Sunday 17 February 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Just when I thought I’d sussed out the whole parenting malarkey with my fifteen-year-old son, up pops the question of what to do about my eleven-year-old (almost twelve, as she never ceases to remind me) daughter.

Of course I’m joking about having come to the end of my (unofficial) degree in parenting. Especially with a teenager in the house. As any mum or dad out there knows, one of the unmentioned duties and responsibilities included in parents’ job specification is not to feel that you’ve arrived at the “Finish” line. Milestones along the way? No problem. Just don’t feel too smug or complacent about them. I’m none the wiser when it comes to raising children, even if I’m older. I get the hang of it one minute, and then the next one I have to learn new tricks because the knowledge I acquired a week ago is almost obsolete seven days after.

However, there was always an attitude I adopted the minute I became a parent and that was to treat my son and daughter the same way regardless of their age gap – three years, since you ask. Or attempt to. Believe you me, old habits die hard and the macho environment in which I grew up in Cuba sneaks back in occasionally.

This scenario played in my head recently as I read a very good review of Steve Biddulph’s new book, Raising Girls: Helping Your Daughter to Grow Up Wise, Warm and Strong. I am acquainted with Steve’s oeuvre. His was one of the volumes I read when preparing myself to become a father for the first time. Raising Boys became an invaluable companion for me alongside Fatherhood Reclaimed by Adrienne Burgess. Obviously, reading a book when embarking on a career as a parent is a wonderful idea. Just remember that you will need a book per child. That was the first lesson I learnt with both Raising... and Fatherhood... Children are individuals, even when they have a sibling, or more than one. The other lesson I was taught was that boys were complicated and maybe that’s why I’m freaking out slightly now that my daughter is growing up and showing similar signs to the ones my son showed at the same age.

Steve’s book about boys focused mainly on whether it was better for them to start school at a later age than girls and on the need to have male role models when growing up. He also addressed the absentee father or male carer who sacrificed his family life (especially if there are boys in it) for the sake of a career. His was a call to arms to stop somehow the rot that lack of a paternal figure could sometimes cause.

But now he comes back with a new title and it is girls that are his target. I confess that I haven’t read Raising Girls yet but it won’t be long before I head for a secondhand bookshop (I usually wait until the initial buzz dies down a bit) or to purchase a copy.

Biological determinism has a lot to answer for the ways in which we think about (and misjudge) girls. And again I put myself in front of the firing squad. Although I’ve always thought of my daughter as an equal, occasionally I act in a manner that undermines her independence. This is usually brought about by the way society dictates how girls and boys ought to behave and what they should like. Blue for boys and pink for girls (although it wasn’t ever thus, in fact for many years it was the other way around), dolls for girls and cars or guns for boys. Boys ride on bikes and climb trees. Girls stay home and play with the tea set. That was how I was raised but not how my wife and I have brought up our children.

Parallel to these attitudes there’s a new fear that female adolescents and young women are more prone to being found in the nearest A&E ward on a Saturday night than at home revising for their GCSEs or A-levels. Hardly a day goes by without the tabloids bringing us tales of female debauchery, drunkenness and loutish behaviour on the streets of Britain. That’s just one side of the story, however. The other side presents preteen and teenage girls as gullible victims of marketing predators who make them feel anxious and unsure about themselves.

Victims or perpetrators? When it comes to girls and teenagers, the jury’s still out. Part of it, I’ve realised over the years, is because we look at women still through the eyes of a male-dominated society. We tell them to look after their drink in a bar in case someone (a bloke, obviously) spikes it and takes advantage of them. We tell women not to walk along a dark road at night because she might be assaulted. How about telling men not to rape? This is what I think the problem is. The world in the last twenty years has developed incredibly and is moving at a very fast pace. But we still haven’t changed our mindset in relation to the (wrongly labelled) “weaker sex”. Whereas in days gone by a young woman throwing up in the gutter would be seen only by her companions and a few passers-by, nowadays, within seconds of being sick on the pavement, her photo will have made it to Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. It’s not that teenage girls are drinking more; it’s that the image of them drinking alcohol has a wider and more immediate reach.

That’s not to say that advertising is a benign and passive force that has no influence whatsoever on an eleven- or twelve-year-old. Of course it does. But that’s where our role as parents comes in. My daughter has gadgets like everyone else, but they’re time-limited. Her mobile has to go in a special basket somewhere in the house before she goes to bed and at the moment her internet use is heavily monitored.

In relation to the supposed increased debauchery amongst teenage girls and young women, I can’t help suspecting a bit of the old misogyny creeping in. Women having fun, in control of their lives and deciding who to go to bed with? Ah, they’re just a bunch of slags! How about boys having multiple partners and playing the Lothario card? Ah, that’s all right then. Same old, same old.

As I mentioned at the beginning I’m none the wiser despite having embarked on this (still unofficial) parenting degree, that the University of Life very kindly put on my path, more than fifteen years ago. All I can say is that when it comes to raising my daughter, if she is having fun and it is all safe and legal, let her have it. At the end of the day, girls just wanna have fun.

© 2013

Next Post: “Living in a Multilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 20th February at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I was always more of a climbing trees, playing with my trainset kind of girl - although I did also have dolls. It took me a few years as a teen/young adult to come to terms with the fact that I do actually like pink, and that's okay, and doesn't undermine my right to do whatever other things I feel like, in work or leisure. I'm sure your daughter will find her own place & preferences with your support :-)

  2. Many thanks for your comments, Rachel. Apologies for the two typos I have just found. They have now been amended.

    As it happens, my daughter likes pink... and she also likes to climb on trees and ride her bike! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  3. The world has changed since I raised my children, but girls still have to fight their way into many places, including seats of power. Having a father who encourages, supports and believes in her is the greatest gift a girl has.

    You're on the right track!

  4. I'll keep in mind how one always has to learn new tricks, just in case one day. And yeah as long as its nothing dangerous or illegal, have at it.

  5. ha. learning to raise children is life long....once they move out we still have to deal with the relationships...on one hand i am glad i had boys...not sure how i would handle a girl...smiles. or how many boys i would have to shoot before going to

  6. Thanks for your comments.

    Brian, that's a thought that's crossed my mind somewhat! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  7. made me smile...i have two girls and one boy and it was certainly a big adventure to raise them...they're now 18, 20 and 22 and the job is almost me proud and happy to see how they spread wings and fly..smiles

  8. Ithink be parents never end.The only difference they feel the dont need us sometimes sigh!!
    Maybe is by the special thing how my twins arrived to my life years ago I always think in them like persons and this is amazing always find different and new things in them and I feel blessed to have in my life.

  9. It sounds like you're doing s great job. Being a parent is the most difficult and most joyous thing we'll ever do. Sometimes we're learning right along with them.
    Thanks for your inspiration on my poem : )

  10. Parenting so hard, but so wonderful. I have two girls both in twenties - they are terrific--and really it was quite fun along the way. Your limits especially on electronic usage are wise. k.

  11. Ah, yes...parenthood is a lifelong journey. The teenage years, I think are the hardest and last longer than the teens. Although at 21, my son has matured quite a bit. In spite of all the book out there about the 'how to' of parenting, nothing prepares you for those teenage years.
    Deer in the headlights...comes to mind.

  12. Hey Cuban!! Oh, the tangled web of parenting. Strewn with land mines in every gender. We try to be thoughtful and even handed, but we can't always escape our background no matter how hard we try. Interesting comment about telling girls to be careful and not so much of an emphasis on telling the boys not to. And the instant accountability that the social media has brought. Hmm. We have tried to raise our boys with conscience both political and social. Some days I feel like we succeeded and then others I'm not so sure. They are good kids, and for that I'm very thankful. It is a never-ending journey:-)

  13. great thoughts and its so hard being a parents isn;t it all trial and error

  14. I agree - it's much harder to raise kids, especially daughters, these days. Media plays a large part in making them feel insecure as do our own unconscious attitudes.

    I have one of each too!

  15. Parenting?
    Yes, probably the most challenging job most of us will ever have.
    Sadly, I lost my daughter when she was very young, so I haven't any experience of bringing up a girl.
    But my son, now 20, has been an unforgettable experience!
    He is extremely strong-willed and always has been. He was just too much an individual for school life, so after changing schools numerous times, I decided to educate him myself.
    I think that was probably the best decision I have ever made. We worked together really well and he achieved all the qualifications he needed in order to enter drama school (and to think many of his previous teachers stated that he'd never achieve anything in his life!).
    He now has a successful career in theatre.
    And I'm so proud of him!

    As you say, if there were a book on parenting, there would have to be one for every child. They are all so unique, and that's what makes life interesting and rewarding.
    I think you are doing a remarkable job. Keep up the good work! :)

  16. Parenting: we're all amateurs. Just don't believe the experts - read them, listen to them, but use them as you do your sat-nav (hopefully!) -- with common sensne and a lot of caution.

    Thanks for brightening my day with Jools and Cyndi.

  17. We definitely still live in a patriarchal world in my opinion...

  18. Ygraine, I'm terribly sorry for your loss. Sorry.

    Many thanks to you all for your comments.

    Greetings from London.

  19. girls wana have fun, lol, havn´t heard it for years. So fun. :)

    And you are right,. I did not know Amarylis was a name. :)

  20. Well its nice to meet you ~

    As a mom, I can relate to the joys and challenges of bring up teens and children. My youngest is now 13 and I am very protective of her. I recently showed her TED's video of a successful model, who shared her thoughts of the superficiality of image. If you bring up your child to be strong and confident of her/his value, then you have done well in laying down the foundation for his/her future ~

  21. I like your egalitarian parenting approach. That works better if the boy is older than the girl since girls mature faster than boys. My son (an August birthday with a fall cut off for school) is academically advanced but repeated 1st grade for social reasons after being bullied. It was a good decision. My daughter wants to do everything that her brother does be it sports or doing well at school so it’s lucky that he’s a good influence. She’s young in her year (July birthday) but it didn’t hurt her. How funny: I was thinking of Cindy Lauper too!

  22. Simply simply simply enjoyed that video.
    That piece by Charlie on the mouth organ was excellent.
    I liked the way the drummer went on with his beat when she sang alone.
    Simply excellent.

  23. I don't have children, but I do notice that some friends & coworkers treat their children as people(startling concept)but I have seen a few treat them as possessions, untouched, fixed in time.

    All children should misbehave with sufficient abandon at certain times in their lives, so should all parents :-).



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