As an ‘Earth Mother’ type who has occasionally been known to wear a gypsy skirt with flip-flops and enjoys more than her fair share of faux-turquoise ethnic jewellery. Never one for joss sticks for I feared they were carcinogenic but still love a bit of essential oil…sorry I digress; I am here to bestow upon you my fellow Mummies the art of ‘active listening’. There are lots of buzz words regarding parenting these days, most of which causing intense confusion for us ‘Millennium Mummies’ (Look! Another buzz word I’ve just created it; patent pending…!)
Years gone by you simply plucked your offspring from their beds, force fed them cold mush, roughly wiped their faces with the communal flannel, licked down their hair and drop-kicked them outside until sunset. These were the ‘golden years’ of parenting. When the kid knew the pecking order, i.e the scabby poodle came before them. When shining up the family silver, beating a rug outside whilst wearing a housecoat and boiling ‘road kill’ for 3 days in brine was the order of your day. The children were a mere a distraction and you still hadn’t quite worked out why they kept appearing under your jumper and ruining your figure. During this time of austerity a child would entertain themselves; it was not unusual for a kid to pop a ball in a sock and with their back to a wall launch it from side to side for hours at a time. This was character-building. An act that taught the fundamental art of repetition, internalising boredom and being grateful for that ball. I mean it would be ‘game over’ with just the sock; especially on a windy day. Other games included ‘making mud pies’ (aka ingesting parasites), climbing trees, ‘scrumping’ for apples (which is essentially stealing; they certainly don’t condone me ‘scrumping’ in Tesco), persecuting the neighbours (banter) and kicking stuff around. It was a simple time. Where children were brought up on fresh air and an innate ‘homing device’ that always led them back to their front door by sundown.
Mothers back then were not judged. Other than on a Sunday; for on the Sabbath the children must be dressed in their finery (clean socks, shoes you could see your face in) and be ‘seen and not heard’ in church. They must not fidget, roll their eyes or prod anyone. Their feet should be still on the floor and hands placed in laps where they can be viewed and periodically slapped by their parents. Parents back then worked hard; scrimped, saved, cooked and cleaned for their families. They didn’t have time to spend thinking about their child’s ‘life experience’ to date. There was no talk of baby-led weaning, attachment or helicopter parenting, ‘anti-vaxxer’s’, co-this, co-bloody-that, progressive, natural. Back then you had kids, they did what they were told or else they’d ‘cop it’, they played outside with the other kids in the neighbourhood, everyone looked out for everyone else and buggered off home in time for sugar sandwiches and a glass of milk before bed. Now it’s teaching filigree, flash-carding from birth, educational origami, baking, a ‘bite-size’ piece of the family allotment to grow your own Courgette Flowers and a monthly appointment with a Child Psychologist to tie up any lose ends.
Now we’re expected to use reward charts, behaviour contracts and a naughty step in place of a ‘cuff round the ear’. We’re no longer able to say ‘wait till your Father get’s home’ or use the local ‘Bobby’ by way of a warning. It’s no longer appropriate to embarrass your kids in front of their friends or ‘make an example of’ in an attempt to reinforce good behaviour in case their self-esteem suffers. Their sense of self…their place in the family, society and the world at large. For we’re now apparently fully culpable for any future confidence issues they may have. We’re to make it very clear they can have anything, do anything, be anything regardless of their gender, height, ability or our socio-economic capability to fund their path to it. Parenting is now a minefield of traps all set to make us fail, feel like we’re failing or despite all our best efforts not doing quite as well as others are. My children’s lunchboxes are not Instagram-able, their tea is often beige and I seriously believe a day where I’ve managed to silence my inner-Mrs Trunchabel from dawn till dusk can be labelled a complete and utter success.
Oh yes, back to ‘active listening’. I’ll explain exactly how to do it…
Look in the general direction of your child; preferably sit down because explaining the latest Barbie movie from start to finish can take a while, prepare your ‘listening face’; mine is a slightly macabre half-smile revealing at least three teeth then you can begin to drift off. As if using your peripheral vision a little part of your brain will be on alert for any nods or affirmations required to make the ‘active listening’ experience authentic. Then the other 95% of your mind can travel…exotic places; aboard a yacht in the South of France sipping champagne from Tom Hardy’s espadrille, bartering for silk slippers at a dusty Morroccan Souk or photographing a pride of Lions on the Sub-Saharan plains of Africa…