Or is it? I'm not sure...maybe...what do you think??

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fitting in or messing up?

This week we went to see The King's Speech and watched Colin Firth's Oscar-nominated performance of a man struggling to overcome his stutter, whilst finding himself at a turning point in history. 

In one scene we see Bertie discuss his unhappy childhood with his speech therapist Lionel Logue.   A nanny who pinched him and starved him, a daily "presentation" to his parents, a much loved brother locked away due to his epileptic fits.   A father who accepted his children should be scared of him.  Not to mention being forced to become right-handed rather than using his naturally dominant left - a situation often linked to stammering.    In some ways it seems amazing that it is only a speech difficulty he is left with as evidence of such childhood misery.

Such treatment can seem, to our 21st century eyes, a catalogue of parental cruelty and neglect.   Yet it was more a reflection of common attitudes at the time rather than just one particular family.   

My mother, a child of the 1930s, was also a natural lefty who had her hand smacked and was forced to use her right.    She was scared of her father all her life; but as an adult she had the grace to see that he had still improved on the parenting he himself had known, of a father who would kick his pregnant wife down the stairs.  
This makes me wonder about a few things.

Firstly, are we still guilty of pushing our children in ways they don't want to go, just to make them fit in?  I know mums now who have confessed to "encouraging" their left-handed child to use their right instead.    Why wouldn't I want my child to be the same as the majority? they may argue. To be able to use the same equipment in the same way as everyone else?  To write without smudging the ink, use normal scissors, standard sports gear?  

Even if we're not guilty of that, how many of us have pushed - ever so gently of course - in other ways?  To make a "geeky" child interested in football so they can have more friends.   To send a child to music lessons, whatever their preferences or ability, because lots of the other children are, and we wish we'd had the opportunity. 

Are these bad things to do?   Maybe not.   But they do raise the question of valuing our own individuality versus fitting in to our social grouping. 

I wonder what our parenting will look like to the eyes of future generations?   We may be shocked by the cold, distant, harsh approaches of our great-grandparents.   But what will our great-grandchildren think when they look back at us?  

Will they see children who have countless opportunities for development and exciting leisure activities?  Or will they see poor over-stimulated children who are shuttled in metal boxes from one lesson to the next, with no chance to stretch their legs; whose experience of playing outdoor games comes only from balancing on a strange white board in their living room?  

Will they appreciate parents who took the time to talk and discuss issues with their children, to help them understand decisions rather than scaring them into submission?  Or will they simply laugh at our need for TV nannies to get our offspring to behave?

Who knows where the best balance truly lies?  If we really love our children, is that enough to overcome any other parental misjudgements?   Colin Firth himself has been quoted recalling a friend's advice, that "every time I screw up with my children I put a dollar in the jar to pay for their therapy"!   Maybe every generation looks at the one before and thinks "you messed up, I can do better than that".   And maybe that's what keeps us moving on, keeps us hoping for a better world.

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