Raising your children to be good people

helping old lady cross the streetMy parents raised me to be academically successful.  They came from a European milieu that valued intellectual elitism above all other things.  That was my value too, and one I applied to the people with whom I chose to surround myself.

As the years went by, though, I realized that intellectual elites often aren’t very nice people or even very smart people.  All too often, they armor themselves with degrees and disdain.  Some are nice, some aren’t, just like all other people.  When it comes to the ones who aren’t nice, though, what’s so interesting about the intellectual elite is how easily they rationalize away their meanness.  Their knowledge doesn’t lead to morality, it leads to a moral narcissism that sees them as the ultimate arbiters of what’s “good.

Having concluded that my parents’ European elitist values didn’t lead me to the people and places that would have worked best for my life, I’ve tried extremely hard to raise my children to be “nice.”  To me, that word contains within it such  notions as kind, honest, moral, helpful, and loyal.  You don’t have to be the top student or the best athlete, but you’d better not be the kid picking on the unattractive girl or the dorky boy. And when someone asks for help, you give it.

For the children’s entire lives, I’ve operated on the principle that, when it comes to them, I have to “catch them being good” — and that means catching them when they’ve been kind to another person or done the right thing.  I never let such incidents go without saying.

In other words, I agree with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:

But here’s something depressing: It didn’t work. For their entire lives, I’ve been doing the right things — modeling good behavior (sometimes with great effort, since I’m not an innately nice person) and catching my children (and their friends) when they were behaving well — but it didn’t work. The hardest thing about the last several weeks hasn’t been the inconvenience of crutches, it’s been the fact that my children have been completely unwilling to step up and help out. I have been beyond disappointed. Despite all my efforts, I was unable to counter other influences in their lives, influences that revolve around grades, money, and self-fulfillment through selfishness.

My only hope now is that, once they’re on their own and life has its way with them, my children will discover the same life lesson that I learned: that at the end of the day, the behaviors that you will value most in yourself and in others are the ones that are rooted, not in money or prestige or transitory pleasures, but in innate decency and goodness.

Living life according to Hillel: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow”

Old woman walking awayMy mother called me yesterday, her voice shaking with tears.  “I’m in such terrible pain.  I can’t stand it.  I need to see the doctor.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll take you.  When can the doctor see you?”

Mom’s answer made me realize I’d been played.  In a suddenly ordinary voice, she replied, “I already called and he can’t see me today, but he can see me tomorrow.  What time works for you?”

As someone suffering from a few of my own rickety joints, I have no doubt that Mom’s in significant pain and that a codeine shot will help out.  For that reason, I always take her to the orthopedist whenever she asks.  It’s just that I rather resent that she felt theatrics were necessary to get me to “yes.”

These trembling theatrics are what my Mom has always done.  That’s why, even though she’s a nonagenarian, they still bug me.  I can’t slough the tactic off by saying, “At her age, between labile emotions and a sense of helplessness engendered by age, of course she’ll use emotional manipulation.”  The reality is that this is just her way.

When I was growing up, we had a family friend who was wonderfully dramatic.  She easily turned something as mundane as her morning trip to the grocery store into an epic, and always amusing, adventure.  Because she was dramatic, my sister and I called her a drama queen.  What we didn’t realize was that her drama was to entertain, not to manipulate.  Meanwhile, back at home, our mother was enacting quiet little dramas about everything, all with an eye to achieving her ends.  It was very effective but, as you can see, decades later, it still irks me.

I love my mom.  She had a rotten life in many ways and developed survival skills to deal with a broken home, frequent relocations, Japanese concentration camp, the Israeli War of Independence, a frustrating marriage, immigration to a country she basically dislikes, etc.  I respect that, despite those troubles, she spent her entire adult life as a highly functional human being who worked hard, had a wide circle of friends, lived life vigorously, and parented with love and commitment.

Nevertheless, I still don’t like being played.

Despite this gripe, believe me when I say that I’m not making a big deal of yesterday’s phone call beyond whining a bit here.  I’m also using this self-indulgent whine to lead to a larger point.  I firmly believe that, at a certain age, we have to let go of resentments — or at least, as here, turn them into occasional grumbles, rather than life-controlling forces.

More importantly, I believe that, to the extent we don’t like people’s behaviors, it behooves us not to emulate them.  Or, as Hillel said, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow.  This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.  Go and study it.”  Thus, while I’m sure I have uncountable failings as a mother, the one sin I never commit is using emotional manipulation on my children.

I routinely try to remind my children about the Hillel principle.  It’s not unusual for them to respond to a scolding by saying, “You and/or Daddy and/or my sibling do it too.”  I then ask, “Do you like it when I (or your Daddy or sibling) do that?”  The answer, of course, is always “No.”  Which leads to the obvious follow-up question:  “Why in the world would you willingly emulate behavior you think is bad?”  I then always add, “Now that you’re teens, you’re old enough to stop just being reactive and, instead, to start making decisions about the type of person you want to be.”

It’s because they are teens, that my kids don’t instantly modify their behavior in response to my little Socratic dialogues.  Nevertheless, I want to plant this seed in their mind:  “You are responsible for choosing who and what you want to be in this life.  If you admire behaviors, copy them; if you dislike behaviors, avoid them.  You cannot in good conscience willingly engage in behaviors you believe are bad simply because ‘other people do them too.’”

***

Here’s an irony.  Just as I finished proofreading the above post, my Mom called.  “I have no pain today, so I guess the doctor won’t see me, right?”  I told her I was so happy she was feeling better.  While she doesn’t miss the pain, I sensed that she regretted that she won’t get to go to a doctor today.  She does love her doctors — and they, bless their hearts, take wonderful care of her.

News from the gender-wars front

Boy dressed as girl

The following three articles floated across my radar yesterday. I’ll introduce them, but leave you to analyze them.

The first is from a post that a lesbian wrote regarding her discovery that her son is a boy, not just when it comes to external equipment, but when it comes to behavior too:

One of the guiding principles my partner and I are committed to is raising our kids with as few gender limits as possible. Our intent is not to make them genderless or feminine. We only hope that by giving Avie and his little brother, Izzy, the space and support to grow and explore who they are or want to be without oppressive expectations, gender and otherwise, we will promote a foundation of emotional health for them. (This does not mean we’re raising them without any expectations, just that we’re trying to refrain from imposing those that we believe to be oppressive.)

The second reports on a newly released study about kids and daddies:

Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain and produce children who are more aggressive and angry, scientists have warned.

Children brought up only by a single mother have a higher risk of developing ‘deviant behaviour’, including drug abuse, new research suggests.

It is also feared that growing up in a fatherless household could have a greater impact on daughters than on sons.

And the third reports on the expectation that ordinary guys will start to follow the fashion world’s push for women’s clothing on men (an older story, from July, but still new to me):

"Manly" halter top

The “manly” halter top

Androgyny and ‘feminine’ looks are all the rage on the men’s catwalks – but will guys actually wear these clothes? Yes they will, predicts Maya Singer.

As I said, I’m not offering any comments. I think these three things speak for themselves.

Obama’s Department of Justice says mommies are meaningless

I live in an affluent community.  One of the constants in this neighborhood is that, if a family can afford it, the mom retires to take care of the kids.  This is true even if the mom’s salary was comparable to the dad’s.  Often, this isn’t the mom’s preference; it’s the children’s.  Our neighborhood children adore their Dads, but their mother is the pivotal figure in their lives.  The formerly working mom in an affluent neighborhood really intends to go back to work, but it’s hard.  The children want mom to feed them, they want mom to cuddle them, they want mom to cheer on their after-school sports, and they want mom to make them better when it hurts.  They love their dads, but they want their moms.

I know that there are exceptions to what I just wrote.  I know two dads who have been their children’s primary caregivers while mom worked, and they’ve both raised spectacular kids in a very happy way.  These are successful families no matter how you define what constitutes successful parenting.

Nevertheless, you just can’t get by the mom-thing:  Mom carries the baby, gives birth to the baby, feeds the baby, and parents the baby in a different way than even the most loving dad does.  The fact that women are different from men (Viva la difference!) brings a different quality to their relationship with their children.  The fact that a rich community, one with the luxury of choice, opts for the traditional female parenting model, tells you something about the bond between mother and child.  Although intelligent, loving, willing people can come up with different relationships, Mother Nature hardwired moms to be the nurturers.

That’s what I say.  The Obama administration, in a brief supporting same-sex marriage that it submitted to the United States Supreme Court, says different:

The Justice Department presented its conclusions about parenthood in rebutting an argument made by proponents of Proposition 8 that the traditional two-parent family, led by both a mother and a father, was the ideal place, determined even by nature itself, to raise a child.

The Obama administration argues this is not true. It argues that children need neither a father nor a mother and that having two fathers or two mothers is just as good as having one of each.

“The [California] Voter Guide arguably offered a distinct but related child-rearing justification for Proposition 8: ‘the best situation for a child is to be raised by a married mother and father,’” said the administration’s brief submitted to the court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.

“As an initial matter, no sound basis exists for concluding that same-sex couples who have committed to marriage are anything other than fully capable of responsible parenting and child-rearing,” the Department of Justice told the court. “To the contrary, many leading medical, psychological, and social-welfare organizations have issued policy statements opposing restrictions on gay and lesbian parenting based on their conclusion, supported by numerous scientific studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.”

“The weight of the scientific literature strongly supports the view that same-sex parents are just as capable as opposite-sex parents,” says the administration.

To support this argument, one of the documents the administration cites is a “policy statement” by the American Psychological Association. This statement claims that some studies indicate same-sex parents might be “superior” to mother-and-father families, but then concedes there is little actual data on the results of raising children in two-father households.

“Members of gay and lesbian couples with children have been found to divide the work involved in childcare evenly, and to be satisfied with their relationships with their partners,” says this APA policy statement the administration cited to the court. “The results of some studies suggest that lesbian mothers’ and gay fathers’ parenting skills may be superior to those of matched heterosexual parents. There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

“Studies of other aspects of personal development (including personality, self-concept, and conduct) similarly reveal few differences between children of lesbian mothers and children of heterosexual parents,” says the APA policy statement. “However, few data regarding these concerns are available for children of gay fathers.”

The Obama administration further argues that because California law already permits domestic partnerships in which same-sex couples are allowed all the “incidents” of marriage–including the right to adopt children and be foster parents–that Proposition 8 only denies same-sex couples the use of the word “marriage” and does not change the status of child-rearing in the state.

“Moreover, as the court of appeals determined, ‘Proposition 8 had absolutely no effect on the ability of same-sex couples to become parents or the manner in which children are raised in California,’” says the administration. “As explained, California law, both before and after Proposition 8, grants registered domestic partners the same parental rights and benefits accorded to married couples. And Proposition 8 does not alter California’s adoption, fostering, or presumed-parentage laws, which ‘continue to apply equally to same-sex couples.’

“In light of California’s conferral of full rights of parenting and child-rearing on same-sex couples, Proposition 8’s denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry bears no cognizable relation, let alone a substantial one, to any interest in responsible procreation and child-rearing (however defined),” says the administration. “Indeed, because a substantial number of California children are raised in households headed by same-sex couples.”

Children can absolutely survive without mothers.  In the pre-modern era, the risks of childbirth saw enormous numbers of children orphaned.  Children are resilient.  They’ll survive a parents’ death; they’ll survive both parents’ deaths; they’ll survive good foster homes and bad; and they’ll survive in a two-father family, a two-mother family, or a non-traditional family where dad stays home.  But to pretend that a stable two-parent home with a loving mother providing a feminine role model and a loving father providing a masculine role model is unnecessary and passe is something that could only happen in a post-post-deconstructionist world, one in which a boy can announce that he is a girl and, voila!, that makes it so.

We 21st century first worlders have an enormous arrogance, one that sees us thinking that we can successfully ignore our biology and human nature as a whole.  Just a few examples show how wrong that hubris is.  We think that we control the entire earth’s atmosphere, rather than just have the ability to pollute or keep clean our immediate internment; we think that we can control disease, only to see our antibiotics become ineffective, with viruses such as AIDS sneaking past our “civilized” defenses, and traditional scourges such as TB coming back in new and ever more virulent form; we think that we have reached an apex of civility that overrides the cruel animal in us, only to witness unspeakable atrocities in every corner of the world, in every decade of every century; and we think that we can use our superior abilities, not just to constrain biology, but to ignore it entirely.

Please understand that I do not intend to say here that non-traditional households cannot succeed and that they are unable to create a loving, nurturing environment for children.  I’m just saying that, if history has taught us anything, it’s that it’s utterly foolish to pretend that Mother Nature doesn’t usually get the last word — making it quite wrong and dangerously foolish to create public policy based upon the pretense that Nature doesn’t exist.

Parents are good for children, and children are good for parents (especially selfish parents)

Having babies used to be biologically inevitable.  If you were a woman who had sex, the possibility of pregnancy increased automatically with every act of sexual intercourse.  People have always had birth control (withdrawal, the rhythm method, vinegar-soaked sponges, primitive condoms, etc.) but their success rate was random and limited.

Then came modern birth control — pills, diaphragms, IUDs, quality condoms, etc. — and, for responsible women, sex stopped leading to pregnancy unless they wanted it to happen.

The societal assumption when birth control use surged in America was that women who used birth control would invariably have children.  They’d simply do so on their own time-table, rather than on Nature’s.  Some women waited too long (or just had problems with conception), but science had an answer there too, with increasingly successful fertility treatments, implants, and even complex surrogacies, using a combination of egg, sperm, and womb.

What no one predicted was that, given the choice, women simply wouldn’t want to have children.  This isn’t just because they’re Malthusian environmentalists who are afraid that children will destroy the world.  It’s because they don’t see children as part of their happy (and sometimes selfish) life plan:

For many individual women considering their own lives and careers, children have become a choice, rather than an inevitable milestone—and one that comes with more costs than benefits.

“I don’t know if that’s selfish,” says Jordan, the daughter of an Ecuadoran and an Ohioan who grew up in the South Bronx, explaining her reasons for a decision increasingly common among women across the developed world, where more than half of the world’s population is now reproducing at below the replacement rate. “I feel like my life is not stable enough, and I don’t think I necessarily want it to be … Kids, they change your entire life. That’s the name of the game. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”

I totally get that.  As I hit my 30s, I was living the lush life:  good job, good income, nice apartment, quality boyfriend and, when the long work hours were over, a lot of “me” time.  I had no biological clock ticking away.  I didn’t want children.  In general, I’m not that fond of them.  Yet here I am today, completely defined by my status as “Mom.”  What the heck happened?

What happened was that my boyfriend (now husband) wanted children and I wanted him.  The other thing that happened was that I took a long, considering look at all of the older childless couples I knew, who voluntarily stayed childless, and I didn’t like what I saw.  Without exception, these people were more affluent than their peers, they were well-traveled, well-dined, and well-groomed.  They were also rigid, humorless, thin-skinned, and unable to deal with even the most minor crises.  I realized that it’s not just that (g00d) parents are good for children, it’s that children are good for parents.

I hated the baby and toddler years, and they definitely accelerated my aging (chronic sleep deprivation did not agree with me).  I also hated the schlepping, the endless frustration of dealing with toddlers, and the chaos in my once-quiet house.  I don’t like irrational creatures and there is no creature more irrational (from an adult perspective) than a toddler.  Toddlers, of course, function in a completely rational world, defined by their immediate desires, limited understanding, and somewhat magical thinking.

It got easier as the kids grew up, and now I’m in a really great position where I’m optimizing the benefits that come with being a parent.  I enjoy my teenagers, a great deal.  They’re intelligent, loving, funny people and, while I like it when I’ve got my house it myself, I certainly don’t dislike it when they’re around.  I like their friends too, and am very happy to have (no kidding) the most popular house in the neighborhood.  My son, bless his heart, told me that all his friends like to be here because I’m the easiest-to-get-along-with parent they know.  I’m not a pushover — it’s just that, as with politics, I’m laissez faire.  I have a few fixed rules but otherwise, if the kids are not hurting themselves, each other, my dog, or my house, I leave them alone.

Meanwhile, they keep me young.  I hope I’m not mutton dressed as lamb, but I know the games, music, movies, language, clothing (which I don’t copy), and the general culture of youth.  I am not calcified and I am not rigid.  I don’t get hysterical if there’s no blood or vomit involved in whatever crisis arises — and I don’t even get hysterical about blood or vomit.  I just move a bit more quickly to cope with it.

My point is that the selfish person should want to have children.  I believe that my children benefit from my selfishness, which leads me to a benign neglect that keeps them from trying to grow under the shadow and endless wind of a helicopter parent, and I get to stay young, agreeable and adaptable.  It’s a good deal for me, even though the upfront costs (two miserable pregnancies followed by years without sleep, rest, or privacy) were high.

Being honest with children, without abandoning your right as a parent to pass judgment

So much of parenting is about communication.  Because children listen with their hearts as well as their minds, that communication had better be honest.  If it’s not, your child will instantly know you for either a fool or a liar.

Being honest, though, is not the same as being judgmental.  There is a time and a place for both.  Most parents have discovered that, occasionally, passing judgment on someone or something simply encourages a child to push back, thereby turning into a fight something that ought to be a deep and principled discussion.

A good example of the way to be both honest and effectively judgmental (meaning getting your child to acknowledge your principles without pushing back) is the drug talk.  Most parents of high schoolers have made the sad discovery that a certain percentage of their child’s peers are doing drugs.  When you, the parent, hear such stories, you can be simultaneously honest and judgmental by stating your principled position about drug use.  Mine is that drug use is very dangerous for children and teenagers.  Even ostensibly mild drugs such as marijuana have a damaging effect on a young person’s intellectual and emotional development.  (You can imagine the rest of the factual lecture here, because I’m sure you’ve given it yourself.)

What the wise parent avoids, though, is leveling an attack, not against the drugs, but against the drug user.  As sure as the sun rises, if you attack an individual, your child will spring to that individual’s defense:

Mom:  Boy, is that a stupid girl to be smoking pot at her age.

Child:  She is not stupid.  She gets really good grades.

That’s the moment the parent has lost control of the conversation. It’s now going to wend its way through various pointless rhetorical pathways, with the parent trying to prove that a teenager she’s never actually met is an idiot, while the child vigorously asserts that the teen is a paragon of virtue, but for the drug use.

The better way to keep the conversation going is to offer an honest opinion about your emotional response to that errant teen, or your sense of that same teen’s emotional status:

Mom:  That’s so sad.  In her Facebook picture, she looks like such a lovely girl, but drug use, especially when you start so wrong, is damaging at so many levels.  She must be deeply unhappy or insecure to throw herself away with drug use.

Child:  How can she be insecure?  She’s always bossing people around.

Mom:  People who have a genuine, bone-deep confidence, don’t feel the need to throw their weight around, or medicate their insecurities with illegal drugs.  [And so on and so on.]

A parent who is honestly sympathetic to a child’s plight can be judgmental without forcing her child into a defensive posture. Using this technique, you can have conversations with your kids about hard topics – drugs, sex, social challenges – that are deep and without embarrassment, because the kids know that the parent will honestly talk facts, but avoid labels that trigger a self-defense, or peer-defense, mechanism.

Honesty also has the virtue of cutting straight through the euphemisms all people — and especially teenagers — use to hide the fact that a certain behavior is morally wrong or simply degrading. My favorite example of this is the talk I had with some girls I was driving to a high school dance.  They were chatting excitedly about whether or not they would be asked to dance (yes, even in this modern day and age, the boys still ask the girls), and whether they should let a guy freak dance with them.

I couldn’t resist chiming in.  “You know what freak dancing is, don’t you? Freak dancing is when a strange guy masturbates against your bottom.”

From the back of the car came a chorus of disgusted squeals.  “Oh, my God!  That’s so gross.  I’m never going to freak dance.”

(Since they were in the back, they didn’t see my fist pump.)

I doubt I could have gotten such a dramatic, heartfelt response if I’d allowed the girls to think of freak dancing as “just a dance” or tried delicately to address the matter as “a sort of dance where the guy rubs himself against you.”  Also, by going straight to the heart of the matter, without waffling, I also signaled to the girls that the type of dancing they were contemplating is something that they can talk about with me openly, without the need for embarrassment.

I am consistently honest with my children, and I’ve never regretted that decision.  Even when my children catch me being dishonest (for better or worse, I’m a big believer in social lies that enable others to save face when it comes to issues that do not involve core ethics or morality), I explain what my thinking is and why I’m doing what I’m doing.  I’m the magician who shows every aspect of his tricks.  And yet somehow, the magic is still there, because my children have absorbed my morality and values, and apply them to their daily lives.

The real threat that the Ann Romneys of the world represent to the statist Left

I’ve been thinking (and if those aren’t ominous words, I don’t know what are).  I’ve been thinking about the Left’s attack on stay-at-home Mom’s, an attack that Hilary Rosen started, and that others have continued.  To refresh your recollection, let’s start with Rosen, who says that Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life”:

While Rosen made a “fulsome” (i.e., offensive, disgusting, and insincere) apology, others doubled down on her behalf.  NOW President Terry O’Neill carefully explained that, if you don’t get paid for your work, it doesn’t count — which is precisely what my liberal Facebook friends have been saying, in an eerie echo of 1960s’ male chauvinist pigs.

The doubling down continued when Judith Warner, who writes for TIME Magazine, agrees that Ann Romney is “out of touch” with most women.  You see, Ann Romney comes from an intact family where the man is the primary breadwinner.  What could be more appallingly regressive than that?

And then, of course, there’s just the ordinary bottom feeder obscene ugliness than routinely emanates from the Left.  This kind of verbal violence is the Leftist equivalent of the old dictum that, if you have the law, argue the law; if you have the facts, argue the facts; and if you have neither facts nor law, pound the table.  If you’re a Leftist, you “pound the table” by calling women the most obscene names possible and threaten them with violence.

That’s the cursory rundown.  Now back to “I’ve been thinking….”  This is not just a war of tired old feminists who are trying to justify the fact that most of them paid illegal, undereducated women, many of whom speak little or no English, to raise their children.  This transcends Leftist feminist sensibilities and touches upon a core issue in statism — namely, who raises the children?

A small, but relevant, digression here:  One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read is Joshua Muravchik’s Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. The title is self-explanatory.  I highly recommend the book, simply because it’s so good, but I mention it here because of the chapter involving Israeli kibbutzim, which were intended to represent the purest form of voluntary socialism.  Part of the socialist experiment was that children would be raised, not within family units, but as part of the cooperative.  Only in that way could the kibbutz defeat unhealthy, selfish individualism and assure a new generation of people dedicated to the movement.

Except that’s not what happened.  Some moms were very happy to allow the collective to raise the children.  However, it turned out that the majority of moms, once those mom-hormones started roaring through their bodies, didn’t want their children whisked off to the collective nursery, no matter how nice a place it was.  They’d bonded with their babies, and they wanted to nurture those babies.  The kibbutzim were quickly forced to reconfigure to allow for single family homes.  Had they not done so, they would have lost too many families.

And now, back to the main point….

For the last many years, I have been the single most important influence on my children.  Yes, they go to school (public school, yet); and yes, they both have thriving social lives; and yes, I’ve been unable to insulate them from a Leftist pop culture that is hostile to traditional norms and to conservatives generally, but I’m still the most important person.  Of all the influences in their lives, I am the one who is most present, most consistent, and most trusted.  I’m sure they’ll pull away as they get older, and they may even rebel, but I’ll still be that little voice in their brain, imparting facts, values, and analyses.

I am the counterweight to the state.  Therefore, I am dangerous.  I am subversive simply by existing.  My love for my children is a dominant force that works its way into their psyches and that trumps the state-run schools and the state complicit media world.  Some mothers, of course, are entirely in sync with schools and media.  They happily reinforce the statist message.  But those of us who don’t are a powerful anti-statist force and we must be challenged.

The Left’s problem with Ann Romney transcends her husband’s wealth, her (and his) Republican identification, and her decision to work for her children, rather than for a paying employer.  The Left’s problem with Ann Romney is that she represents the triumph of the individual.  No wonder they hate her so much.

UPDATE:  Welcome, Instapundit and PowerLine readers.  I’m going to go all Beverly Hillbillies and say “Y’all come back now.”  And welcome to you, too, Hot Air readers.  Y’all should also come back now!

Hilary Rosen defenders look to 1960s “male chauvinist pigs” for support

I’m seeing a terribly funny new meme on Facebook, aimed at explaining away Hilary Rosen’s statement that Ann Romney, who raised five children, fought breast cancer, and has MS, has never worked a day in her life. Friends are posting things to the effect that, while parenting is “work,” it’s not a “job.” From this I gather that it’s only a job if you get paid for it.

I’m old enough to recall a time when feminists went absolutely ballistic at men who denigrated their housework by saying that it wasn’t really a “job” because they weren’t getting paid for it. In other words, women trying to defend Rosen’s statement have had to fall back upon what the famous “male chauvinist pigs” of the 1960s and 1970s used to say about women. All of which proves, once again, that there’s nothing more regressive than a Progressive.

Pain, parenting and politics

Last night, one of the neighborhood kids fell and broke his wrist during a vigorous after dark game, played without adult supervision.  That kind of injury would never have happened to me when I was a kid, because I wasn’t allowed to play rough or vigorous.  My parents, who had experienced the 1930s and 1940s with excessive force, were bound and determined to protect my sister and me from pain.

The only problem is that it doesn’t work.  I’m not advocating torturing kids or anything to get them to face life’s realities, but you can’t hide them from it either.  Yesterday, this youngster learned about pain, but he also learned about bravery.  He cried — but then he sucked it up.  Today, he’s basking in sympathy and interest.  His wrist will heal, and life will go on.

Swathed in cotton wool as I was, when I ran into pain in my 20s, I had absolutely no idea how to respond.  An ordinary lesson when one is 10 or 12 or 14, became a very difficult lesson for me.  I’m still embarrassed when I look back and see how badly I behaved.

One of life’s realities is that pain, both physical and emotional, is out there.  Short of living locked in a room, which itself is a measure of psychic pain I can’t even imagine, one cannot hide from the physical and mental hits life has in store for us.

Interestingly, my parenting and political philosophies mesh well, just as my (liberal) husband’s parenting and political philosophies do.  Both politically and as a parent, I believe in maximum individual freedom within a small, but stable and reliable, framework of rules.  Kids and citizens should have the opportunity to soar, even if there is a risk of falling.  My husband is a micro manager, who is so certain that he knows what is right for all people, and that he can control all known risks, that he is loath to allow anyone, whether citizen or child, off the leash.

Personal morality and responsibility

11B40 asked a good question, which is why I’m so focused on McQueary, when it was Sandusky who committed the crime.  It’s because I have no fellow feeling with Sandusky who, if the allegations are true, is a perverted monster.  I therefore don’t need to analyze my behavior or parenting decisions with regard to his conduct.  McQueary, however, is Everyman.  Each of us could be in his shoes.

McQueary’s response to a horrible, unexpected situation wasn’t perverse or illegal.  Instead, it was just the lowest common denominator of acceptable behavior that an ordinary human could commit.  I have within me the capacity to do exactly what he did — but I want to be better than that.  That’s why I’m also hammering away at columnists who explain what he did, not just to offer explanations, but also to excuse his conduct.  Like them, like all of us, I could be McQueary, but I don’t want to be McQueary.

Perhaps my obsession with this is also because I’m a parent in a morally challenging world, attempting to give my children moral lessons.  That hit home yesterday. As I hadn’t quite made it back to the house when my 12-year-old son got home from school, he called me, his voice trembling with unshed tears. “Mom, I have to tell you this. I need to confess. There was this old guy handing out little pocket Bibles at school [actually, next to the school, on non-school land]. Then, on the school bus home, one of the kids had candy and I wanted the candy and the kid said he’d give me the candy if I ripped up the Bible — and I did. Another boy threw a bunch of Bibles out the window.  I’m so sorry. I know what I did was wrong and I just had to tell you.”

When I got home, my son was still very upset, partially because he knew he’d done something wrong (both destroying a book and destroying a religious symbol) and partially because he was worried about getting expelled from school.  Without actually meaning to, I made him even more upset.  On my way back home after his call, I’d already called a friend whom I knew was taking her kids to a non-denominational youth night at the local church. I figured it would be good for my son immediately to go to a place where the book of God matters. When I mentioned I’d told her, he completely broke down, sobbing hysterically. “How could you? She won’t respect me any more.” (And I can’t tell you how glad I am to know that he realized that what he did would impair his standing in the eyes of the community.)

It got worse for my little guy when I opened my email and discovered an email from a friend and neighbor who didn’t know that my son had confessed, telling me about what happened and adding that several of the children on the bus were quite upset. “Oh, no! None of the parents will respect me anymore. This is horrible. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to destroy God’s property.” More sobbing. My son wrote our neighbor an abject apology for having committed an offensive act, and she sent a gracious reply.

I wasn’t pleased with what my son did, but I wasn’t angry at him.  It seemed to me that he was angry enough at himself.  He knew that he’d done an irresponsible and offensive act, although he did so foolishly and entirely without malice.  He also felt very keenly that what he had done might diminish him in the eyes of people he respects and whose respect he desires.

Indeed, I was quite pleased that he was upset and able to identify his own wrongdoing, rather than arrogant and dismissive.  He could have gone the other route:  “It’s just a book, and people who believe in it are stupid, and I should be able to rip up a book if I want, etc.”  That he didn’t, that he immediately realized he’d made a mistake, was a comforting reminder that my son is a fundamentally good person, who is simply a long way from maturity.  He is not, thank goodness, a punk or a sociopath.  A good (not angry or accusatory) talk about decency and respect, a total media blackout for two days, and a rather pleasant evening for him at a church youth group (he wants to go back) were, to my mind, entirely sufficient responses.

What was really interesting — and here we’re back at my whole obsession with McQueary and a society that passes the back and practices moral relativism — was the response from a liberal friend of mine.  Rather than acknowledging that my son had done something wrong, his ire was all focused on the old man who had handed out Bibles.

“That’s illegal.”  ”

No, it’s not.  He wasn’t on school property, and he wasn’t handing out anything that is illegal or that is prohibited to minors, such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or pornography.”

“Well, it ought to be illegal.  You can’t just hand out Bibles to people.”

“Um, actually, a little thing called the First Amendment says you can.”

He was shocked.

My friend’s next challenge was that handing out a Bible to school children was entrapment.

“That man was trying to entrap children.  He knew that most of them would throw it away and that boys would play with it.  There’s no difference between shredding it and throwing it in the garbage can.”

My friend was unconvinced when I pointed out that (a) the fact that many children on the bus were upset shows that treating a Bible with disrespect is not a natural or appropriate act and (b) that there is a difference between respectfully disposing of an unwanted item and deliberately destroying it in public view.  Intention matters.  And it was because intention matters that I was upset with my son for what he did, but I was neither angry nor perturbed.  His intentions weren’t blasphemous.  He just wanted candy.

Because issues such as this pop up in one form or another quite often when you have parents, you can see why I think long and hard about the messages we send our kids when it comes to right and wrong, and about responsibility to individuals and to society at large.

What do you all think, whether about my parenting decisions, about my McQueary tie-in, about societal messages, or anything else this post might have brought to mind?

Earning the Mom medal

Every time I return from a Navy League or Navy event, I lament the fact that we in the civilian world do not get to wear our honors and accomplishments on our hats, shoulders, chests or sleeves.  The fact that there is no official boasting mechanism in my suburban Mom life, though, doesn’t mean I can’t simply be like the cock, and crow on my own little dunghill.  Without further ado, I hereby give myself a good Mom award.

Honestly, I’ve really earned it.  Yesterday, my teenage daughter told her friends, “You can say anything in front of my Mom.  She’s never embarrassing and she gives really good advice.”  If I could have that engraved on a medal, I would.

Lest you think I earned that accolade because I’m the type of Mom who coos, “Of course you can have sex, do drugs and spend all my money, darling,” you’d be far off the mark.  In fact, I’m extremely opinionated, in a very socially conservative way.  Perhaps it’s my willingness to be a straight shooter, to shy away from innuendo, metaphor and deep agendas, that makes the children feel comfortable with me.

I find amusing the fact that my kids and their friends so obviously enjoy my company.  Thirty-five years after the fact, I’m finally popular in Middle School and High School.  I’m slow, but I get there!

It’s not always politics. Sometimes we talk family here too.

It would be so nice if my children had inherited only my best qualities, plus their father’s best qualities too.  Then, they would have been brilliant, talented and gorgeous.  But that’s not how it worked out.  For one thing, they’ve got qualities, such as athleticism and self-discipline, that neither my husband nor I have.  (We’re both driven, not self-disciplined.)  Also, they inherited a good dose of our horribles too:  stubbornness, temper, etc.  Both my husband and I have, for these many years, been much more appreciative of what our own parents went through with us.  Bruce Kesler has also been thinking about his mother and her parenting experiences.

High School Daze

My daughter started high school at our local public high.  It’s a great high school.  It’s got a beautiful facility, high quality staff, all the bells and whistles you can think of, an involved parent body, and a whole lot of very nice kids.  I always knew all that, but I had that information reinforced when I attended my first PTA meeting.

I learned something else at the local PTA meeting:  drug and alcohol use are “rampant” (their word, not mine) at this high school.  By the time the kids are juniors and seniors, there’s a “culture” of abuse.  It’s part of “the fabric” of the students’ social lives.

Part of the problem is the curse of affluence.  The kids have the wherewithal to buy high quality fake IDs and the money to spend on drugs and alcohol.  The other part of the problem is something that never occurred to me — parents.  As I confirmed with some internet searching later, there’s a trend amongst parents to host pot and alcohol parties for their children.  The theory behind these illegal parties is these parents’ belief that, if the drug and alcohol use is done under their aegis, they can keep it “safe” and “responsible.”

Plain common sense tells how wrong this attitude is.  I confirmed my common sense by speaking with my daughter when she came home from school.  I told her precisely what I’d learned, and warned about parties where parents offer alcohol.  She said, “If we hadn’t talked about this, and some parent offered me a glass of wine, I would have thought it was okay and taken it.”  It’s that simple.  If authority figures say something is okay, then it must be.

Amazingly, Disney (Disney!) handles this issue of parental approval surprisingly well in 17 Again.  The plot device is that a man is suddenly transformed into a 17 year old (played by Zac Efron), and finds himself in school with his own children, a boy who is being bullied, and a girl who is dating the bully.  This scene is about condoms (and ignore the execrable Margaret Cho as the sex ed teacher), with Efron’s character watching in horror as a basket of condoms is handed to his own daughter:

Although the movie doesn’t come out and say so, I do believe that someone at the Disney studio disapproved of a high school teacher saying, “To hell with abstinence.  You guys can just have condoms because we’re too weak to stop you from hurting and demeaning yourselves.”

But back to the drug issue.  I also learned that, if my kids throw a wholesome party (a few vetted and trusted friends) and that party is crashed by drug/alcohol users, if those gatecrashers get into trouble after leaving my property, I’m still liable.  (As a lawyer, I knew this; as a mother, I had refused to recognize it.)  The way to short circuit liability is to call the police.  The police representative at the school said kids should know this too, as these events often happen to hapless kids when their parents are away for an evening.  The host kid should feel no compunction about placing a non-emergency call to the police, especially since our local police are extremely nice people.

I thought this was good advice, but I added my own warning to the kids:  If any kid ever uses drugs or alcohol on my property, in the house or in the yard, I will rip that child’s head off and celebrate as I watch the blood splatter on the ceiling.  The kids laughed, but I think they got the message.

 

Strong Children

I was at my church this past weekend and was struck by the large number of college-graduate children that are now back living at home with their parents, out of work. The impression I have is that many of these kids still have no idea what they want to do with their lives. I get the sense that most pursued college degrees in either the soft social sciences (sociology, psychology, political science, environmental science), liberal arts (English, history) or hobby-arts (music, physical training), without any idea of what they planned to do with those degrees.

I largely blame their parents for this.

Meanwhile, I was at a professional meeting last week (I work in a technology-intensive industry) and heard over and over again, “we just can’t find any qualified new hires”). There are companies all over my industry looking to hire young talent. I had an executive with a large French company recently lament to me that he couldn’t find qualified American scientists, they were all from “China or India”.

I also watched a young adult professional give a PowerPoint presentation replete with misspellings and disconnected thoughts.
Where have we gone wrong in parenting and education in our society?

What do we need to do to build strong individuals and productive citizens?

My guilty little secret turns out to have been a good thing

In Marin County, spanking a child is a very dangerous activity.  Although spanking is not illegal, it’s enough to entangle you with Child Protective Services and, from that moment on, parenting life as you know it is over.  Despite the danger, when my kids were little, I spanked them.  With two unguided missiles, sometimes the only way I could get control over the situation was a quick smack.  With a four year old, reasoning doesn’t work; taking away privileges is too time-attenuated; and my kids didn’t care about time-outs.  A quick spanking relieved my anger and gave them a very quick lesson in cause and effect (cause:  naughty; effect:  spanking).

It turns out now that my secret forays into old-fashioned discipline were a gift to my children:

Children who are smacked by parents often turn out more successful than those who have not, research has found.

The study concluded that children who had been physically disciplined when they were young, between the ages of 2 and 6, were performing better as teenagers on almost every measure that was taken into consideration than those who had never been smacked.

It was only in cases where it continued beyond the age of 12 that the children were found to be affected negatively, resulting in a dip on performance indicators.

The results of the US-based study undermines the efforts of various campaigners who have been trying to have physical punishment outlawed in the UK, who have claimed that it causes long-term damage to the children.

Read the rest here.

I only wish I could have been able to smack them on a more regular basis when they were really naughty little kids.  (Not beat, smack.)  As it was, because of the dangers inherent in corporal punishment, the situation had to be very extreme before I resorted to spanking.  I think my life would have been easier and, I think, they might have been more disciplined now.

Autism diagnoses and parenting problems

Back in November 2007, I wrote a long post talking about the fact that I see a lot of children who are labeled as having Asperger’s (a subset of autism) but who seem instead (or also) to be the victims of profoundly bad parenting.  I noted that I have known over the years children who are actually profoundly disabled, and whose disability has been given the Asperger’s/autism label.  These correctly diagnosed children are quite different from the problem kids I identified in my earlier post.  The children I identified in my post, the ones I thought were victims of diagnostic overkill rather than an actual disability, weren’t kids who lack language skills, or control over their bodies, or who have obsessive interests that impair their ability to function, or who fail to recognize ordinary human emotions.  The kids I know who fall into those latter categories of genuine disability are, frankly, doing wonderfully well and working vigorously to maximize all of their strengths.

Instead, in my November post, I was talking about the children who are prone to chronic tantruming and who get slapped with an Aspergers label as a sop to the parents.  Here is how I described these children, all of whom have on their “permanent records” labels that place them within the autism spectrum:

Where I’m about to get controversial is my sense that, in some cases, Aspergers is the diagnosis given to children whose parents are not parenting. I know three — count ‘em, three — children who are nightmarish behavior problems. What characterizes all three of them is the uncontrollable temper tantrums they have. And I’m not talking about 2 or 3 year olds lying on the floor hollering “No!” I’m talking about kids who are 7 or 8 or even 11 or 12 and who regularly engage in scenes that involve uncontrolled screaming, hurling insults and, often, physical violence against other adults or children. Because of the scenes — and only because of these scenes — each set of parents eventually took the child to a psychiatrist. That is, the parents did not take their kids to the psychiatrists because they weren’t socializing well or because they were obsessed with a single subject at school. They took them because of those off-the-charts tantrums. In all three of the cases I know, the psychiatrists diagnosed the kids with Asbergers.

But here’s what I didn’t tell you about those three children: In each of the three cases, the parents (in my humble estimation) earn an “F” for structure and discipline. The common pattern in each of those households is that one or both of the parents feels an almost excessive sympathy for the kid when he (or she) is frustrated or unhappy. What the child wants, the child gets. One of the children I’m thinking of ruled the whole household. She dictated what was eaten, what wasn’t eaten, where people went, what they did, what bed time was, what toys and games were bought and rejected, etc. The parents thought that they were making her happy, but to an objective observer, the child was miserable. It was way too heavy a burden to place on a 10 year old, and she was a frenzied, hysterical tyrant who was unable to cope if anything didn’t go her way.

What also characterizes all of these parents is that, when the child has a tantrum, regardless of how awful it is, and what havoc it creates, the parents respond, not with discipline, but with sympathy: “The poor little thing. He couldn’t control himself. He was so upset I didn’t have the heart to punish him.” And in each case, this sympathetic response to the child’s tantrums worsens after the diagnosis. Now the parent is not only sorry for the child, but he’s convinced that the child is “sick” and must be handled with ever greater care.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed this diagnostic trend — that is, to reach a psychiatric conclusion that all tantruming little children have a disease — although I pointed it out tactfully and to a small audience.  Radio host Michael Savage apparently made the same point, but did so in way that managed to offend everyone:

Radio talk show host Michael Savage, who described 99 percent of children with autism as brats, said Monday he was trying to “boldly awaken” parents to his view that many people are being wrongly diagnosed.

Some parents of autistic children have called for Savage’s firing after he described autism as a racket last week. “In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,” Savage said on his radio program last Wednesday.

Savage offered no apology in a message posted Monday on his Web site. He said greedy doctors and drug companies were creating a “national panic” by overdiagnosing autism, a mental disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate.

On his radio show last week, he said: “What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, `Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.’”

As I already demonstrated months ago, I think Savage is on to something.  While all of us recognize that there are genuinely disabled kids out there, kids whose behaviors span the spectrum from severe autism to geeky Aspergers, those of us who are honest recognize that there is also a major epidemic of bad, weak, inconsistent parenting out there, and that it is creating thousands of damaged kids who are treated, not with good parenting, but with bad medicine.  I’m only sorry that it was Savage who made this point, because you can count on him being so spectacularly tactless and inflammatory that the message gets lost in the ruckus.

Switching from a communist to a capitalist economy

I never thought about it, but I was running my house like a commune.  The kids had chores to do, of course, but the incentive was the greater good, my approbation, and an allowance that, in their minds, had no relationship to the tasks demanded.  The kids did not find these incentives inspiring, and the days and works tended to be a blur of my pushing, and pushing, and their pushing back.  I was frustrated, they were resentful, and the house chaotic.

Aside from the practical stalemate of a sort of general household chaos, the “incentives” of “the greater good” and punishment did not work very well at controlling behavioral problems either.  The kids fought like cats and dogs, whined more than one would have thought possible, and thought that interrupting me was an Olympic sport.

Believe it or not, they are nice kids, but life has been a day to day struggle to achieve things that, in the perfectly run “communist” household of my youth, worked well.  As to my youth, my sister reminded me that it probably worked well because my mother, who is a lovely woman, nevertheless carried a a very big stick.  Also, my sister and I were exceptionally biddable children (probably because of that same stick).

I decided this summer to switch to capitalism, aided by the fact that the kids have very strong commercial desires — he wants a Rip Stick and she (I blush to admit this) Abercrombie clothes.  Here’s the method I devised:

I have a lot of big tasks in the house that have been bedeviling me, mostly in the form of closets that badly need organizing.  There are also the usual things of dirty kitchens, clean (but full) dishwashers, and stacks of clean, unfolded laundry.  I told the kids that, on a daily basis, I will assign them a task with a good salary.  Not a piddling 50 cents or $1 per task, but $5 to $20 per child, depending on the task’s magnitude.

There are conditions, however.  First, they must listen well as I explain the task.  Second, while doing the task, they cannot fight with each other or come whining to me.  If they don’t understand something, they may interrupt me only if it brings the task to a dead halt.  Otherwise, they have to set aside things that confuse them and wait until they’ve reached a functional wall.  If they commit any of the bad employee sins — not listening, fighting, whining, or excessive interrupting — I dock their pay, to the point where they may find themselves doing the task for no money at all.

My husband, to my surprise, thought this was a wonderful idea.  He offered a further incentive.  If the kids could get through the whole summer without having their pay docked, he’ll double whatever they earn from me.

We put the system in effect yesterday and it was the first day ever that the kids cleaned their rooms, tidied the house, and organized a closet without fighting, whining or interrupting me every second.  The whole thing flowed.  They leaped from project to project with enthusiasm and good will.  At the end of the day, they eagerly counted their earnings, projected ahead to the time at which they’d be able to make their purchases, and expressed surprise at (a) how fun it had been to work well and (b) how nice it was not to fight.

I couldn’t resist, of course, and gave them a little lesson in the differences between communism and capitalism.  They completely understood how, with money as the hub, we were all able to achieve our goals:  they moved further towards their Rip Stick and Abercrombie clothes, and I got a tidy house, an organized closet, and two well-behaved kids.

I’ll try to keep you posted on this capitalist experiment.

When PCs clash

In the world of presidential elections, we’re watching the fascinating spectacle of clashing identity politics.  Neither Hillary nor Obama has a strong resume (or even a medium resume).  Each is distinguished from the other, and from others in the field (remember Silky Pony?) solely because of gender or race.  He’s black (sort of); she’s female (sort of).  It’s hardly been an edifying show, although anyone familiar with the demands of identity politics could have predicted the way in which this particular race would shape up.

Since liberals live for labels and hierarchies  of victimhood, I’d like to direct your attention to another clash, this time in Britain, and this time involving differing groups that have been deemed worthy of homage from the PC crowd:  gays and Muslims.  It turns out that, some time ago, Britain passed a gay rights law mandating school curricula aimed at preventing gay bullying.  Now, I am entirely in favor of preventing gay bullying.  Indeed, I’m strongly in favor of preventing any type of bullying.  If it were up to me, I’d have a strictly enforced, broad-reaching, no-bullying rule in all schools.

The problem in this case arose because the schools at issue felt compelled (either because the law requires it or because that’s how they interpret the law — I’m not sure) to teach 5 year old kids about homosexuality.  Thus, the schools included in their kindergarten curriculum books touting homosexual and lesbian relationships, something that seems a bit premature for the 5 year old set, most of whom are dealing with such intricacies as shoe laces, the alphabet song, and counting to three digit numbers.  Throwing in non-traditional relationships seems a bit much.

As it is, the school picked some rather cute sounding, appropriately make-believe-ish books to make the legally mandated points:

One story, titled King & King, is a fairytale about a prince who turns down three princesses before marrying one of their brothers.

Another named And Tango Makes Three features two male penguins who fall in love at a New York zoo.

I’m that all would have been well if a conservative Christian group stepped forward to object to this curriculum.  We know, after all, that conservative Christians (a) hate gays and (b) don’t have to be listened to because, in the PC hierarchy, they’re victimizers, not victims, thereby invalidating their concerns.  The problem is that it wasn’t conservative Christians who were upset by the indoctrina . . . er . . . education their kids were getting.  Instead, it was Muslim parents:

Two primary schools have withdrawn storybooks about samesex relationships after objections from Muslim parents.

Up to 90 gathered at the schools to complain about the books which are aimed at pupils as young as five.

***

They were intended to help prevent homophobic bullying, it said.

But the council has since removed the books from Easton Primary School and Bannerman Road Community School, both in Bristol.

A book and DVD titled That’s a Family!, which teaches children about different family set-ups including gay or lesbian parents, has also been withdrawn.

The decision was made to enable the schools to “operate safely” after parents voiced their concerns at meetings.

Now, as it happens, I am sympathetic to both sides in this argument, although more so to the parents.  With regard to the schools, they had a legal mandate they had to follow and, as I said, I’m extremely opposed to bullying.  (And to clarify for new readers, I don’t have a problem with adults engaging in homosexual relationships although I’m resistant to suddenly jettisoning 30,000 plus years of human history by suddenly legalizing gay marriage — I may ultimately agree to doing so, but I’d prefer to stop and consider the societal ramifications first, rather than rush of with the trendy idea of the year.)

Having expressed these sympathies, though, I am still troubled by introducing the whole concept of adult sexuality to the 5 year old set, even if that sexuality is cutely dressed up in penguin or prince clothes.  I just think it’s a topic that these little people are neither emotionally nor intellectually ready to deal with, and they don’t need it on their plates as they struggle with the practicalities of learning basic life skills.  For this reason, I hew to the view of the parents, who present themselves in the article as very reasonable people indeed:

Farooq Siddique, community development officer for the society and a governor at Bannerman Road, said there were also concerns about whether the stories were appropriate for young children.

“The main issue was there was a total lack of consultation with parents,” he said.

“The schools refused to deal with the parents, and were completely authoritarian.

“The agenda was to reduce homophobic bullying and all the parents said they were not against that side of it, but families were saying to us ‘our child is coming home and talking about same-sex relationships, when we haven’t even talked about heterosexual relationships with them yet’.

“They don’t do sex education until Year Six and at least there you have got the option of withdrawing the children.

“But here you don’t have that option apparently. You can’t withdraw because it is no particular lesson they are used in.”

He added: “In Islam homosexual relationships are not acceptable, as they are not in Christianity and many other religions but the main issue is that they didn’t bother to consult with parents.

“The issue should have been, how do we stop bullying in general, and teaching about homosexuality can be a part of that.

“This was completely one-sided.

“Homosexuality is not a priority to parents but academic achievement is. This just makes parents think ‘What the heck is my child being taught at school?’.”

I agree with everything Siddique said.  Schools shouldn’t be high-handed with regard to these sensitive matters, parents weren’t given a say, it’s not (in my opinion) age appropriate material, and the school’s decision may well extend beyond the legal mandate.  (I do wonder, though, whether the bulk of the parents were as reasonable as Mr. Siddique.  I’m sure you caught the factthat the school backed down from its position because the school needed to “operate safely.”  That sounds, of course, as if the schools were receiving threats.  The article provides no further information about this cryptic phrase.)

The one thing I can assure you is that this will be an interesting battle, and it won’t revolve around the actual merits at issue:  preventing bullying, respecting the complete sexual innocence of 5 year olds, acknowledging parents’ right/need for input regarding sensitive issues, etc.  Instead, it’s going to boil down to a battle of specially protected classes:  gays vs. Muslims.  One of them will win quickly or the whole thing will get very loud and very ugly.  The only thing you can be sure of is that the children’s age-appropriate educational needs will not be taken into consideration.