To all parents

Do you remember ever being embarassed by your parents as you were growing up? Maybe they were uncool, or too old, or too young, not beautiful or rich enough, or too posh and too cool? It was important, because people judged you based on your parents. Or that’s what it felt like.

Now that you are also a parent, you have joined the most discriminatory society in the world. Whatever you do, you will be judged. By other parents, first and foremost. By your yet childless friends who probably secretly think that they will be much better than you. By your own children, as they reach their teenage years and realise that they can blame most of their issues on you. By your children’s new partners when your kids start their own adult relationships and make their own mistakes. And to add to that, now your own children are probably embarassed about you.

You try to control their lives by being strict and teaching them how to tidy their rooms. Or you let them grow like weeds in the back garden, with the freedom you never had. You read books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua who demands that you become tough and pushy and you feel bad about letting your son give up gymnastics because he thought it was boring (read too structured and why can’t he do as many headstands as he like?). You read Dr Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun than You Think and you congratulate yourself on that weekend when you let them have pizza and watch TV for hours – of course, the real reason for that was that you were too bloody knackered to cook and play Scrabble. But there is still a tiny niggling thought at the back of your mind, that maybe if you relax too much, they will grow up fat, lazy, stupid and poor and it will all be your fault.

The thing is, books about parenting sell. And if the author has a Dr in front of their name and a couple of normal kids without any obvious issues, then many parents would buy it. They would probably even read it, some would try the techniques and then most would revert to their natural ways of bringing up children.

I am envious and always slightly puzzled by those parents who seem to have it all figured out. Where do they get that confidence from? How do they know that what they are doing will definitely be the right thing? Until their children are adults, and well into their adulthood, how can those confident freaks know? And how great their lives must be, without all that fretting and worrying that the rest of us go through!

To all you normal parents – you are doing the right thing. As long as you are not abusing your kids, you are doing the right thing. If you are strict, your child might grow up a high achiever because of it, or an ordinary person with a messy house in spite of it. If you are of the laisser-faire society, your child might become a chilled-out well balanced human being because of it, or have extreme OCD in spite of it. No matter what you do, you can’t control it. Not really. And I am talking to myself now. You need to relax. Not about your children. About you. No matter what you do, everyone will still judge. That’s part of being a parent.

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Are we too concerned with gender equality in literature?

An article in the Guardian this week talks about a group of Australian women writers and publishers who are setting up an equivalent to the Orange Prize which promotes writing by women. As a woman writer, I should be supportive. 

But something bothers me about this whole ‘positive discrimination’ culture. Maybe it’s the fact that as a reader, I don’t choose books based on their authors’ gender. If a book is good, what do I care whether it was written by a man or a woman? I may be very naive but I sincerely doubt that an average reader picks their books by looking at the name and checking the writer’s gender. Besides, if we go down this road a little further, we will soon be setting up initiatives to promote writing by male writers, trans gender writers, young women writers, old men writers, beautiful people writers, ugly people writers, fat or skinny writers… Okay, maybe I am going a bit too far but so does this obsession with numbers that we all seem to have.

So what that Australia’s top book prize, The Miles Franklin, has only been won twice by a woman in the last decade? Did that affect the readers’ enjoyment as they read the shortlisted books? I doubt it. The truth is, until recently women have been involved in completely different activities than men. Of course, there were exceptions, but generally speaking, women had to concern themselves with slightly less exciting things, such as children, cooking, mending etc, while men went out and explored the world. It may seem as if this situation has long since changed, but anthropologically speaking, it hasn’t been that long since we have started to live similar lives to men. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the catching up process might take a long time, maybe decades, maybe even centuries. Do we need to force it?

Or maybe women would never be able to have the same opportunities as men just because we tend to want a family as well as a career and having a family for a woman often means spending less time and energy on her own pursuits. Just like a man would often happily relax in front of the telly while the house is so messy it is about to crash on his head, whilst a woman would most probably do the tidying up first, it is often easier for a man to just go and write and for a woman to sort out the kids’ dinner first.

I am probably going to get  feminists all wound up now, but my question is – do we actually need the positive discrimination? Do we have to ensure that fifty percent of the top writers are women? Can writing not be just that – writing? We can go on for hours about the gender equality and I will be the first to defend women’s rights but it does sometimes seem that the numbers dominate our lives nowadays and we forget about the more important issues.