by MIA FREEDMAN
I never miss an opportunity to impart wisdom to my kids. That’s how it works, right? You have kids, you teach them stuff you think is important, then they have kids and so on.
With three children ranging from pre-schooler to teenager, my wisdom gets a mixed response. The younger ones look up to me like I’m Nelson Mandela meets Yoda while my 14yo reckons I’m Homer Simpson meets Basil Fawlty. Regardless, I persevere with shaping their values.
Sometimes I feel like one of those tennis ball machines, shooting out rapid fire life lessons about everything from homophobia (bad) to feminism (good). Last week, at the petrol station, my 4yo pointed to a no smoking sign and asked what it meant. Oh look! A wisdom opportunity! “It means you’re not allowed to smoke cigarettes because there’s petrol here and it can make an explosion.” An explosion? That got his attention. I then smoothly segued into a spiel about the evils of tobacco. Pow! Life lesson!
I did the same thing with my teenager recently in the car. It’s the main reason I drive him places; captive audience. There’s a direct trade-off, he gets a lift and I get to impart wisdom like this: “You know, if you’re ever out and a girl is drunk, you want to be the one holding her hair back while she vomits,” I told him recently. “You must never be the one trying to take advantage of her. Because that would be appalling and also illegal.” “Right, that’s it,” he replied through gritted teeth. “Tomorrow, I’m catching the bus.”
The topics I raise are not always serious. “Can you dance?” I asked him one day. “Maybe I should teach you how to dance!” “That’s not even funny,” he replied. “Go away.”
The dark side of parenting hit me – and probably you – like a sledgehammer last weekend when I picked up this newspaper. On the front page was the now famous photo of a small boy holding a sign exhorting unspeakable violence as a baby slept beside him in a pram and their mother captured the happy scene on her iPhone. I felt many things looking at that image. Horrified, angry, shocked, bewildered and desperately sad. What hope did these kids have to grow up feeling anything but hatred for…..I’m not even sure who. The western world? Non-muslims? Police? Australia?
The calls for the children to be removed from their parents though, were as predictable as they were futile. The mother wasn’t committing a crime and you can’t legislate against parents teaching things to their kids, no matter how abhorrent they are. The issue is so much more complex.
Last year, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek account of teaching my daughter this crucial life lesson: Leggings Are Not Pants. I used this anecdote as a springboard into a bigger discussion: what values do we instill into our children and what did our parents instill in us? But many people fixated on the leggings. They were outraged that I would pollute an innocent mind with such extremist fashion doctrine. I was accused of child abuse and I’m not even kidding. This puzzled me. Would the reaction had been the same if I’d shared other style commandments like don’t-wear-socks-with-sandals? Or underpants-go-UNDER-your-clothes-unless-you’re-Superman?