by Rhian Taylor
I was always going to be an annoying parent. The signs started early. When my daughter was new-born she was given a pink t-shirt with the logo, ‘Little girls are born to shop’.
I took it back to Mothercare. The saleswoman asked me why I was returning it. “Is there anything wrong with the product?” she asked. I think she was expecting a comment on size or fit. “I don’t know where to start,” I said with real distress, “there are so many things wrong with it”.
My daughters have the dubious pleasure of not one, but two, parents who are social workers and our jobs have definitely impacted our parenting journey over the past 12 years.
Values without preaching
Our jobs have fundamentally informed our own value bases and there’s no doubt we hoped this would have some impact on the values our children developed. We wanted them to be aware of things like poverty and discrimination and the huge challenges around mental illness and physical disability that many people have to live with.
But how do you do convey values without becoming preachy and irritating and without immersing your children into what is, quite frankly, a sometimes unpleasant world?
Well, I have done my share of preachy and irritating but I have also found some other more effective ways to introduce ideas. One way is TV. It has been great to sit with my daughters to watch and discuss documentaries about other children’s lives.
Some of these programmes have been on really meaty subjects – child poverty, child refugees, the challenges facing children with disabilities. I admit there are times I’ve questioned whether the topics are too difficult or distressing for my children to be made aware of some situations but ultimately these are circumstances many children actually have to live with on a day-to-day basis.
Music and books
Another great source of political education for our children has been music. They still cringe with horror at most of my music choices but they have taken to one or two singer songwriters whose lyrics have prompted really good political awareness and questioning. I cannot help but be disproportionately proud that my children’s favourite musician is a left-wing, gay, protest singer-songwriter, rather than One Direction.
Stories are always a great way to convey ideas too. My children learned about looked-after-children and the care system through Jacqueline Wilson books. In fact, there seems to be a Jacqueline Wilson book about every issue. The other day I thought it was time to explain domestic violence, but was promptly told they’d known about this for years from a Jacqueline Wilson story.
Stress of the job
Perhaps a more difficult issue of being parents who are social workers is the issue of stress. We want to portray social work as a positive job, yet we are bound to give a different impression if we come home every night stressed and negative. When my daughter was three or four we were trying to explain to her what my partner’s job with people with mental health problems involved.
“Daddy works with people who are sad”, I explained.
“When I grow up I want to work with people who are happy”, she responded.
There are many days when I can really relate to the straightforward logic of that response.
On her 11th birthday I asked my oldest daughter what she would like me to do more or less of now she was 11. After a few minutes she replied, “I would like you to be less deep, and stop using your social worker voice”.
It seems I am at that point in parenting when less is more, and I need to let go of attempts to exert influence. Even as I write this I observe my own ridiculous over-sincerity. My children are individuals and need to develop their own opinions.
Yet values are important and I have some pretty serious doubts over those imparted by our prevailing culture. So I hope we can keep some dialogue open, and the early input will have encouraged the ability to question norms and created an awareness of other people’s experiences.
My daughter’s current favourite t-shirt has the slogan ‘Born to be wild’. It seems that little girls may not be ‘born to shop’ after all.
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