My newsfeed is filled with women sharing articles about John Marsden’s new book and his claims that we have a poor parenting “epidemic”.
Marsden is just another in a long line of grumpy middle-aged white men laying the boot in. Psychologist and author Michael Carr-Gregg frequently offers the media tasty tidbits about how “crap” parents are – and yes, that’s the exact term he uses.
David Gillespie is another who has made a great deal of money from telling parents they’re soft.
I have no issue with these blokes holding such views. They’re learned men, and they’re entitled to their opinions. Also, they do have other far more constructive things to say about parenting as well.
But you know what really grates about all these guys telling parents they are shit? They’re really speaking to women.
Because while it may not be fair, the truth is that we know it is women who do most of the parenting. It’s certainly women who buy most of the parenting books.
And they line up for more, like Oliver Twist with their bowls held aloft saying, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
Why are women so keen to be told how inadequate they are? Is it because we are used to hearing this? Is it because we still view older men as authorities on pretty much everything – including our mothering?
A common cry from these critics is that, as mums, we do too much, care too much, are too involved. Are these failings really worth all the news space and printed pages?
Author and writer Holly Wainwright recently wrote a beautiful and honest confession that she is one of the “toxic” parents who does too much for her kids. Her account captures the reality that even when today’s parents do get it wrong and over-excuse, over-protect and over-indulge, it is almost always driven from a place of love or fear.
We’ve all read the statistics on youth suicide. We know our kids are prone to depression, self-harm and anxiety. Is criticising us for wanting to protect our babies really going to help us grow and let go?
Certainly, there are important conversations that we need to have about being prepared to let our kids make mistakes and about how setting boundaries and limits are actually acts of love.
But will these conversations be effective when they are dished up with a good dolloping of shame and name-calling?
This is what makes this grumpy middle-aged white woman livid. The truth is that while we middle-class Mums self-flagellate, Australia is facing an epidemic – not of helicopter parenting – but of child abuse and neglect.
Professor Fiona Arney, the Chair of Child Protection and Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection, has said her team’s review of South Australia’s child protection reports showed a system in that is unable to meet the number of serious reports.
This crisis, Arney warns, is being replicated nationally. In NSW we have over 20,000 young people in Out of Home Care.
Our foster care system is bursting. There are group homes where 6-12 year olds – yes, six year olds are – living in a “home” with an adult supervisor and a host of other hurt kids. Does that shock you? It shocks me and part of the reason is because we rarely talk about this.
At any one time in NSW alone, there are around 150 children being accommodated in hotels. The majority are in Western Sydney, and are aged between seven and 13. Some will be accommodated in this way for only a few nights, but others will have to wait months until a placement with a foster carer (or group “home”) can be arranged.
These are highly vulnerable children who may already have experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and been neglected. Yet there are crickets in our news feeds about this.
Where is the righteous rage directed at the lack of care, at the doing too little?
Personally I’m not buying the fear and shame we’re being sold.
I am looking to parenting experts who offer hope, light and strategies. I’m looking to those who pull parents in, rather than pushing them away.
And I am looking to see how I can best direct my energies towards supporting the kids who desperately need adults to care more for them. We all should.