The people who help to raise your children

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With the announcement of the royal commission into child abuse, we can expect many more victims to speak out.  One who has already done so, the broadcaster Eoin Cameron, feels that by the time the inquiry is over we will all know someone who has been abused.  Sadly, he may be right.  Last week I heard of another who’d recently told his family the horror that happened when he was seven.  As people are given support and encouragement to come forward it’s going to be extraordinarily confronting, upsetting and difficult. 

It’s also going to be scary.

When I watch, read and hear about abuse, a part of me wants to home school my children, keep them away from any religious institution and never let them be alone with another adult.  Of course I know that would be a massive over reaction but I’ve already heard parents express concern about letting their children go away on school camps.  While such panic may be understandable, we need to stay calm. Because the truth is, we should be able to keep our children safe while letting them lose.

I’m with Hilary Clinton and the African proverb she borrowed ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

As children grow up we cannot possibly be everything to them.  Even near-perfect parents (if they exist) are simply not able to fulfil all a child’s needs, answer all their questions or be able to encourage each and every interest. A child is not a carbon copy of its mother or father, so we need to accept the help of others to help them follow their interests and abilities. My daughter is artistic and into craft. I am so not.  If I don't find others to teach her to sew and help her nurture her interests, her talent and passion will wither.

We first glimpse this in kindergarten as most kids fall rapidly in love with their first teacher.  My daughter was so enraptured and adoring of hers I initially felt hurt.  For a few weeks I felt replaced in influence.  Then I realised I welcomed the slight lift in the often heavy load of responsibility and began to use the kindi teacher’s power to my advantage.  I’d ask Miss Wonderful to tell her to drink water at lunch and go to bed properly at night.  It worked.

My son adores his first teachers.  He is so attuned to one that he can name her children, their ages and hobbies and is desperate to travel to her favourite holiday spot. I welcome her influence, input and skill but have passed on Fiji.

As the years go, by other adults are becoming increasingly important to my children.

My daughter is rather dreamy, vague and out there.  Yet her netball coach bought out a competitive side I never knew she had.  At the end of season, it amazed me how much this volunteer parent knew about each child on that team – she’d worked out who they were, what motivated them and honed in on definitive character traits.  I was touched that someone would get to know my child so well.  She’d worked out how to motivate her to stop doing cartwheels on the court and actually chase the ball. I was glad my daughter had a sporty sort to look up to.

A talented parent who started a drama class has also become a highly valued mentor.  She has helped build my daughter’s confidence, capacity and flair while directing her inner drama queen.  As a passionate, artistic and creative woman she’s another powerful role model. I wrote last week in this blog of crying at the Year Six play – another reason for the tears was because this teacher had not only directed a musical but helped each child show their inner light.   All were enriched by that experience.

Tutors in music, dance and pottery also influence my son and daughter.  All provide potential role models and show the possibilities and different ways of earning a living.  They expand my children’s rather small world and their somewhat narrow life experience.  We don’t want our kids to be too sheltered and assume their own way of living is the only way.   Staying with other families can show our children other faiths, rituals, interests and activities.  I wouldn’t have ever seen or appreciated movies if it wasn’t for a neighbourhood best friend. I wouldn’t have stepped foot in a church if it wasn’t for a primary school mate. Other families sparked my love of live music and taught me to surf. My daughter has a best friend who went to live in the country – it thrills me I can drop her off for a three day retreat where they can offer her a totally different experience of life.  She now wants to live on a farm one day.

We have to be vigilant about who we bring into our children’s lives.  We have to be wary. But we also have to trust in others and in society to help us raise our children.  Once the checks and balances are made, the safety parameters are installed we need to make a leap of faith. 

When my first child went off to a first camp I waved her away with a lump of pride in my throat.  I had faith in those I’d entrusted with her care. She came back exhausted, exhilarated, enriched and made more confident by being part of something bigger than herself.  A community.  A country. A world. 

Let us punish those who abuse our trust.  Let us expose those who protect and harbour criminals.  Let us open up institutions to the light to learn how we can keep children safe. And let us learn from those who speak out about abuse.  Let us be cautious. But let’s always remember that our children need others to help them grow up and flourish.

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6 comments

  • Wonderful article and a great antidote to the helicopter parents out there.

    I'm pleased you were able to buy your dreamy daughter a competitive edge. How is that done again? Oh, someone meant "brought". Sheesh.

    Commenter
    Emma
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 27, 2012, 10:09AM
    • It's true, it's wonderful to see what teachers, coaches, leaders and friends' parents can bring out in our children - things I never suspected were there. Quite a few studies have shown that the best predictor of which kids will avoid crime, drugs and other risky behavior as teens and young adults is the number of engaged adults in their lives, the ones who know their circumstances and loves and fears, who want to know what they're reading at school and how the ballet concert or soccer season is shaping up. It's even more important in our family because Short Stuff's father is not allowed to have unsupervised access to her. Three guesses why he's been forbidden by DOCS to be alone with her.

      "When I watch, read and hear about abuse, a part of me wants to home school my children, keep them away from any religious institution and never let them be alone with another adult. Of course I know that would be a massive over reaction but I’ve already heard parents express concern about letting their children go away on school camps." The truth is that just under 2/3 of adult survivors of abuse in Australia report that their abuser was a member of their own immediate family, and another 1/4 someone in their extended family - that's almost 90% altogether. Only 1 in 10 reported abuse by a religious figure and 1 in 20 by a teacher.

      We need this royal commission into cover-ups of abuse in institutions, but I get frustrated that so much media coverage implies that the problem of abuse is mostly outside families. For many of us, the sad truth is that the people who help raise our children are more trustworthy than someone in our own families.

      Commenter
      Chatty
      Date and time
      November 27, 2012, 11:06AM
      • Agree totally with the author and the other comments. It is the 'village' that supports what we want and need from life. It is the village that gives us safety from external threats and starvation. There will always be people in the village who will want to harm others but by far they are the minority. Perhaps if we all looked more to how we could help each other then those that would do harm would be found out. It is a pity that adults, and particularly men, no longer feel comfortable assisting with children because of the actions of a very tiny group. There needs to be a greater degree of trust but children are very precious and I can understand the reluctance of parents to allow them to stray to far.

        Then again I don't think parents of the 60's and 70's were any less caring or loving. What has changed? Perhaps it is because as a society we having increasing pushed the rights of the individual over the needs of the village. This can create isolationism and fear as we don't know enough about each other and will adopt as the default reaction suspicion.

        Regretfully I do not see any signs of change. Kids do need a range of adults in their lives but I suspect that for the time being we will continue to limit their exposure. Where have all the male primary school teachers gone?

        Commenter
        Considered
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 27, 2012, 11:57AM
        • Super article Sarah!

          Unless we encounter many different others what hope have we of finding ourselves?

          We must resist the inclination to believe that humanity ends at our fingertips.

          Commenter
          GRW Dasign
          Location
          Abbotsford
          Date and time
          November 27, 2012, 2:00PM
          • That's fine by the time they get to Primary School because by and large most teachers / coaches are reasonably well educated and hopefully intelligent and talented. However I would never entrust my young child to the basically educated individuals who work in child care, most of whom would be well meaning but not with the values & education standards that I would want my child exposed to. One I know says "them things" and "I done it". Hmmm. No.

            Commenter
            Zoe
            Location
            Mt Martha
            Date and time
            November 27, 2012, 2:08PM
            • Great article. Beyond the basic need to keep them safe from material harm, exposing your kids to new and diverse influences seems to be one of the more important (and simple) things you can do IMHO. The trend towards pure academic goals at schools at the expense of everything else (music, drama, debating, cadets, sport etc) is at odds with what I experienced, and what I want for my little boy.

              Commenter
              DK
              Date and time
              November 27, 2012, 3:34PM
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