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…
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:
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…
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.)
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*…
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!)
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…:-)