I can relate to this ad, its about how I felt when I became single father to three girls in 2001. All enthusiastic to get going then comes the flying through the air. And the crash landing. The first year was a blur, not to mention a major learning curve and the second was not much better. It wasn’t until the third and forth years that I started to feel like I was getting somewhere.
Now I always wondered what parenting would be like without a mum around. Mums do things differently and I have discovered that mum’s have very definite opinions on how dads should be. Unfortunately this martian tends to stretch the boundaries.
The difference for me anyway as I can’t say that all dad’s are like this came home to me when my youngest was three. We would wash up dishes together and she would always want to handle the sharp knives. Now I am sure that there are parenting forums that will tell me off but you know what, I let her. From birth she was always wanting to challenge herself, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t (a broken leg and colar bone are proof). Instinct told me she was one who just had to put her hand in the fire. I could either be there to pull it out if it got too hot, or she was going to do it without me. I chose the former. Now she has her sights set on the national karate team. I think she will make it, not because she’s my daughter though that does come into it but because she’s not scared to try. To me that’s half the battle.
That moment defined the next years of my parenting. I didn’t (and still don’t) believe that children are precious little things to be wrapped up in cotton wool. I believe that childhood is the best time in your life to experience life and stretch yourself. If you don’t stretch yourself as a child, then it gets all the harder as an adult. I see that in my eldest, who as the first born early on was protected. Now she is afraid to try things. The younger two have much less fear. Of course they have the advantage of following her. My kids want to ride bikes to school, it seems I am the only one saying “hell yeah’. No one stopped me from riding to school, heck I was pushed to do it. It gave me great freedom. Now its pretty much impossible. The schools hate it, mums hate it because there are too many cars and they could get hurt. My point is if they don’t do it and learn to do it properly they are more likely to get hurt. Which means taking real risks. Riding gives you very good road sense.
When it comes to parenting my children I am always driving with the seatbelt off. That is having to take risks because often the rules and worries cruel the spirit. That doesn’t mean being reckless, though I am often told I am reckless for proposing things I survived as a child (as did all my friends by the way). It seems now things are different. Thats why we need all these virtual computer worlds that are ‘safe’. Forget the excercise I want em outside so they can go and climb trees, skate on the road and go and take a few layers of skin off in the process. No its not a bad a thing, if you hurt yourself doing something you love, you want to it better, not stop doing it! If you are restricted unduely in doing something you love then yeah you won’t like it anymore or at least you will try something else.
So now with my totally cruel martian view of raising kids, I started to write childrens fiction. When I started doing it, I poked around doing work for 9-10 year olds and feeling like something was wrong. Then I worked out what it was. No-one was getting hurt. Now I don’t get kicks out of pain by the way, I don’t like it and I don’t like it when my kids are in pain. Not liking it though and accepting it is actually a natural part of life and not one to be exorcised at the first chance are two different things.
I stopped writing safe, people got hurt and even died. I handed it over to my teenage daughter who told me that it has to be for teenagers, too hard for younger kids. Yet my two youngest love it. It’s not graphic, there’s no graphic murders or violence or sex. Yes there’s monsters, yes there are dead people and yes the main characters get hurt and yes the material is shadowy side. The fact is though that the characters learn and grow and come out the other side stronger. As I would like to think many people who face adverse circumstances do. We don’t all learn our perfect lessons from perfect teachers. Hands up anyone who learned a painful lesson by stuffing up? I work closely with the younger ones on the comprehension side of the writing and make a good effort to put things in terms they can get easily. So does tackling darker topics mean it has to be for an older audience? Hmm, let me think on the number of shows as a kid I watched where bad things happened and people died as did my friends. Unlike me of course most of them turned out pretty sane ;). For that matter has anyone played playstation recently? Even the simplest games have more carnage in 5 mins than I saw in my entire growing up. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Time will tell if I am just another loony martian. Either way I refuse to write safe works for children for the same reason I let my three year old put away the sharp knives. Sometimes you gotta put faith in them to be able to work it all out. In my experience children are incredibly talented when it comes to working things out and having their own answers if you let them. Maybe that’s the scary bit. If they have different answers to us as adults, where does that leave us?
Maybe then adults might have to learn from the children. I know that I have from mine.