Parenting books can be a real punish. But what if they were written somehow less like an instruction manual and more like, I don’t know…something you can relate to? . Mamamia Contributor and children’s author Kate Hunter has just reread To Kill a Mockingbird. She writes:
“This is the book that almost everyone lists as one of their top ten. Lawyers cite Atticus Finch as the reason they chose their profession and more than a few babies have been named Scout and Jem after Harper Lee’s characters.If you haven’t read it since school and you now have kids in your life, read it again. It’s a revelation on so many levels; as an evocation of time and place, as a courtroom drama, and as a parenting guide. I’m sure Harper Lee (who never had kids, but I believe she had an awesome father) never intended this last interpretation, but it’s there on every page.
When I’m troubled by my kids, or worried by something I read in the papers, before I Google the problem, I ask, ‘what would Atticus Finch do?’
Sure it’s a stretch. Our leafy Brisbane suburb has little in common with the simmering hotbed of racial tension that was Alabama in the Great Depression, but kids are kids and wisdom is timeless. Let’s look at a couple of issues – how we might approach them now, and how Atticus dealt with them 75 years ago.
• There’s a reclusive man living in your street. Widely believed to have stabbed his elderly father in the leg with scissors. Probably kills and eats cats.
What we do now: Sadly the police can’t do much unless someone found bloody scissors or saw a cat in a sandwich, so the next step would be to get the media to investigate. Then we’d get a petition together to have the man moved. Possibly via a Facebook page. Only then would children be allowed out unaccompanied.
What Atticus did: He told Scout and Jem to respect the man’s privacy. Also, they were not to refer to him by his nickname, ‘Boo’ but as ‘Mr Arthur’. When the kids tried to lure him from his home and were chased by Arthur’s father with a gun, Atticus sided with the old man.
• The drug-addicted woman down the road verbally abuses your children twice daily. Your son got fed up and damaged her camelia bushes.
What we do now: For a start, we never would have let it get to the camelia-attacking stage. Why on earth were those poor kids not driven to school? It’s not as if their father didn’t own a car. Also, it’s illegal to swear at people publicly. The police should have been called and the woman charged. Counseling would be offered to the children.
What Atticus did: Explained to his children that Mrs Dubose was old and sick and not responsible for what she says. Then he made Jem to go into her house and read aloud to her for two hours every day, indefinitely. Scout went too. They didn’t know it, but this was part of her detox program.
• There’s a dangerous dog roaming the street.
What we do now: Call the council. Speculate on what breed it is (probably one of those American bull crosses). Contact the local paper.
What Atticus did: He shot the dog. Then he went back to work. Before that, Jem and Scout had no idea their dad was the deadest shot in the county. They were beyond impressed. Jem wondered why his father wasn’t out shooting every weekend like all the other fathers. Their neighbour, Miss Maudie explained that Atticus had a gift, an advantage over other living things and he chose not to use it unless he absolutely had to.
• Your daughter’s Year 1 teacher does not appreciate her reading ability and says home reading must stop until the rest of the class catches up. Daughter is refusing to go to school.
What we do now: Contact education department and lobby to have teacher fired. If that doesn’t work, change schools or consider home-schooling.
What Atticus did: He said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you climb into her skin and walk around in it.’ He pointed out it was the teacher’s first day too and it was probably no picnic for her either. Then he offers a compromise. If Scout conceded that she must attend school, they can continue reading at home as always. Miss Caroline need never know.
• Six year old daughter complains twelve year old brother bosses her around. She asks ‘do I have to do what he says?’
What we do now: Investigate what is causing the conflict. Is daughter not being given enough attention? Is son being bullied and is therefore exhibiting bullying behavior? Are the children unsettled because their father is a single parent? Are they spending too much time together? Should separate schools be considered?
What Atticus did: He took Scout on his lap and said, ‘Let’s leave it at this: you mind Jem whenever he can make you. Fair enough?’ That gave both kids a something think about.
• Six year old daughter asks, ‘What’s rape?’
What we do now: Why is she asking? What has she been reading? Watching? Who is she playing with? If the word has been used because her father is a lawyer, perhaps his work is being brought too close to home. Professional advice may well be sought.
What Atticus did: He sighed and explained that ‘… rape was carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.’ Scout was okay with that.
• Your town is simmering with hate. An innocent man was jailed by a jury of good people. Your kids are tormented because of the job you do.
What we do now: Move. Or if that’s not possible, hide.
What Atticus did: He reminded his kids that most people are good. He pointed out that that the jury took hours to make their decision, ‘… usually it takes ‘em just a few minutes.’ That, said Atticus, ‘ … may be the shadow of a beginning.’
In the final chapters, Scout and Jem are attacked by a drunken psychopath with a vendetta against their father. Today, Atticus would be blamed for what happened to his kids – why did he let them walk home alone? And why couldn’t he be bothered to go to his kids’ school concert? Because he was too tired? Sheesh. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to have kids.
What do you think? Was Atticus Finch an idealistic fool, or the finest father in modern literature. Have times changed that much? If he lived now (not that he ever lived, but you know what I mean,) would Atticus be awarded Father Of The Year or brought to the attention of DOCs or at the very least, A Current Affair?
What is the best parenting book that you have ever read ?