How to make yourself very, very unpopular! Years ago I discovered that in the tug of war between the rights of women and the needs of children it can be dangerous to take sides. I gave up writing supportive articles about feminism, since there were already plenty of them, and started to defend the rights of children. It seemed to me then that children’s well – being was in danger of being forgotten in the rush for rights for women in this country.
To my amazement, the very active feminists around me ostracised me – crossed the road rather than acknowledge me if I met them in the street, and carried on a sustained campaign over the years of hostile letters about me and my articles in the local press. Many years later one of the most prominent and talented of these women, by then a mother herself, wrote a book on mothering in which she vindicated my stand, saying I was the only woman in NZ who had stood up for motherhood.
I say this as I gear myself up for what could well be an infuriated response to this blog by people who feel passionately about the rights of women. Because now I’m bothered about motherhood. It’s a fact of life that when women become mothers they have to give up lots of rights – the right to a night of unbroken sleep, the right to go to the loo without an audience, the right to have an un-interrupted conversation with a friend… the list of lost freedoms is a long one. But we all know that babies and children must come first.
So it bothers me to read that women are artificially having babies into their fifties and sixties, or when they don’t have a partner to support them and their child. I know from experience how hard it is to be a single mother, and to try to be both mother and father. And I feel sad for children who lose their elderly mothers to illness or old age before they are even adults. Children are stuck with what sometimes seem to me to be selfish choices and I don’t feel that all women have the right to have a child, if the child’s quality of life is at risk.
But even worse, is to read that in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, women are not just being being sent on active service, but now to fight as front line soldiers. An enraged man wrote a blog that this was ridiculous as women were not physically strong enough to do what has to be done in the front line and under fire, he felt that men were being endangered, and he’s probably right.
But what bothers me is that many women serving now are also mothers, with their husbands also serving. Surely we all know now that parting a baby or a young child from their parents breaks the bonds of trust. Abandonment sets them up for all sorts of emotional problems and relationship difficulties both in childhood and in later life. And most people now too, surely know that this is one of the traumas that propels hurting teenagers into drugs and alcohol dependency, pregnancies and violence, and too often, broken relationships, marriages and unskilled parenting?
And if the mother is killed on active service – where does this leave the child, growing up feeling that his or her mother chose her career and the thrill of fighting over the commitment of mothering? Do the temporary caregivers love the child, and are they happy to discover that now it’s a lifetime commitment? If it’s elderly grandparents, were they looking forward to a peaceful retirement, or maybe coping with ill health?
For older children the parting from their mothers is just as traumatic. It more than bothers me to think of a child having to say goodbye to their mother, living with care-givers who may or may not love him or her, and going to school every day, either longing for a letter or text from their mother, or wondering if this is the day they’re going to hear that their mother has been wounded or killed.
I was six and a half when my mother walked out of my life forever, and I know how it feels for those children. The trauma was so great that I was forty five and on a personal growth course before I could bring myself to mention my mother again. What anger and grief vulnerable, broken-hearted little boys and traumatised little girls will grow up with, feeling rejected by a mother who left them behind. Little boys rarely receive again that tenderness and gentleness that a mother can give her son, and little girls are lucky if they find a loving stepmother who doesn’t prefer her own children.
We read of worrying numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq committing suicide, and the veterans who come home so deeply traumatized by their experiences that they never recover. Some become violent – thirty per cent of returning British soldiers are involved in violence on their return – others are so deeply depressed that they are unable to work, and unable to sustain their relationships. How will it be for children if their mothers, as well as their fathers, come home in this state? Or so badly wounded that they can’t care for their children?
I wonder if when the policymakers, finding they were running out of men to send on active service, thought – ah, we can send women, and they will approve because they’ll feel they’re now truly equal, and we’ll get some brownie points – I wonder if they ever thought about the children, and the huge social problems they are cooking up for the future? Have they planned any safeguards for the innocent traumatised children of traumatised parents?
Did they ever stop to consider that children do have rights, even if they’ve never been spelt out? Though there is no mention of the rights of a child in the Bill of Rights, at least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says specifically in Article 25 that: “mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance… and should enjoy… social protection.” Mothers should be exempt from any service which takes them away from their children, or which infringes on the child’s right to be loved and to feel safe. And for this reason, it bothers me that we imprison mothers… the long term damage to children when parted from their mothers is incalculable.
A boy who’d been adopted at birth, endured a cruel childhood and been returned to the welfare agencies at twelve, bewildered and maimed, was in our car going on an outing, when my little ones began singing a song they’d learned at school, with a haunting tune. The words were “Rise up children and be free… free your brothers, free your sisters, rise up children and be free…” Sing it again, the boy cried, with a catch in his voice. I realised the words felt like hope for him.
I hope and I wish that mothers could rise up to protect their children, and refuse to be parted from them. Surely all mothers would support them? Yes, women have a voice – but do mothers and children? And is there any good reason why children should be emotionally damaged at home while their mothers are in a foreign country learning how to kill in wars that nobody wants?
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
People are coming tomorrow to inspect the old chap’s collection of Japanese antiques. I’ll have to give them morning coffee and something to nibble. I thought of hot scones, but can’t be bothered juggling with the butter and the strawberry jam and the whipped cream, butter knives and napkins. A cake seems a bit grand, and actually too much trouble for a business encounter, so I’ve decided on flapjacks – nice and chewy, comforting and sustaining.
Melt six oz of butter and stir in six oz of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and eight oz of rolled oats. Mix them thoroughly and press into a well greased tin. Smooth the mix with a knife and bake for about thirty five minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked and golden brown, cut into squares in the tin, and leave in the tin until quite cold. I like a quite thick flapjack, so they are moist and chewy, so I put this amount in a smallish tin. I often double the amounts, and I usually use half sugar to half golden syrup for a stickier flapjack.
It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about it rising, and it doesn’t go stale either.
Food for Thought
Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely change your life.
Don Miguel Ruiz Mexican teacher and shaman
42 responses to “Rise up children and be free”
A fascinating post, starting with the beautiful photo. I am glad you are cutting your flapjacks into the square shape which apparently is much safer than the triangular shape now banned at a British School because of the flapjack’s dangerous angles! And, therein, is most likely an illustration of children running wild because of lack of parenting/mothering. I am not sure where I stand on some of the issues you raise but, as one who has been a full time mother I feel strongly that motherhood has been/is greatly undervalued and under supported to the detriment of mother and child. Mind you, I sometimes wonder if someone else might have done a better job of raising my offspring 🙂 In a way, I am glad that women can go to the front line if they wish but I am slightly cynical that this is, indeed, more about a man power shortage than the armed forces suddenly being inspired to give equality to the sexes. That could be unfair thinking on my part. Re mothers in the army, I wonder if you remember the recent case of a female soldier in the British army who was serving in Afghanistan and gave birth there. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=229748 This sweet little boy, born in Camp Bastion, is now with his grandmother in Fiji whilst his mother ‘soldiers’ on. To hand or ‘gift’ a child to a grandmother for a certain period of time is traditional in a number of cultures ( I think ) and can be of great benefit to the child. But, in these cases, I would say it is the rights of the child that are being placed first. Hmmmm….you have raised so many questions for my little brain to consider!
Yes, I saw the pics of him being handed over to his grandmother to go back to Fiji, and so the parcelling around begins… when he’s bonded with grannie will his mother come back and take him away, the possibilities for upheaval in his little life are already there.?..
If women who are free of family want to become fighters, I have no issue with that… it’s when children’s well being is neglected that bothers me..
Yes, I know what you mean about dangerous flapjacks – not quite WMD but edging up there in potential destructiveness !!!
So glad you liked the picture… a piece of Japanese looking fabric from a counterpane I designed and made…
Valerie, once again I find myself agreeing with you, also at the risk of sounding ‘un-feminist.’ We seem to forget these days that children are themselves a full time job, and try to fit them in around the edges of our lives – to their, and our, detriment, as you point out. My feeling is that what children need more than anything is out time, attention and love,The question for each of us is how we can manage our lives to accommodate this. Raising children is a commitment of the highest order, a sacred one it seems to me. Thanks for another thought provoking post..
Yes, I agree with you Michele, becoming a parent and being entrusted with the life of a child is seems the most valuable vocation on earth. LIke you, I feel that time is vital… the time spent with our children is what makes them feel loved and safe… and special to their parents… we could probably both write a book on the subject!!!
Your post confirms why I say I am a peopleist rather than a feminist. Feminism puts women’s rights above those of men and children instead of seeking to balance the rights of all people.
I have no problem, and have benefited from, the breaking down of barriers which prevented women doing work which was previously regarded as a male preserve. But am sad that in improving opportunities for women the importance of many their traditional roles has been downgraded.
We all have rights but we also have responsibilities. We might be able to do anything but we can’t do everything, at least not all at the same time.
Children don’t choose to be born and parents, both parents, have to be prepared to make some sacrifices for them.
Great to hear from you Ele – I couldn’t agree more with every word you say! Particularly about responsibilities… I wonder about what I hear called the Me-generation….
My first MBA project was to write a paper on child labour. It was one of the most difficult projects that I have ever had to complete. I alternated between anger and grief. I carried a box of tissue to the library, knowing that I would need to use them by the end of my research session. If we don’t have rights for one segment of our population, then we don’t have any rights for any of the population. Children do not have the physical strength or the social development that adults have. Surely, we need to consider our responsibilities as adults. Surely, we have enough compassion within us for those who do not know how to speak for themselves.
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
― W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems
I loved that poem as a child… it spoke to me then!
Your research assignment sounds like mine thirty five years ago when I was detailed to dissect and write about the social welfare’s report into child cruelty.
I was so drenched in tears that at one point the editor said – “oh forget it!
But I knew it had to be done to open people’s eyes.
Yes, they’re open now but people still don’t know what to do about it!
Lovely to hear from you Rebecca…
Wow you are brave putting this in writing, Valerie. But I agree all the way 🙂 nicely written.
So glad you do, thank you !!!
Definitely thought provoking!
Thank you for addressing this and being brave enough to start the conversation in spite of the risk of being hated for it. My stepson and stepdaughter are both in the military and this is a touchy topic in our house. My stepdaughter joined AFTER she had her daughter and I’m guessing that she’s already missed a good 15 months of her daughter’s 2yrs of life so far. There is no bond between mother and daughter and it’s heartbreaking…and not at all fair to the baby. But hey, the adult daughter has the *right* to do as she pleases, the world or obligations be damned. My stepson and his wife are both on active duty and they too have a toddler…toss the kid from here to there and back again but again, they have the *right* to do it so it’s all good.
I spent years working as the only woman in a cabinet shop full of men so I get that women are strong, capable and yes, we can most certainly do “man’s work” – but there is a difference between working in a so-called man’s field and totally shucking the idea of parenting or sacrificing the well-being of children you’ve birthed. Society seems to have fallen into the idea that kids are as disposable as gadgets & don’t need maintenance, nurturing, etc. and it’s tragic, isn’t it?
Great to hear from you… though to hear in graphic detail my worst suspicions being realised is rather sobering…Those poor children have a raft of challenges facing them as they get older….
Yes, responsibilities get lost these days in the expectations of rights being available to all, whatever the circumstances.
And yes, whether men and woman can do the same thing is really irrelevant when it comes to child rearing, isn’t it.
I know it’s fashionable to say it takes a village to raise a child, and some use this as a get-out, but it also takes two parents to raise a child – and at least one anyway !!!!
Your post is very well done and the comments from your readers outstanding. I always enjoy the thoughts and the message that I find here.
Thank you LInda. Yes, aren’t the comments and thoughts wonderful… it adds a whole new dimension to anything we write, and as you say, these ones are outstanding – so thought provoking…
Such a thought-provoking post Valerie and I agree with you. I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist, I believe anyone should be free to live their life as they see fit with the proviso that their actions don’t hurt anyone else. And that includes their children. I have so much more respect for the career woman who says ‘I have no children because my career was more important’ than the one who has children, hires a nanny and pays them no attention whatsoever. The problem is our society expects women to have children while at the same time devaluing the job of motherhood. Great post Valerie 🙂
Thank you Dory – you’re so right about career women… I feel that children get a very raw deal these days. At least when children had nannies in the old days ( as many of my contemporaries did) their nanny stayed with the family until they were grown up, and was a surrogate mother, who turned up at weddings and family occasions afterwards..
And nannying was a vocation to those women. Today’s nannies are merely temporary care givers or childminders.. a convenience for career women, and too many children don;t get love and attention from anyone….And of course there are exceptions….
Thank you Dory… you’re so right about career women and nannies.. At least in my day when people had nannies – and many of my contemporaries did – she stayed with the children throughout their childhoods, and was a surrogate mother, who attended weddings and family occasion even after she’d left .
Today’s nannies are more often childminders who move on at regular intervals when their overseas experience is up, or a better job beckons, or the children are too difficult – from all the emotional deprivation they’ve endured.
Though there are exceptions obviously, I think that many children have a tough time these days – rich as well as poor….
I agree. I, myself, have worked all the way through my children’s lives – out of necessity but also for my own personal satisfaction. Many of my friends have done the same.
But my daughters have always been more important than my job and there would have been no contest if I’d had to choose.
I was very lucky and, if I was unable to work from home, both sets of grandparents would look after the girls and, from that, they have both developed an excellent relationship with their grandparents.
My job, and the flexibility of my employers, meant I was still able to be there for class assemblies, sports days etc, which is something many working mums don’t get.
But I think the important thing is that children grow up loved and secure and believing that their parents are striving for the best for them.
Yes, I agree with all that you say… and you were obviously a wonderfully successful mum, judging by the pics of your gorgeous girls! Grandparents are the ideal parent substitutes, and what peace of mind they must have given you…how lucky you all were…
Only today I was thinking about having put life on hold in order to be a mother in the way I felt necessary. I have no regrets but have paid the price for doing so having no workplace skills for instance amongst other things.
The military is a natural place for you to ‘go’ with your opinion here being that you have so much personal experience with it and an emotional connection also. There are other situations too though where mothers and children are parted and that is in the case of mothers going to work in another country as is common from the Philippines, Mexico and dozens of other countries. I met a husband and wife while I was on vacation in the Caribbean, both from the Philippines who left their children with the grandmother for 2-3 years on end. I am sure this doesn’t begin to cover other immigration issues and mother children ties being broken world-wide.
May I sigh?
You are so right, Lesley – that’s a whole other can of worms, including the western world paying the undeveloped world pea-nuts to do jobs no-one else wants to do. Though having said that, apparently the NHS in England would fall apart without its Filipino nurses.
The one small advantage that these left- behind children may have, is that I suspect they are left in a stable environment with grandparents grateful for the money being sent home, unlike many western children left with constantly changing nannies, caregivers, or in the case of the services – with family members – with bonds of attachment constantly being broken,
These are the children who will never dare to have a permanent relationship as adults, as their conditioning will tell them it’s too painful, because the loved one will always leave… and life plays out what we believe.
Even bigger sigh !!!
I also think the issue is about responsibilities. You brought up all the angles of this subject. Thank you so much, Valerie!
Find the courage to ask questions… YES!
Thank you Amy, good to know you agree… I haven’t had the pasting I thought I might have by bringing up this subject… but presumably died- in- the- wool feminists are not among my readers!!!
Miguel Ruiz is great, isn’t he? And you’re right, it does take courage to ask questions….
Thank you for your latest blog. They are always interesting.
May I ask you when you attended Slim School. I was there 1957 – 1959. I meet up from time to time with a lady who also went to Slim travelling in those “coffins”. Pleased we had moved on to travel in 3 ton trucks!
Sent from my iPad
Hello Margot,,, good to hear from you, and to know you enjoy my blogs!
I left Slim in December 1955, so our paths never crossed … we were still a fairly frontier type establishment then, I suspect,, compared with your day !!!
Best wishes, Valerie
An amazing and thought provoking post. I always wondered how both parents could leave their children at one time. Especially for such long deployments.
Good to hear from you… yes, tough times, aren’t they…..
Valerie, saw your little note on catnip. I am back online only part time. Still a long road ahead but at least it is full of light 🙂 BTW You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Sharla…will use that address in future.. so glad that things are looking up.. you are so courageous and positive… thinking of you XXX
Valerie, I never forget the first day of elementary school, I was beaten up by a girl and lived in fear for a whole semester. Who says women are the weaker sex? 🙂 But you are so right about children. I really suffer when I see the plight of little ones, and the way they are treated by our civilized society.
Terry, I’ve never gone along with the cliche that women are the weaker sex. In my experience little boys are both sensitive and vulnerable, while little girls have a resilience which often carries them through life… Little boys are forced to suppress their sensitivity to be come the macho men society expect. The saddest thing about bullies is that often they are bullied themselves, or going through such trauma that they take out their unhappiness on others. Your compassion for hurt little children means that you anyway, have not been pressured into suppressing your finer feelings !!! Thank you so much for joining the discussion – and bringing another point of view…
Oh, Valerie, it’s not only good to be back – but good to be back and reading your wise words. What a journey you have been on – I felt for you as that abandoned child. I thought this post was brave and well put. I smiled at the line: the right to go to the loo without an audience. When I spent a few days with friends who have 2 young children, I listened to the father complaining that his little girl had walked in on him while he was going to the loo, and the mother responded in a voice, that said to me this had become a very normal thing. I do agree with you that there is an important right for a child. Feminism and power for women is good, but it becomes complicated when that woman becomes a mother. I myself keep delaying that change because I know that I am not ready to put a child before my own needs, though I have such huge respect for women that do. Lovely words!
Gabriela, how good to hear from you. Did you have an adventuresome journey? In the end, home is heaven, especially bed and kitchen, n’est ce pas? Thank you for reading the bog with such attention and understanding… it’s so satisfying, as you would know, when you respect someone’s judgement, and they enjoy your writing. Looking forward to catching up with yours, happy returns…
Thank you, Valerie! It is good to be home – especially when I have such a lovely welcome from the blogging world. My journey was full of adventure. Just getting some ideas down at the moment for my first post…!
Well done. 100% agree.
Thank you so much … so good when we agree – but wish there was some way of breaking through the indifference or ignorance of others….
The question of childhood and motherhood is never going to be solved, I feel. In some ways, if it were, I think it would solve many of the emotional problems of the world… But I do agree with you. Children’s rights don’t seem to get enough of a look in… We’re too busy, us big kids, worrying about our own.
I read this brilliant piece several days ago so forgive me for not writing sooner. I’ve been so taken up with the poorly Grandbaby that it’s been all I could do to post MBT each day.
I find it hard that Mothers these days seem to have to work – and to serve in the army – that makes no sense to me at all. To go away, to put yourself in danger and to leave your child with such anxiety – I don’t understand at all.
All the best to you. I’ll catch up when I can 🙂
So sorry to hear about your grandchild… do hope things are improving, and you can all enjoy both baby and the beautiful things you made for him/her. I can imagine how distracted you must have been, and how you managed to continue sending us pleasure with your posts, I don’t know… Yes, I’m sure we’re agreed about mothers and babies! And thank you for your generous comments. Do hope all is going well now, with very best wishes, Valerie
Wonderful post Valerie, and very thought provoking. It seems we live in a society where the pursuit of a career and financial gain is of greater intrinsic value than parenting for ones children, certainly in the UK. It’s a very depressing state of affairs.
Thank you Finn… I don’t think the UK is very different to anywhere else unfortunately…
It’s a funny old world, isn’t it
But I do believe that most people are good – it’s always the bad news we hear about, alas….
I always enjoy your penetrating comments… thank you