I have just returned from a week or so up in Scotland visiting my Grandmother. I also took my Mother and my daughter with me and so for the last few days I have enjoyed four generations of my family together, in one place. My Grandmother (Meri’s Great Grandmother) is now into her nineties and having raised eight children herself and having had a hand in raising her thirteen grandchildren she is not short of a bit of parenting experience. Unsurprisingly, she was more than happy to share some her wisdom with me.
The first thing she had to say was that parenting these days was a completely different kettle of fish to when she was bringing up her brood. She laughed at my generation of parents, telling me that we all learnt our parenting skills from a book. A complete stranger writing in a distant place tells us how, when and what to feed our children; when to bath them and when put them to bed. She chuckled that in her day there were no parenting manuals – you learnt what you needed to know by caring for your extended families and listening to the advice of matronly figures in the community (like her). She was oddly silent when I offered to throw away the books that she found so amusing if only she would come and live with me to share her knowledge of raising children. As I rightly suspected, a few days with my little monster were enough to put her off any thoughts she may have had of re-living the parenting experience.
She also observed that we had a very different approach to discipline than in her day. However, she wasn’t, making the obvious point which is that parents are more permissive these days than in yesteryear. Her view is that we are too structured and controlling about how we raise our children. Her belief was that we should let kids be kids and explore the world around them on their terms. She never prescribed how long her kids could play with certain toys or how many books they had to read each day. However, her children were given very clear responsibilities from a very early age (for example certain chores). There were red lines and if a child crossed them she would have no reservations about delivering a smart smack to the bottom to ensure that they understood the error of their ways. She even discussed the best way of delivering such a smack to ensure that it stung but did no real harm. Again, she understood that such parenting would be frowned upon these days but at the risk of sounding like a Daily Mail editorial it has to be said that it did her children no harm.
Finally, there was a charming anecdote that she said her Grandmother had told her. A husband and wife were quarrelling about who had the harder job – the husband who went out to work the farm each morning, or the wife who stayed at home to look after her family. In the end they decided the only way to settle it was to swap jobs for the day. So, the wife left for the fields one morning whilst the husband stayed at home to run the household. That evening the wife returned home to find the children immaculately turned out, fed, watered, bathed and ready for bed. The husband looked proudly on as his wife could find no fault in his parenting. However, the smug smile on his face soon evaporated when she asked why he was standing there stark naked. The husband answered that he had been so busy looking after the kids that he had no time to look after himself or even get dressed that day.
My Granny was telling me that parenting is a hard job that leaves little time for anything else. She also told me that it is the most probably the important job we’ll ever do. Real wisdom passed down across the generations. As a mere sapling at this parenting lark who am I to disagree?