Monday, 4 June 2012

Extreme Parenting

At night, shortly before the bedtime stories, my children like to watch people die violently. Often it's witches tumbling off cliffs or the tops of windowless towers. Sometimes it's a schoolgirl slain by a snake's stare or a teenager murdered by a graveyard curse. Once, inadvertently, it was Bill Sykes dangling from a noose. I'd forgotten that there was a darker side to Oliver! than tuneful pick-pocketing.

Tranquilly my pair look on, chewing crumpets, and tranquilly they retire to bed with their teddy bears. Disney and Harry Potter have trained them to watch extinction with a steady eye.

Last night, though, they were traumatised. Night lights had to be improvised and guardian angels invoked. But last night there were no cartoon bodies hurled from heights and no Lord of the Dark Arts felling foe. They had watched a fetching evacuee bond with a fetching old man in a glorious flintstone village in Buckinghamshire.

In one scene in Goodnight Mr Tom, the evacuee's mother had served him a tea of boiled eggs. I sometimes serve my children a tea of boiled eggs. She'd leaned up close and fondly and her son had presented her with a picture he'd painted her, just as my children often do for me. Only the gesture turned the mother into a monster and she raged and abused him and my children looked on, faces frozen in appalled incredulity.

They can cope with on-screen carnage secure in anticipation of a dose of Enid Blyton and a goodnight cuddle. But the notion of a treacherous mother is a horror too hard for them to handle.

I am gratified at this reminder of my significance and frightened by the weight of my responsibility. When I bawl out my babies for bedroom chaos or abandoned peas, and when I harry them to bed because I'm too tired to be kindly, I hear echoes of that irascible mother in me. I worry that one day, through exhaustion, or boredom or inattention I will let them down.

And so I have hidden Goodnight Mr Tom behind 12 espisodes of The Doris Day Show and I have dusted down an abandoned VHS tape of Snow White. I'm hopeful that that murderous, glamorous stepmother is so safely removed from the reality of me that she'll console my terrorised children and bolster my faith in my own mothering.

19 comments:

  1. I think you're doing well if you are worrying that one day you'll let them down. You mean you haven't already? Blimey...

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    1. Oh yes, I've forgotten their school bags, fed them E numbers, scolded them unfairly and never ironed their clothes, but I've never yet knowingly let them down through rejection or neglect!

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  2. And they show this film in schools, in Y6, as part of the history topic. Can you imagine the effect on children who really have really bexperienced, what we might charitably call, unreliable mothers?

    In fact, many, many children's films are about loss of parents, cruel parents etc. And for a small minority of children, this is not a fantasy that they wish to play with, ans such films are truly re-traumatising. (Do you want a list?) As an adoptive parent, I spend a long time trying to find the plot of the lastet half term offering and then creating a plausible reasons why we will not be going to se it, for fear of the nightmares such tales may evoke.

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    1. It's interesting, isn't it. Critics of the Enid Blyton school of writing declare that children wish to read of the sort of gritty reality that they can identify with, hence the popularity of Jacqueline Wilson's accounts of neglectful or abusive parents. I see their point, but think kids also need to escape into benign fantasy. Which is why, while my husband reads them the tribulations of Tracy Beaker, I send them up the Magic Faraway Tree.

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  3. Perfectly timed post!! My children watched this today with my Mother who innocently hired it from the library as suitable for children. I was horrified when she told me what they'd seen today and even more sad when my son told me still in confused shock that a boy was beaten with a belt. I am only relieved that Mum had already answered the complicated questions and so-far my babes are sleeping soundly!

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    1. What a coincidence. I was vaguely familiar with the story but was unprepared for the level of violence from that mother.But even if it had been merely verbal my sheltered children would probably still have been appalled.

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  4. Ah, Goodnight Mr Tom. I'll never forget watching this recently with my Dad and husband and Mum. My Dad and I burst into tears at that horrendous scene where the boy is beaten and then locked in a cupboard. Amazing book and film though.

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    1. Must read the book. But mostly, yes, the film is a good watch. Anything with John Thaw is!

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  5. Oh dear, sounds very scary. Then again, might make them realise how lucky they are to have a mum like you;-)

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  6. wizard of oz - you cant go wrong with it!

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    1. True. They love that. The violent deaths of the two witches leaves them quite unmoved!

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  7. I've not read Goodnight Mr Tom, but probably should. Sounds very scarey for children though. My son has been a bit traumatised by a library book where a dinosaur attacks the little boy's mother. It didn't look like it would be that scary.

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    1. I hadn't read it either. Don't know if the book is as violent as the film. Interesting about your son. Bet if the dinosaur had attacked anyone other than a child's mother he wouldn't have been so shaken. Mine don't like Bambi because of what happens to the mummy deer.

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  8. I can let DD have a yogurt and a bag of crisps for supper, forget to wash her favourite dress, forget to buy her supply of raisins or chocolate, be late for nurssery, and a million other things and it's ok. Then when I'm falling off my feet from tiredness and I interrupt her contstant questions from bed with one - just go to sleep!, she is inconsolable because I didn't let her tell me something. Turns out she doesn't care about the food or the clothes, she only wants to talk to me.

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    1. I think wit great succinctness you've captured the essence of what I was trying to say.

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