Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Blame Game and Raisng Kids In the Country

I am currently reading Wife in the North, by Judith O'Reilly and here are a couple of really interesting articles that she has written that I wanted to share with you while I am busy reading this book!! What do you think, do you play the blame game? I know that I do. My boys recently got stung , the littlest one over 20 times by is so easy to go down the route of...if I would have...then I could have...OH! I should have!!! When do you play this game? Maybe I am the only one who can relate.

The Blame Game
By Judith O’Reilly,
Author of Wife in the North

As a parent, you accept from the start that it is all your fault. Every last inhibition, weakness and thing that goes wrong in your child's life is down to you -- however old they are. If they get bullied, bully, pick the wrong course at university or marry the wrong girl, it is all because you did it wrong. As a parent -- deep-down, you know you suck. You know it is not the kid's fault (however old the kid is) -- you made a hash of it.

You drank a glass of wine when you were pregnant which is why your nine-year-old has ADHD. You had a caesarian which is why he has "trust issues" with women. You threw him out of the house when he was 21, papered over the steam-trains to turn his bedroom into your craft room and he never got over it. You did not throw him out of the house and he is still there at 28 and counting. You smacked him; he grew up to have a problem with authority figures and cannot hold down a job. You did not smack him; he grew up to be a bastard. You let him have a small watered down glass of wine with Sunday dinner and he became an alcoholic at college. You did not let him touch alcohol at home and he became an alcoholic at college.

You said he should have some fun while he was still young and he went travelling in the Congo and got murdered for his wristwatch. You said he should get a job straight after college, he ignored you, grew a beard and is still travelling eight years later. You made him write thank you letters for gifts he did not want, and he is an ungrateful wretch who has never thanked you for ruining your figure and eating up your life. You never made him write thank you letters for anything or to anyone, and now his children do not write thank you letters however much cash you put in with the card. You feel it is your fault whether they are a killer or a victim. If you taught them to avoid strangers or to reach out to strangers who then betray them. As a mother or a father you accept the guilt, responsibility and shame and live with these things.

I have wondered watching Sarah Palin if she blames herself for Bristol's teenage pregnancy. I am willing to bet most hockey moms would. Palin is an amazing role model for a daughter -- whether you agree with her politics or not -- she is a mother to five children and could end up President. Even so, if she didn't have some heartwrenching "What did I do wrong?" conversations with the First Dude over Bristol's predicament, I would eat my moose burger.

Stupidity, misadventure, tragedy can scoop up and swallow down a child in a blink and you know what? It is not necessarily your fault. Nice kids can grow up and do bad or idiotic things however hard their parents tried to bring them up to know the difference between right and wrong. The problem is too many parents blame themselves for every damn fool thing their children do. They say children never forgive their parents. Not true. Parents do not forgive themselves. Being a mother is misery. Years of fear your children get hurt one way or another, years of disappointment their lives aren't exactly the way they thought they would be. Worst of all, that conviction rolling and crashing around inside that if you had done things differently, it did not have to be this way. You know as you clutch your coffee in a worn, chipped mug that boasts you are the "World's Best Mom" or the "Number 1 Dad" that you could have done it so much better. You know that your innocent children are paying the price with their health, sanity or happiness for your own deep and terrible failings as a mother or a father. When bad things happen, it is natural enough to grope around in the darkness for someone or something to blame. The itinerant loner who took advantage? A bad crowd? God? But deep down you are not telling me that a parent does not blame themselves for whatever fate throws at her beloved child and however that child turns out. Suck it up -- it's your fault. You should have done something, been there, stood in front of the speeding bullet and caught it in your hand.

Surely though if parenting is about anything at all, it is about teaching your children to be responsible for their own decisions and actions. You wouldn't claim credit for a book that is not your own or a picture you didn't paint, so why feel the necessity to take on your children's screw-ups or bad luck? Let them own that really big mistake. Don't crowd them out of the spotlight when the jeering starts. There is enough research out there that indicates "helicopter" parents hovering mercilessly over their children from kindergarten and into the jobs market are not doing anyone any favours. In the same way, insisting that every bad thing that happens is "all my fault" is just one more way a parent lays claim to her child's soul. Sometimes you have to step away and leave them to it.

©2008 Judith O’Reilly

It would be my dream to move to the country, mill my own grain and have cattle and goats and land to run and play with my boys. I know however that for some people this would be a nightmare so much more than a dream...what would it be for you? Would you miss things in the city? I know that some day I will get to move to the country, I would love an off the grid home, which means it would be powered by solar energy or a wind system and on a well. I would so like to get out there. What about you? I hope you enjoy the following article, we all have our takes on the country!

Raising Kids in the Country
By Judith O’Reilly,
Author of Wife in the North

Arriving in the middle of the countryside fresh from the city with a young family, it is fair to say I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I grew up in the city; the countryside was something you saw on TV if there was nothing on another channel. As an adult, I believed the city to be my right, my natural home. You might spend a week in a holiday cottage somewhere green, and usually wet, but that was as far as it went. The countryside, my dear, was another place.

My husband and I spent 17 years working in London. With two young children and another on the way, I finally gave in to his pleading and agreed to move to the North-East coast of England. We followed the dream, but living the dream is not necessarily easy. For a long time, I found it isolating. Living four kilometers from the nearest village took getting used to. Particularly when my husband was back at his desk in London for weeks at a time. At dusk, the children asleep, I walked out of the whinstone and sandstone cottage in a row of what used to be farm labourers' cottages -- the other cottages are holiday homes and empty most of the year. I looked out onto pastures where sheep and cattle graze; in the distance, a narrow blue-grey strip of sea and a lighthouse on the rocky islands off the coast. I waited for the lighthouse to blink, for the bats to notice me, swoop down and then away. I thought: "Ok, so this is it then?"

It is a cliché but true nonetheless -- a happy mother makes for a happy home, and I struggled to get to grips with the world around me. The city girl took a while to become a country woman. On the very few occasions we went out for supper, conversation was of wheat prices, laminitis and European Union agricultural subsidies -- conversations that made you want to borrow a gun from the farmer sitting across from you and shoot yourself. While country pursuits like hunting and shooting, I viewed with blank incomprehension, if not downright hostility. As for pointy-toed shoes with attitude, there was far too much mud for heels.

Only when I slowly started to develop friendships did I appreciate the country for what it was and what it had to offer my family. The village school had just over 40 children. My son's previous school in the city had more than 400. These mothers were my way into the world around me, prepared to offer their time and friendship. In the city no-one drops by they are too busy, they presume you are too busy and anyways, they live too far. Here, fellow mothers dropped by coffee or called to say "How about the beach?"

In the UK, a letter signed by 300 academics, authors and childcare experts last year, warned that children's health was deteriorating because they are losing the chance to play outside. They blamed computer games, parental anxieties and academic pressures. My children take the beauty of the heathered moors, the rolling fields and swaying barley crops for granted and I could afford to feel smug as they climbed trees, built dens in the jungle garden and adventured in the dunes on the beach. Instead of Nintendo DS's and X-boxes, body boards and footballs filled up my sons afterschool lives.

We do homework in the kitchen on the table infront of the Aga, a massive brooding range that throws out heat and makes the world a better place to be on a cold and damp November day. Nature too has become a teaching aid. I swapped hands-on interactive learning areas in city museums, for walks in the woods. We gathered brambles, collected conkers and made elderflower cordial. Not that I could teach them the difference between one tree and the next. I left that to my husband who suddenly revealed himself to be a man who knows which a sycamore and which an ash. I have to say -- I still do not know the difference. Instead of spotting fire engines and police cars, the boys spotted tractors and combine harvesters. My eldest informed me he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. He knows that this boy and that boy have farms. And this is still a world where the farm is passed down the generation. In city life, if you were lucky and the family home didn't disappear in retirement home payments, you might expect to leave your semi-detached house to your children. (Presuming they would sell it and use the proceeds to fund a conservatory.) But in the country, there is an expectation that the farm will go the children and, hopefully, one of them will work it. As a newcomer, I wonder: "Will they want to?" I had to break the bad news to my own boy. We weren't farmers. We were lookers-on. I suggested he might be an astronaut instead and fly a rocket round the stars not a huge wheeled tractor through the mud.

And good grief but farming looks like hard work. A constant round of animal husbandry and ploughing and planting and harrowing and harvesting. But I do not see food anymore as a simple fact of life. I see it as the end result of dedication and enterprise; the children too are aware that what they eat is grown and husbanded. They have drunk raw milk and lived to tell the tale, eaten their mother's burnt bramble jam. They know she sheared a sheep and gave it the worst haircut of its life. They followed the hunt and have been to too many country shows to count. Sometimes, they talk about London and soldiers and the life they left behind. Mostly they say: "No" when I say "Do you remember when we lived in the city?"

©2008 Judith O’Reilly

Author Bio
Judith O'Reilly was the education correspondent for The Sunday Times of London, where she also reported on politics and news, and worked undercover on education, social, and criminal justice investigations. She is a former political producer for ITV's Channel 4 News and BBC2's Newsnight. A freelance journalist, she started her blog, in 2006. She lives in England.

Wife in the North is published by PublicAffairs.


R-Lo said...

Hi Bethany,

Sorry this is off-topic, but what happened to all the OT reviews? Mr. Linky has gone missing, and I was still playing catch-up on everybody's travels. Bummer!

Alyce said...

Great articles! I saw this book somewhere else online (don't remember where) and thought it looked interesting.

I grew up in the country (9 miles from the nearest town) and like everything else it has its positives and negatives.

Corinne said...

How funny! I'm reading this one right now too :)

Bellezza said...

This post is very profound to me. It's easier to tell my parents they're not to blame for my brother's faults, but it's harder not to blame myself for my son's. If that makes any sense. At any rate, this is an important post to any parent, especially me.