3-in-1 blog binge…

www.liz-fraser.com

This is a three-for-one, bumper edition blog because it’s been such a busy week and I’ve not had time to write till now. You can read/watch the whole lot in one big, sticky blog binge, or take it in three individual bite-size chunks. As you wish…

            PART ONE

Things kicked off on ITV’s This Morning on Tuesday where I chatted with Amy Chua, about her parenting ‘memoir’, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

 I say ‘chatted’, but I think ‘slightly pooed my pants, and blurted’ (words not…poo) would be a more accurate description.
I’ve been told by kind people – to whom I pay gazillions of pounds, to say nice things about me – that I looked cool as a cucumber, and ‘brought that crazy woman down!’ I’m not sure these reports are entirely fair, but I’ll leave you to make up your own mind:
(NB. This is heavily edited clip. This is because it’s my blog, and I can put whatever I like in it. Bwah hahaha! If you want to see Amy Chua talking without pause for breath for 750 hours, then Google her.)

This Morning, ITV, 8th Feb: http://bit.ly/e7HTPp

Now then, two things struck me about Amy Chua when I met her and had time to chat with her off air:
1. she is very friendly, engaging and fun to talk to, and
2. She is not at ALL as she comes across in the book.
(Those two points are in fact the same.)

Here we are together, in the This Morning Green Room. Amy looks lovely. I look terrified, and appear to be missing one arm:

Where's my missing arm?

So something wasn’t adding up. This ‘Tiger Mother’ who, according to her own memoir, fed her kids the drugs Tylenol-3 and Codeine when they were ill so that they didn’t miss a single music practice (ever), forbade all play dates and sleepovers, would not accept any grade lower than an A from her children and whose 6-year-old daughter started gnawing on the piano because she hated her practices so much (yes, that does say gnawing) yet was still forced to continue them for several hours a day, seemed to have turned into a fluffy kitten.

The book is littered with comforting, perfect parenting words like ‘shouted’, ‘screamed’, ‘punched, thrashed kicked’, ‘insulted’, ‘cried’, ‘It made me mad’, ‘I fought with fire’, ‘I refused’, and so on.

Reading it made me feel as good as I did the last time I was whipped with barbed wire. Naked. In public. 

But Real Life Amy giggled, joked, and used words like ‘parody’, ‘funny’, ‘humour’ to describe stories of such unkind, controlling and, in my opinion, bullying behaviour towards her children that I began to wonder if I’d read the right book. (I’m not saying there was any bullying, incidentally. It’s just sounded that way to me, when I read the book )

The whole turn-around all smelled distinctly of ‘PR machine goes into panic mode to reduce the vicious public outcry after publication’ to me. But perhaps that’s unfair, and I just have a poor sense of smell.

Amy’s final line of the TV interview was the most confusing and contradictory-to-the-book of all: “It’s not about achievement and colleges; it’s about making your child the best they can be – within their limits.”

Which left me asking myself (and sadly not her, because we were out of time) what on Earth she wrote all of that about “The only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can win a medal. That medal MUST be gold.” in the book for then.

Apart from the six figure book deal and predictable publicity tsunami…(she says, with barely concealed Author Envy, of course!)

I enjoyed meeting Amy Chua enormously, I really did. There are many things I admire her for, and I even agree with her on quite a few of the parenting issues we talked about. I just wish I’d had more time to talk with her about the gaping chasm between the book, and how she came across in real life. Maybe one day…

PART TWO

Aaaanyway, on we go to Thursday, when I wrote a piece for the Mail (yes, the Mail. Let’s get all the hatred out now…It’s the Mail. THE MAIL! Aaaand…breathe) about the amount of time many of us spend online, when our children are at home.

It’s written about mums because it was printed in FeMail magazine. If it was in GQ it might have been aimed more at men, but it wasn’t. And of course it all applies to dads just as much as mums. Chill.

It’s a pretty balanced, thought-provoking and important piece, I think (if I may be so inelegantly self-congratulating for a moment) and it raises this bloody important point for our times: young children are being engaged with and talked to and read to and interacted with less and less and less, and we need to STOP, think and do something about it. Because it’s affecting their mental and physical health…in a very bad way.

As you’ll see when you read the piece. Here you go:
(NB again: writers don’t write their headlines. And we can’t change them. Thank you.)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1355346/Twitter-mothers-spend-hours-blogging-neglect-children.html

The reaction from the online community of mums (spot the irony) was immediate and strong. And much of it, predictably, was saying that I’m trying to make All Mums Feel Guilty about ignoring their children in favour of texting their mates.

To which I say: “Some ignoring is fine! Kids need to wait their turn and amuse themselves sometimes. I despise Helicopter parenting, and all of my books speak clearly about the need to throw away the cotton wool and let kids figure out how the world works by themselves a little. But yes, if you ignore your kids A LOT when they are TRYING to talk to you, because you are tweeting, uploading an album on Facebook or Googling celebrity gossip, then yes, you SHOULD feel guilty. You should feel bloody awful, actually, and you should stop it. Just as I try to, when I do exactly the same thing.”

Also, I cannot make anyone feel guilty. If we feel guilty – as I often do when I know I’m being a rubbish parent in some way or other – it’s because we know we’re doing something wrong.
The point is that, like everything else in life, online/offline time is all about BALANCE. And many of us have lost it.

There is nothing wrong with using social networking sites (as it says quite clearly in the article, just as it also points out all the valuable aspects of online life, especially for mums, who are quite often lonely, and want to share with others.)

But when more than half of primary school teachers say they have children in their class who have never been read to at home, when ever more young children are developing social or behavioural problems, while every fewer of them can read and write when they start school (yes, start school) and when many of us haven’t sat down in a quiet room – without any TV, radio, computer games, phones etc on – and had a conversation with our children that lasts more than five minutes, for WEEKS, there is something very, very wrong.

So I’m very glad I wrote about it and raised the issue. I know several mums who have cut down their daily online time already, as a result of reading it, and who’ve said they feel much better for it. Good on ’em!!

Perhaps we need a little more Tiger Mothering after all. *calls Amy Chua for back-up*…

PART THREE

The reaction to the piece led to an interview on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, to discuss all of this with the lovely Katie O’Donovan from Mumsnet.
Here you go: (more TV time. Woohoo!)

http://bit.ly/hUTDmH

To get to the Beeb I took the train to London, and on the way something happened that tied in rather well with the whole discussion.

A family with two children aged about 10 and 7 got on the train. The kids were well behaved, and didn’t bicker or swear or slash the seats with knives or anything. Which was nice. But in the 35 minutes that they were all on the train together, the only time either of their parents spoke to them was when the little boy pointed out some lambs in a field, to which his mum replied,

“They’re sheep. Sit down.”

It was a beautiful family moment.
The kids spent the rest of the journey on their mobile phones. No conversation, no human interaction, no communication skills learned. Just thumbs at work.
And what looked like totally disconnected, discontented people.

All of which brings me down the home straight to my final point: the HAPPINESS OF PARENTS.

I’m writing a new book (which will be out next year and is going to be FANTASTIC. Of course. Ahem…) about what I’m calling Mummification – the slow, suffocating wrapping up of mothers (yes, dads too, but it’s mainly mums for kinda obvious reasons) over the years of parenting they do, often giving up stimulating, paid work to do so, until they feel they have no value, no sense of self worth and little confidence. And no idea who they are.
Which is pretty shit really, if you think about it.

It happened to me. It’s happened to MANY women I know.
(Oh, it’s an extremely funny book, incidentally, and offers lots of solutions for unwrapping the layers. Woohoo.)

This ‘losing of self-worth’ is a tragedy, because parenting is the most valuable job there is, and yet many women feel their hard work isn’t thanked, valued or rewarded any more than a fart in a lift. (Whether it IS valued or not isn’t actually the point: it’s whether they FEEL valued that matters, because perception is their reality.)
And when you don’t feel your job is valued or rewarded, you stop trying to do the very best you can. You give up bothering. Because…what’s the point?
And in the case of parenting, that means the children miss out. Big time.

And so THAT, I think, is what we have to try and change: we need the job of parenting (and it IS a job) to have some kind of desirable, appreciated status again. To be valued and rewarded by society, as much – if not more – than all the other things we seem only to measure our success by, like salary, consumer goods and toned butt cheeks.

I want mums (and dads) to WANT to do a fantastic job of parenting their children, and to feel proud and happy when they do. Not to feel so miserable that they lose their sense of purpose, get depressed, and don’t really care about anything any more. Even their children. And even themselves.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Father Christmas…if you’re listening, give me a call, text me, Tweet me, Facebook poke me. I want to do something positive here, and make a difference to mums, dads, and their children. Before it’s too flipping late. (Oh, and the good news is that the superb Tony Parsons is officially on my side, folks. He said I was ‘dead good’ on’telly. I’m not sure if that counts as an A grade for Tiger Mother, but that’s good enough for me.)

Right, I’m getting off this machine now. Thanks for reading, comment if you like, and see you for the next one.

Which will be shorter. Promise…:-)

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “3-in-1 blog binge…

  1. Beth Kemp

    I wanted to hate the Mail piece, just because 🙂 All three of these are great – you talk a lot of sense here. The whole Tiger Mother thing is scary! It’s always about balance in the end, I suppose. How hard that is, though…

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Hi Beth. Thanks for your lovely reply 🙂 I’m really glad that, after the immediate reation by many of ‘oh, you’re trying to make us all feel guilty’ (SIGH!!!) so many people are realising what the piece is actually about: balance! And yes, it’s very hard. Some days I succeed….on many others I fail. Just case of being aware, and doing our best as often as we can. Sounds like you’re pretty much doing that already! have a great weekend, Liz

      Reply
  2. George Buchan

    Interested to find out what sort of age range this is meant for/targeted at, And it seems a bit of (Rule reversal), Wasnt so long ago that there was real concern about the amount of time (Kids) spent online,
    THE GAMING ERA, caused major views debates as parents never saw there kids as they locked themselves away.
    In recent times the Twitter/Bebo and Facebook has exploded to un-imaginable levels,and has gave us parents our time online, Lets face it ,what did we use the internet for before the big social networks came along,
    If the debate is targeted at kids that are too young to know how to even switch on a computer then yes it may have cause for concern, (mind you my 4yr old gets taught how to use computers at NURSERY) and it actually quite good LOL,
    How many kids are ignored etc because of twitter/facebook as i know most of my kids friends and mums are on twitter, Facebook etc at the same time,, my 12 year old has even spoke to her friends, there mums, Grans and grandads, at the same time on facebook,,
    I personally dont think there is much cause for concern in this debate, as the kids are on social networks just as much if not more than us parents, walk down the street and ask kids if they use twitter/Facebook and text, every one will say yes,

    Reply
  3. Lucy Morrell

    Right, with a little more clarity and a little less Pinot noir I’ll hav another go…
    Being a parent is most definitely a thankless job.
    But I don’t expect to be valued or rewarded by a two year old and a seven year old. At the risk of making you puke, the fact that we make it through every (sometimes great, sometimes nightmare) day is an achievement.
    Btw I’m not neglecting my children while writing this, they are in their Sunday morning mute bubble of cherios and national geographic kids. 🙂
    It can be a role which causes a loss of self worth, but let’s have some hope. Society (and its expectations) absolutely has it’s part to play.
    As you say, they key is balance.
    Looking forward to the book 🙂

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Really enjoyed your comments, Lucy. Yes, society has a huge role to play. We can’t expect to be rewarded by our CHILDREN for what we do! That’d be a bit weird, eh? But yes, to be rewarded and valued by society, for women to feel that they are WELCOME on buses, in cafes, in shops, in parks etc with their babies/prams/children etc in tow, rather than seen as a nuisance or disturbance, would make a big difference. And for motherhood (and fatherhood for those dads who stay at home in the early years) in some way to be rewarded would, I think, help a lot too. Humans respond very well to reward for effort. When you get to the end of every day and all you feel you’ve achieved is to get right back to square one (see my 1st book, YM Survival Guide), haven’t progressed and haven’t ‘got’ anything for it (whether money, a step up the ladder, even a THANK YOU!) is deeply demoralising for many of us. Even though it IS, as you say, a HUGE achievement!
      But yes, let’s have lots of hope, and I hope my new book will make a BIG difference to the way mums feel about themselves, so they can enjoy the job more, try to do it even better – for the kids AND themselves – and stop beating themselves into a pulp. Nobody feels good like that!
      Thanks, Liz 🙂

      Reply
  4. sarsm

    Hey Liz,

    Wow what a week!

    Firstly, I saw the interview and tweeted you (pigsdontswim). I do think Amy (and not you) looked, actually, quite nervous throughout the interview. She also made a point which struck me, when Phillip mentioned the list at the beginning of the book, I think it was about rules (Sorry, I don’t have the book and could not bring myself to buy it), she said about it not being serious, a joke, but later, herself came back to that very list and explained that she herself had been brought up with exactly those rules.

    Swallow.

    Why would she then joke about that being the ‘basis’ for the upbringing for her own children?

    It doesn’t make sense to me. Especially as she then went on to describe how much respect she has for her parents.

    I think that your feeling is exactly right. She’s got a PR machine behind her, and all they care about is selling the book.

    Secondly, I read your article and thought that it was well-written and somewhat brave. I’m glad that you point out here about your belief against helicopter parenting.

    For sure, some readers felt guilty because they KNOW in themselves that they have been neglecting their children in this way. But I also think that a lot of mothers feel guilty a large proportion of the time. Society, it feels to me, no longer allows for weakness, or tiredness, or a lack of hours in the day, or indeed any other kind of ‘imperfection’.

    I think this point feeds the lack of feeling valued as a mother.

    I’m a stay at home mum and I feel of no worth to society whatsoever. At this point I would like to point out, that I am a reasonably self-confident person, I have a lot of friends. And I actually think I am a pretty good mother. I have four children who all respect me. Talk to me. And value my opinion. I have a loving husband.

    Why then do I feel so undervalued?

    The first point I think is money. I don’t earn any of my own money. I only spend money.

    Secondly, no government department respects my position. If I fill out ANY official form, including ones from the doctor, when I write mother or housewife, they ask for my previous position.

    Thirdly, I receive no holidays. My job is 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. 52 weeks a year.

    And fourthly, other mums ask me when I’m going back to work, or try to look sympathetic when I say not for the foreseeable future. Then I find myself making excuses (really, I do).

    Add to that that I’m rarely thanked, never promoted, and often bored by the monotony of certain tasks.

    I think that your book sounds fantastic. Parents need to be supported and respected.

    Keep up the good fight!!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s