Belfast Telegraph

Why bother having kids if you don't want to raise them?

By Christina Patterson

If I were a mother, I'm not sure that I'd be rushing to take advice from someone who went back to work seven hours after giving birth - particularly when I heard she was the head teacher of a school for girls.

"Most women," said Helen Wright, "have a choice of taking maternity leave, or going back to work and having their babies looked after."

"Why," she asked, "can't there be a third way - taking your baby to work with you?"

Why indeed? Apart, perhaps, from the fact that it might get in the way of the photocopier and the fact that it's quite hard to tap away at a computer when you've got a small human being hanging from your chest.

If I had a daughter at her school, I think I'd worry she might grow up with the kind of expectations you give children at primary schools when they come last in the egg and spoon race, but still get a gold star.

But I think I'd find it hard to disagree with the comment Helen Wright made at a conference for the Girls' School Association; that when little girls wear 'Future WAG' T-shirts and make-up there's "something intensely wrong".

Parents, she said, aren't to blame. Schools, she said, had "a key role to play" in providing guidance. "We need to take away," she said, "the stigma for parents that they have to know everything."

If I were a parent, I think I'd be pleased to be told that I wasn't to blame and that someone else should take away the 'stigma' of anything that anyone thought I'd done wrong - if, for example, I didn't bother to teach my child how to put their shoes on, or how to eat at a table.

And, if my child wasn't reading all that well, I might quite like to stand at the school gates and talk to the other parents about how the school was letting my child down.

I might like to talk, for example, about how the children should be getting more homework and how the teachers should be doing a better job.

But if I were a teacher, I think I might feel that, since you'd gone to all the trouble of having children in the first place, then it wouldn't kill you to swap a few minutes of The X Factor for, say, a few pages of The Gruffalo.

And, if I saw the children I was teaching wearing T-shirts saying things like 'So many boys, so little time' and maybe even, through the T-shirt, a padded pink bra, I think I might wonder if parents needed a PhD to know that it wasn't a great idea to buy their small daughters clothes that made them look as though they wanted to be paid for sex.

I think I might even wonder why the bloody hell these people had bothered to have a child at all if they didn't want to feed it, or talk to it, or read to it, or dress it in relatively normal clothes.

But, if I were a teacher and saw the child dressed as a prostitute and could see that it was quite likely to end up as a teenage mother, since we seem to have more of them than anywhere else in Europe, and that the teenage mother might also not be keen on teaching her offspring how to put its shoes on, or how to eat at a table, which would just create a cycle that would go on for ever, I think I might feel that, even though I didn't become a teacher in order to become an effing social worker, I didn't really have a choice.

I think I might feel that I'd better teach the child about shoelaces and table manners and hope that the Government goes ahead with its plans to run courses in shoelaces and table manners for grown-ups (which it's calling courses in 'parenting'), so that a few more people in this country could learn that, if you want to have a child, you might also want to think about whether you actually want to bring it up.

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