How kids make hypocrites of us

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In the summer of 1965 wild child singer/songwriter Janis Joplin tried to become normal.  She had a nasty speed habit and went home to Port Arthur Texas to clean up - even putting her hair into a beehive and donning modest dresses to simulate sameness. But she couldn’t do it.  Within a year, her genius and passion had drawn her back to San Francisco where she began her meteoric rise to become the wild woman of blues, the goddess of rock and the Queen of psychedelic soul.

Janis Joplin told her fans

‘Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.’  

When I was a young, rather less wild woman, I understood her.  But as I age I’ve had to reject her advice.  Because the truth is, I’m not all I’ve got.  And when you have other people in your home, in your family and in your workplace, compromise is unavoidable.  Unless you are a superstar operating in your own stratosphere, you have to submit to society.  But it seems the process of giving in accelerates when we breed. Kids make hypocrites of us all.

I realized this before I even gave birth.  Just back from three years in India, I was a vegetarian but the fetus growing inside me gave me an urge to eat steak. I submitted to my daughter’s taste before she could even whinge at me and for all my pre-birth plans to use reusable nappies, I succumbed to disposables before I even left hospital.  I set some principals for her – such as healthy food and no television but by the time her brother was born she’d begun eating peanut butter white toast in front of the TV.

By the time he was two we were out of our cool beachside pad and living in the suburbs, eating lollies in front of movies. I’d even allowed an anatomically annoying Barbie doll into the house (I was secretly impressed when my daughter gave Barbie a buzz cut and drew tattoos over that ‘perfect’ body).   Then, my partner changed jobs, going ‘corporate’, and accused of ‘selling out’ by a couple of colleagues.  When faced with significant costs for significant needs of our little boy, he didn’t hesitate.  I then realised I’d certainly compromise and swallow my pride to give my son all the help he’d need.

Years later, we are still compromising.  From the time we get up (early) to the time we go to bed.  Our kids have meant a change to the car we drive, the holidays we go on, the house we live in and how often we go out.  

My kids are still in primary school but I’m now being asked that most constant of Sydney questions  - ‘Where are they going to high school?”  And here’s an area in which I may sell out again.  I believe in equality, diversity and being part of a local community and yet, in the interests of my children, I find myself considering (if we can possibly afford it) sending them to a private high school. It’s a compromise I may make if if I think they need it. 

All around me, friends, neighbours, acquaintances and others head off to mass every Sunday, offer up cash for the collection plate and buy confirmation dresses for their daughters.  Some of them believe in God, a few believe in the Catholic faith, but many don’t.  Instead, they are swallowing their cynicism, pulling back their shoulders and pretending so they can get their kids into a good school that’s relatively affordable. While I often roll my eyes at an atheist suddenly finding their Catholic ancestry, I’ll admit I’m also a touch jealous. There’s a lot to admire about a Jesuit education - although when I read about what’s happening in St John’s College at Sydney University I must question what happens at some schools to make those young men’s behaviour so foul.

Parents want their kids to do as much as they can and as well as they can.  We want to spread the risks of harm and maximize the benefits and opportunities. We compromise to give them as much opportunity and privilege as we can afford. 

Of course the problem is, we also want to do the opposite.  To help them become resilient; to be able to face hardship.  It’s a constant balancing act where we adjust the levers; always trying to know when it’s time to give them a pat on the back or a kick up the bum.  And, if I compromise for them – working hard to give them a decent start in life, I want them to be thankful and not develop a sense of entitlement. Much compromise is the downside of privilege. At least we can compromise.  Many have no choice.

So do we tell our children how we changed for them? Where we sold out?  How we gave in?  Perhaps to some degree.  While I don’t want them to see parenting as a submission, a burden or a sell out, I do want them to realize their privilege.  I even occasionally revert to the ‘eat your veggies, there are poor people in Africa’ argument.  When my son asked for a new toy the other day I showed him a photograph of a little girl clutching a beer bottle as her only plaything.  When my daughter bemoaned we were the only kids without an upstairs I showed her pictures of slums.  When they next bitch about each other I’m gong to make them watch ‘Eight is Enough’ or ‘The Waltons’.  That’s torture.

At the end of the day, compromise is not a dirty world.  When we yield to others’ needs, wants and problems we embrace life in all its glorious interconnected mess.

Yet there are some fundamental areas I won’t compromise – my integrity, my honesty, my ethics and the legality of how I act.  I won’t lie and pretend to be something I’m not.  I’ll be open about the choices I’ve made and why. We all have different places where we draw the line on selling out and they are personal decisions to make.  But I’m with Janis Joplin’s polar opposite Mahatma Gandhi when he said

All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.

So while I’ll always admire Janis Joplin, I’ll stick with the skinny guy in the loincloth rather than the cheese-cloth-clad wild woman of soul.  

 

41 comments

  • "I believe in equality, diversity and being part of a community and yet, in the interests of my children, I find myself considering, if we can possibly afford it, sending them to a private high school."

    So you believe in being part of a community as long as the only "little girl clutching a beer bottle as her only toy" is the one your children see in a picture. Why not consider donating the cash you'd consider putting into private education into your local public high school?

    Commenter
    Jackie
    Date and time
    November 06, 2012, 9:09AM
    • Totally! First world problems?

      Commenter
      RF
      Location
      Blue Mountains
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 11:13AM
    • absolutely. so tired of these people who have principles except when it comes to themselves and their own.

      Commenter
      Jenny
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 1:50PM
    • I loved the article but it did remind me of my parents saying , "you have to grow up one day" Sarah you are now officially grown up. My only fear is that we are cocooning our children too much because the majority of us only have two children. I was the fifth of seven so most of my learning came from my siblings not my parents and the freedom that gave me is something i still cherish, I don't think my children have the same amount of freedom. They have more things but less freedom.

      Commenter
      kellybellyfonte
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 5:51PM
    • Missing the point much, people? The writer is saying that she struggles with this, and it's not as though she doesn't realise how lucky she is and that these are, as you so eloquently point out RF, 'first world problems'. Did you three actually read the article?

      Commenter
      Maz
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 8:54PM
    • I compromised on education too ! After years of working in social welfare I know kids perform better in private schools. We pay for our kids to go. The fees are 14,000 annually per child. The govt contributes 1500 per child. This a typical financial equation for the private non catholic 'elite' school. If I sent them to the local primary school the govt would contribute an average of 9,500. So, we're picking up the tab for the remaining 8000 plus more. It's well worth it. But, please don't ask me to contribute to my local high school. By enrolling and paying for my children to go to a private school I'm freeing up $16,000 of funding. Feel free to thank me and other parents paying for private education
      at any time.

      Commenter
      Poppy
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 7:06AM
  • Me too! Although I prefer to think that I have matured enough to know when to compromise rather than a hypocrite to my younger self. :-)

    Commenter
    NatD
    Date and time
    November 06, 2012, 9:31AM
    • Sarah, your article thoughtfully and beautifully captures the essential contradiction not just of parenting but of aging in general and the life choices that ensue. Layer over the top of your scenario the added compromises required of those who are divorced, trying to raise their kids across two households in which sometimes the parents may not always (or ever) get along let alone agree where little Johnny will go to high school.

      Commenter
      Simon
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 9:52AM
      • There’s a lot to admire about a Jesuit education - although when I read about what’s happening in St John’s College at Sydney University I must question what happens at some schools to make these young men so foul.

        Because it couldn't be their parents who taught them their lack of self restraint and respect for others...

        I think what you are highlightiing in this article is more about choices than some sort of selfless compromise. If vegetarianism, cloth nappies, public schooling, and such were really part of your character then you would maintain those things with your kids. You choose not to, perhaps because it is easier or because you see some benefit for them that outwieghs the reasons you made those choices for yourself in the past. Maybe what having children highlights is ignorance about the other factors which might wiegh into people making those choices, or the shallowness of previous convictions...

        Commenter
        Parsimonious
        Date and time
        November 06, 2012, 10:02AM
        • I went through the same schooling decision with my daughter. I went to public schools and did well (though not quite well enough at the time). When I got to university, though, I was one of only a handful of publically-educated students in my classes; the rest were private school kids. Plenty of them seemed, to put it diplomatically, no cleverer than my high school colleagues who hadn't made it into university, so I learned pretty quickly the outcome of the unfair advantages private-school kids have. When I had a child, then, it was a painful decision to put her in a private school, but look: if someone's going to have an unfair advantage, I want her to be in that group rather than the other.

          Commenter
          Dirtman
          Date and time
          November 06, 2012, 10:09AM

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