint but no lasting damage. As his fitness improved so the calls for help diminished along with his journey times.

I guess we all know Aesop’s fable, ‘The boy who cried wolf’. Last Friday he texted to say that he was ill and I told him to cycle home. He told me that he had a headache and couldn’t cycle so I told him to walk. In my mind I was being harsh but fair, tough love. Except this time he really was ill. He tried to get home and couldn’t do it, so he phoned a friend. Friend’s mother rescued him, a kind and generous act that I humbly thanked her for the next day. The guilt I felt cannot be expressed.

As soon as he got home son went straight to bed and slept through until the late morning, a straight seventeen hours of sleep; it was obvious that I had messed up. He has had a fitful weekend, barely eating, with long periods of rest. Every time I see his pale face and dark ringed eyes I inwardly berate myself for not taking notice when he called me. What sort of a mother am I that I will not believe my own son?

My other two children are more circumspect. They remind me that their brother is one of those people who cannot seem to cope with illness. Whereas they will generally be stoic, he fusses and complains over the slightest ache or pain. It has always been hard to know when he really does have anything wrong with him; there is the regular suspicion that he simply wants to avoid the training session or have the day off school. He certainly claims illness more than anyone else in the family, yet is clearly not an unhealthy child.

I feel guilty for not believing him and guilty that a lovely neighbour had to rescue my son. I know that neither of these things are major issues, but mother guilt is so hard to cope with. I messed up and my son suffered.

Have you ever made a decision about your kids that proved wrong? Finding the correct balance between offering support and teaching personal responsibility can be a challenge.

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A small postscript to this sorry tale. Lest any of you fear that my son may be spending his recovery time playing on line games, worry not. For no reason that we can fathom, the hard drive on his computer died on Saturday afternoon. It will take at least three weeks for a replacement machine to be delivered; he is not a happy boy.

Bootstrapping

I made a bad decision last night. For her birthday I had given my daughter two tickets to see Coriolanus – National Theatre Live at our local cinema. I told her that she could bring a friend or that I could go with her. I assumed that she would prefer the company of a friend and, on the night, a whole group of them went along and had a fabulous time. Apparently the show was stunning.

I feel old and foolish amongst my children’s friends. I worry about embarrassing them, cramping their style, ruining their enjoyment. Why did I make assumptions without talking to my daughter? She told me afterwards that it would have been fine for me to have been there, that another parent attended. I missed a show that I really wanted to see because I did not simply ask if it would be okay for me to go.

It is another dampener on an already down week. I still feel tired and achy despite attempts to rest up. I had nightmares about my husband last night which is a sure sign of negative thoughts, he has done nothing wrong.

Last term I completed a short psychology course which looked at how our brains process information in real time. Studies have shown that most decision making is comparative, that how we perceive things to be at the time of the decision drives the choices we make. As an example we looked at a study of how happy people judged themselves to be.

Imagine that there are two islands. In one island everyone has got an abundance of everything; material possessions, good schools, good hospitals; everything is great. On the other island things are very different, people are much poorer, their lives are much more materially different in every regard. According to Easterlin’s paradox, if these islands are separated from each other and don’t know of each other’s existence, then the average well-being of people will be about the same. However, if the islands communicate then those in the rich island think, ‘thank goodness I’m in the rich island’ and those in the poor island think, ‘I wish I was in the rich island’.  So they all think that they are equally happy until you show them each other. Perhaps for happiness, the perception, the judgement, is all that there is. Is there really any more to being happy than thinking you’re happy?

Being aware of other’s lives helps us to put our troubles in perspective, but the fact that other’s are having a harder time than us does not negate our own feelings; they are still valid. Just because we live on a richer island than others does not mean that we will always be happy. It does mean that we can be made to feel guilty for not being happy.

When I first learned to program computers I was told about Bootstrap programs, small chunks of code that could be used to call other programs and restart a computer. When software problems occur it can be useful to clear working memory and start again, which is why the first thing to do when a computer misbehaves is to switch it off and then on again in the hope that the problem will simply go away.

I like to use the analogy of this with my own way of living. When there seem to be multiple events getting me down, causing a cascade effect whereby it becomes hard to deal with even minor disappointments that I would otherwise be able to shrug off easily, I try to strip away all that is not needed and start again from basics. I remind myself that I live my life surrounded by riches: family, good health, comfortable home.

My problem seems to be my unwillingness to call up the other programs, to ask for support. The energy that it takes for me to overcome my discomfort at leaving the security of my home can be hard to find when I am feeling down. I am reluctant to talk about how I am feeling as I fear I will be berated for not recognising how easy a time I have compared to others.

I need hugs, not advice. I am generally well aware of where I have gone wrong.

As for the show that I missed, oh how I wish that these NT Live shows could be released on DVD. Having been unable to acquire tickets for the theatre, and foolishly forgone the opportunity to see it at the cinema, I would happily part with my money for a chance to enjoy the performance in the comfort of my own home.

Yet I recognise that I need to make myself leave my house more frequently and seek out other’s company. If decision making relies on our perception at the time then I need to broaden my experience of other’s reality.

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10 Common Misconceptions About Teddy Bears

 

1. Teddy Bears are inanimate objects.

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I cannot believe how many people seem to think that teddy bears do not have feelings. Have you ever looked into the face of a teddy bear? Your furry friend will be as alive as you need him to be. Just like magic and dragons, if you believe then it will happen.

2. Teddy Bears are just for children.

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Of course, a child will benefit greatly from having his or her own bear, but so will an adult. Teddy bears listen to your problems and do not judge; they are always there to offer a hug; they do not get huffy when ignored for long periods of time. Basically? They are the ideal companion at any age.

3. Taking a Teddy Bear out in public is embarrassing.

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No. Children are embarrassing. They say what they think to total strangers, throw up wherever they happen to be without even attempting to get to a place where their mess can be easily cleaned up. Children spill food and drink, throw things, including tantrums, wet their pants when a public convenience is just across the way. Compare this to your quiet, clean bear and tell me which is behaving better. If you must take children out in public then take a teddy bear along too so that the children can observe desirable behaviour.

4. Taking a Teddy Bear out in public is embarrassing if you have no children.

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I don’t understand this one at all. I have taken my teddy bear to lots of different places: teashops, restaurants, museums; on bicycle rides, boats and aeroplanes. I find that, when he is around, people smile at us. Isn’t that a good thing?

5. Teddy Bears can be cleared out along with other toys

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This just makes me sad. I have given a new, forever home to several rejected bears. Although it takes a while to gain their trust and convince them that they are here to stay these bears tend to be particularly loving, as if they feel they may be thrown out again if they do not do their job well. Old bears in particular just emanate wisdom and show so much gratitude that they have been accepted as a valued addition to my sleuth.

6. Teddy Bears are not fun to play with.

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Anyone who thinks this has obviously never played with a teddy bear. The games that they enjoy are endless, and they do not complain if they are always  the one chosen to die, lose or get hurt. How many other friends are always available, will do exactly as asked and put up with whatever role they are assigned without complaint?

7. A dirty or worn Teddy Bear is a health hazard.

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No. Just like a person, all he needs is a gentle wash. You would not put even the dirtiest, smelliest child in a washing machine; don’t do this to your bear either. Too much water plays havoc with delicate joints. Offer a careful sponge wash and respect the scars and lost fur; these offer a reminder of good times gone by. Old teddies are to be treasured. They may, however, appreciate the added protection of a warm cardigan.

8. Teddy Bears serve no useful purpose.

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Have you any idea how many bad dreams they chase away? Who do you think got rid of the monsters under the bed? Just because you cannot see how useful a bear is doesn’t mean that he has no use. Teddy Bears are so under appreciated, yet still they love and protect us unconditionally.

9. My friends will think I am childish for sleeping with a Teddy Bear.

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I do not know anyone who does not appreciate a softer side in a friend. You may be surprised at how many thoroughly mature, well-adjusted grown-ups harbour a teddy bear. Perhaps this is why they are thoroughly mature and well-adjusted. A teddy bear can teach you what love really means: being there when you’re needed.

10. A Teddy Bear is just a lump of fur and stuffing.

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And you are just a lump of skin, bone, hair and yucky stuff. You are still amazing though, beautiful and valued. Do not reject what you do not understand, do not mock what others value and find solace in. As with any friend, you may choose whether to grant a bear space in your life or not. A teddy bear, properly respected, can be the best companion that there is.

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One last thing, if you do have a bear? Go give him a hug. And some cake. I have yet to meet any bear who does not feel that his life is that little bit better when he is allowed to share a slice of cake with his best friend.

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The very fine bear who accompanies me on all my best adventures, and who kindly agreed to allow his photograph album to be opened for this post, chronicles some of his escapades and offers words of advice on Facebook. If you would like to get to know him better, you may find him here Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear).

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Hanging out on line

I have had a Facebook account for several years. Without it I would know a lot less about the lives of many friends I rarely see. Of course I am aware that I am only being offered the briefest of edited snapshots of their lives, but still. Still it is more than I would otherwise be offered; I am grateful for the little that I am given, for the link into a chink of their lives.

I was encouraged to join Facebook by a friend with whom I used to exchange regular emails. Since he and I have been on this supposedly social site we have not been as intimate. Can a largely electronic, text based relationship be described as intimate? I think that it can. I regret our loss of intimacy as I value the friendship and felt that I was giving something back. Inverted selfishness; I valued being able to give, as much because of the benefits to me as for the hoped for value to him.

On Facebook I keep most of my settings private. I try to take care over what I post, particularly photographs. I try to take care over who I will accept as a friend. I realise though that much of this is an illusion. The real reason why my friendship list is so small is because there are few people who seek me out. I have never in my life been one of the popular people.

This year my use of the internet has changed. I started to blog and put out links to my writing on various sites in order to encourage readers to pay me some attention. Having spent years carefully watching and listening, I started to put a chunk of myself online, accessible to all. I started to say what I thought and, more especially, how I felt. I started to befriend the internet in a way that I had never managed with the face to face people I knew.

As well as setting up this WordPress site I made use of Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+. It took me some time to get into the rhythm of Twitter but, at times, this is my favourite medium for news and expression. It offers soundbite communication and easy sharing of other’s musings in a quickly digestible, largely disposable format. When we attend large gatherings of friends and acquaintances isn’t most conversation like that?

I set up my Google+ quite some time ago but have only just started to use it in the past few weeks. I am not yet comfortable with the settings which seem tricky to manage compared to Facebook. Last week I commented on a Youtube video that amused me, and was quite shocked to see a link appear on my Google+ feed, shared with my circles, many of whom I know only from the blogosphere. I need to learn how to share more carefully on this medium. I need to decide how I wish to use it.

In general though, my active pursuit of an on line profile has made me less concerned about personal privacy. I question whether I have much to hide. I started to write under the moniker zeudytigre and that has largely stuck, but my Twitter account uses my given name and I now link it to this blog.

I also use my given name on Pinterest where I record my book and film reviews. I am not into cutesy craft, fashion or home improvements. I have managed to make this site work for me, the way I want it to. I may still add a board to link to this blog though; I want people to read me. I feel a sense of embarrassment admitting that.

Of all the sites to which I ascribe, my Tumblr is probably the maverick. I have yet to find a use for it beyond a means to take the pulse of a world of young people who know how to think for themselves. It gives me hope for the future. Whether or not I can harness it for myself remains to be seen; perhaps that will be my next project.

In November I took part in NaNoWriMo, an experience that gave me more confidence as a writer. I decided that I would like to pursue my fictional writing so set up a second WordPress blog as a home for some my short stories (Dreams and Demons). I also joined the writer’s community at Tipsy Lit (link via my sidebar button). I am gaining a lot of pleasure from this new direction and have had some positive feedback from other writers, which is always very satisfying. I still feel somewhat reluctant to describe myself as a writer.

With all of this activity to manage it now feels as though the internet is my hangout. I certainly feel more comfortable here than I ever did at physical gatherings of people. The one thing that I do need to watch is that I do not stop reading the books that do so much to feed my mind, essential if I wish to improve my writing. I can spend far too long on line.

As well as my writer’s pseudonym I continue to use my original avatar rather than a personal photograph on many of the on line sites that I frequent. As a back garden hen keeper, the picture of a mother hen with her three eggs seemed to suit me (I have three children). I feel more comfortable being known by that picture than by my face. Perhaps, in time, I will gain enough confidence to allow my true self to be seen more often.

As my children have grown away from me to pursue their own lives I have felt a need to fill the void that they left. My writing has offered me this possibility. Those who mistrust the internet and wonder at my willingness to open up to on line strangers may well be those who can easily socialise off line. As I am not comfortable in such an environment this space has allowed me to interact with like minded people who I would struggle to meet otherwise. My hope for the coming year is that I may expand my community of acquaintances and continue to find help and inspiration, as well as readers, amongst those I meet.

Finding the readers is a tricky balancing act. I wish to promote what I write but do not wish it to be the only aspect of my conversation. I do not wish to use my social networks purely for self advertising as that alone is bound to put people off linking to me. I am not yet confident that what I write is worth other’s time, that it is good enough to warrant their attention.

If this is where I go to party then I desire conversation more than mass attention. I wish to discuss, dissect and muse over the significant and the inane. I am interested in books, films, current affairs and politics; I am not interested in celebrities, cooking or fashion. I seek out the blogs and the sites managed by those who offer me insight and feedback.

Am I still only using my ‘friends’ for my own means? Perhaps that is all that any of us ever do. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that we may also give enough back to make the interaction worthwhile for all concerned.

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Guilt

I am feeling guilty. This is what I associate Christmas with now, guilt and obligation. How bah humbug is that? I am a miserable person, a miserable excuse for a person. And I feel guilty about that too.

This year I made a concious decision not to send many cards. It used to be that I would send out quite a few dozen, many containing my carefully crafted annual update full of news and family photos. I knew that round robins got a bad press so I tried hard to make mine an honest letter to my friends, to people who I thought would be interested in how we were doing. And then I was asked by one of the recipients to please not send her the update. I felt crushed.

Why did such a simple request hit me so hard? Naturally I acquiesced to her request, but sending a card that said nothing more than To- and From- felt impersonal, sterile, unnecessary. So this year I haven’t. This year I have sent only a few cards, plus even fewer brief notes pointing people to my on line life. This is where I hang out now. If anyone is interested in how I am doing then they are more than welcome to meet me here.

Except not everyone has a computer, not everyone is comfortable interacting on line.

I got a card this week from an elderly uncle who has, in the past, been a recipient of my annual update. His card said more than just To- and From-. He also told me how much he enjoyed reading my update each year. This year I do not have one to send and I do not know if he ever goes on line. He will hear from me, but may be disappointed at the shortness of my message.

I feel guilty that I have allowed the comments of one person to knock me down. Others will miss out on something they enjoyed receiving because I could not grow a thicker skin. How can I ever expect to be a writer if I cannot cope with negative feedback?

Next year I will produce a round robin, even if only for the two or three people who have specifically told me that they enjoy receiving it. I will not feel obliged to send cards to those whose only contact with me is a To- and From- with no news. I will not feel obliged to send cards to those who follow me on line and who require no update as they have access to my news in real time. I will endeavour to keep in touch with those who eschew social networks but who make the effort to talk to me in other ways.

I am not happy with how my card writing has gone this year, neither am I happy with my present buying. Yesterday I wrapped all the gifts that I have been amassing over the month. My elder son did not give me a list and I have neglected to hunt out the little puzzles and oddities that normally fill his stocking. I have placed a few last minute orders on line, but his space on the floor on Christmas morning will look bereft if these are not delivered before the big day. There will be nothing to keep him occupied as the others tear into their parcels, ordered early with the help of lists.

I have learned useful lessons this year. I have learned that I should be concentrating my efforts on those who offer me support throughout the year rather than those whose relationship to me makes me feel an obligation towards them. I must also try harder to shrug off mental setbacks, although that is easier said than done.

I still have time to write a few cards, to contact those who enrich my life. There is still time to set aside my guilt and allow myself to try for a merry Christmas. I can only hope that those who seek to bring me down have more pressing matters to divert them. I really must try to grow that thicker skin.

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Chickens, sheep and life

I had plans for today that haven’t happened. The jobs that needed doing didn’t call loudly enough; the cold house made curling up under my duvet too appealing; the news was too full of people behaving selfishly, thoughtlessly and stupidly. Instead of getting up and on and out I have drifted from bed to sofa, turning on machines that do some of my work for me but accomplishing little else.

I came across Goldberg’s depression test on line and was told that I had moderate to severe depression. I don’t think so. Sure I have been feeling down and jittery recently, but I know people who suffer from depression; my issues are not on a par with theirs. I will not be going to see my doctor as suggested.

I am fortunate in that I have had few health problems over the course of my life. I had reasonably straightforward pregnancies and births, receiving good care from the nurses and midwives who attended me. When I have felt the need to seek advise from a doctor I have been subjected to unpleasant and invasive tests. What was uncovered could be treated with procedures that sounded worse than the symptoms. In most situations I prefer to manage as I am.

I feel quite ambivalent about life. There is so much beauty and joy in the natural world; so much destruction and stupidity amongst man. I like to walk out into the countryside; away from the sound of traffic, the sight of buildings, the judgement of people. I want to breathe clean air and enjoy the sights and sounds of plants, insects and sunshine.

The soundtrack to my morning has been the constant mewling of one of the lambs in the field behind my home. The lambs are not so little now and my view of their field has been obstructed by the trees that have recently come into full leaf. I had to walk to the edge of my garden and peer through the canopy to see why the noise had not stopped. I was concerned that an animal was distressed and this is what I saw; one of the creatures had it’s head trapped in a gap in the fence. I suspect that it had spotted some tasty treat and become trapped trying to reach it. The lamb was pulling this way and that, calling to it’s mother but unable to free itself.

I phoned the estate office to report what I had seen and was assured that help would be sent. I will not be able to relax until I know that the poor creature has been freed. It’s cries are distressing, it’s suffering palpable. It needs help and I can do nothing but watch and wait for the grazier to arrive. It is frightened and does not understand what has happened.

Last night I put all my hens into the one coop for the first time. They have been running together in the garden for over a year now, but I did not want to crowd them over the winter when they spend longer in the shelter of their runs due to the weather. With longer days and better weather forecast I decided that the young and the not so young could be housed together. If all goes well then I will be able to use the second coop for some new additions to the flock. I have been watching and listening carefully to ensure that there is no bullying or undue stress from the change. Hens like routine and the familiar. With no cockerel in the flock I am their protector; I need to keep things calm and safe for them.

The morning sunshine has gone; it is raining now and the lamb is still mewling. I pace my house, distracted and concerned. I should go out, but what if my request has been forgotten and the lamb is left? I cannot assist and I cannot bring myself to leave. I feel helpless. I wait.

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Parenting

I do not, personally, know any bad parents. All of the parents amongst my friends and acquaintances care deeply about their children’s well being and work hard to ensure that they are kept happy and healthy. Certainly, there are many differing views on the best way to deal with issues that arise, but all of the parents that I have come across over the years have had their children’s best interests to the fore when they make decisions that affect the child’s quality of life.

I have only ever heard anecdotal evidence of families who do not have this caring attitude. I am aware that in one of our neighbouring towns there are children who regularly arrive at school looking dirty and unkempt who have not been fed. What I do not know is the reason behind this. I do not know if the child’s carer is unable or unwilling to fulfil their obligations. I do not know what, if any, help they are receiving.

The main stream media loves to churn out statistics about child poverty and very young mothers not knowing how to care properly for their babies. This type of sensationalist reporting has been discredited so many times in the past, on so many subjects, it is hard to know how widespread the problems reported truly are. It is hard to know if a small number of cases that are affected more by mental health issues than poverty are being promoted for political gain.

Poverty is a much abused term in my view. Poverty suggests a struggle to provide the essentials – food, clothes, a bed in a warm house. It does not include nights out, a car, holidays or ipads. The social impact of a lack of these non essentials is a complex area, particularly in relation to crime, drug abuse and aspiration. On a purely practical level poverty is a lack of the things essential to physical health. Mental wellbeing is much harder to quantify and treat.

The parents that I have come across range from the comparatively wealthy to those who struggle to pay the bills each month. These financial differences certainly impact their quality of life but not their quality of parenting. All care deeply for their children and work hard to do what is best for them. Those who have been unfortunate enough to have suffered marital breakdown are well aware of the impact that this can have on their children, and work especially hard to support and nurture. Good parenting is about attitude more than bank balance.

When I first became a parent I searched for advice on the best way to care for my babies. I soon discovered that seeking advice was a double edged sword. I came across so many older mothers who had been there and done that so much better (in their view) than any mothers around since. I potty trained my children between the ages of two and four. I was quickly told that this was very late and babies used to be dry at eighteen months. This little nugget of information was added to my personal failures; I did not go to that mother for advice again. How often I wanted support, only to be told that I could and should be doing better.

The mothers who loved to share how amazing their babies were did not bother me because I could observe those children first hand and understand that these were just proud mothers taking pleasure in their children’s achievements. All parents see the best in their offspring and this is good. Alongside the hard work, let them enjoy the achievements. Those first steps, whatever age they happen at, are a minor miracle at the time.

What I found more damaging was the thinly veiled criticism given as advice. If a young child was heard to utter a swear word then there would always be some mother commenting that it was no surprise when they picked up on what was heard at home. It didn’t seem to cross the critical mother’s mind that it could have been picked up in the playground, perhaps even from their child. Children love attention and will sometimes act to get a reaction. They pick up on what they think their parents will approve and disapprove of as much as on observed habits and example. Even at a young age, they pick up a great deal from their peers.

Now that my children are older I can look back at the anguish I felt over the criticism from others, the conflicting advice from books and the media, and realise that I learnt more from observing my own children and acting on what worked for them. I would have enjoyed raising my kids a whole lot more if I had listened to myself more than others. However, all those children who have been raised around them in so many different ways seem to have turned out okay as have mine. The differences between children seem to be more often down to the child’s genes and character than to the impact of the type of parenting they received.

I have no doubt that both nature and nurture affect a child’s development, but wonder if it is only the extremes of parental behaviour that really create life long problems. Abuse, neglect and a lack of love are likely to have a significant effect, but whether or not a parent has allowed a child to stay up late, fed them regularly at MacDonalds, allowed them to watch certain TV shows, play certain computer games or made them tidy their own bedroom is less likely to be life changing if done in the spirit of fun, love and attention. These are what children need, and they can be offered in the day to day mundane as much as the carefully planned.

Parenting is a complex issue because people are complex beings. If there were one right way to raise a child then advice would not keep changing. Parents are all different, so are children, and the world in which we must live is dependant on the changing circumstances that surround us. We cannot fully understand the world in which our children must live, but parents share a gene pool with their children so are likely to have more shared understanding than strangers. What a concerned parent needs is positive support and a bit of empathy. If they are doing their best then this should be applauded. Most kids get by just fine if treated fairly, consistently and lovingly.

English: Nature vs. Nurture