Monday, 24 June 2013

Of parenting and poverty and villages that help with both

Originally posted at The Daily Blog

Money can’t buy happiness, it is said, but it can help to buy an easier life. The more you have the better quality you can get; housing, food, clothing, support, which are, coincidentally, the main areas you need to have covered to raise kids well. And the main areas you will struggle with if you live in poverty.

The village that helps me raise my children is large. There’s the helpful neighbour who gets hit up for afternoon tea most days by the 5 year old and willingly lets him hang with her. Then there’s the grandparents, all in Auckland relatively near us, who cover childcare, particularly overnight on weekends, and are very generous with providing clothes in small sizes. The workmates who are welcoming and understanding towards the junior citizens who sometimes just have to come to meetings with me. The fabulous teachers and support staff at the local primary school and the early childhood centre a short drive away, who do amazing work in often trying circumstances. The amazing regular babysitter who has formed such a great bond with the children that they intimate it is time for Mummy to leave now when she comes around.

And many many many more. Friends, relatives, the family that own the dairy up the road, the bus driver who waits for us when we are running to the stop, running late as we always seem to. I wrote a rather long post about this Village Thing when my first child was only a few months old and it has never stopped growing.

A lot of the people in our village are here because we have known them a long time. Others are new additions, or transients passing through with a smile. I can’t help reflecting that some of the reason we get the open faces and the help is because my family has a reassuringly middle-class appearance. Privilege not only gives us advantages to start with, it seems it may make it easier to gain assistance too. I am not exaggerating when I claim that complete strangers quite often give my eldest child small gifts; a teddy bear, lollies, a free ride on the bus even though he’s 5. As a blondish blue eyed Pakeha child with a charming grin, dimples and an inexplicable English accent, he is on to a winner.

Thus we end up back at money again. Our household struggles a bit, but we are not poor. If we had less support from our village, or less money, parenting would be a whole heap harder than it is. If we had more money we could overcome gaps in the village if they arose. Money can’t buy happiness indeed, but it can buy a lot of things that make life, and parenting, more comfortable, easier.

My observation is that we can all be bad parents from time to time, and those times often coincide with stress. The more stressful stuff you have going on the more it impacts on the way you parent your children. Some are better than others at coping with stress, some have more resources to help them out, some are just so bloody minded determined they are not going to be like their own parents that they somehow manage to keep the bad parenting to a minimum. Much of this relies on luck, not least the luck of birth.

As a society I believe we should be striving to spread the luck around, to disconnect it from money and birth. That would help a lot with poverty, and thus with parenting too. No one is born a bad parent. No one starts out as a parent intending to do less than the best they can. Yet so often we fall short of our own expectations. All parents could do with a hand, not a slap. For many families the number one thing which will help is to lift their incomes, so the bills are easier to pay, a warmer house rented, less hours worked, and more support secured, all of which will lead to a lot less stress all round. For parents and children, money can’t buy happiness, I’m quite sure, but it can make it easier to build and maintain your village.

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