83 articles Articles posted in Opinion

Nurturing Their Dreams

Kid dreaming of being an astronautWhen I was a kid, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I was older. I was a relatively intelligent child and achieved well at school, so from a very young age there were a lot of expectations piled upon me from parents and teachers. Eventually, I passed my 11+ and was sent to a grammar school, where instead of being the brightest in my class, I was one of many clever girls and I hovered somewhere around the middle, in terms of achievement. It was drummed into us from the beginning that we had to constantly have our eye on the distance – end of year exam results dictated which GCSE options we were allowed to take, and we’d need to choose the right GCSE’s to allows us to take the A-Levels we wanted, which in turn were for the purpose of gaining access to the right degree course at the right university.

I was, and still am, a fairly shiftless person. My big dream when I was little was to be an Astronaut – sounds far fetched, but I intended to join the RAF out of sixth form and gain University sponsorship from them, with the hope of going on to train to be a pilot. Once I was told that I had zero chance of flying a plane because of my horrendous eyesight, I went into something of a tailspin. I could never really pinpoint what I wanted to be, and the thought that my career would define the rest of my life never sat well with me anyway.

I can’t help but wonder if my childhood intelligence (which, I have to say, seems considerably dulled by age) is part of the problem. I remember, for a long time, thinking that I’d be a hairdresser when I got older, except when I expressed this to my parents, I was told “You’re too clever to be a hairdresser”. This became a running theme in my adolescence and my passions were trampled under the weight of what I ‘should’ have been doing with my brain. Drama became my new passion and I was pretty good at it, too. I’m fairly extroverted and love performing but once again, it wasn’t considered cerebral enough. I was allowed to take Drama at A-Level, but only as a concession because I took four other ‘serious’ subjects (Chemistry, Biology, English Literature and English Language).

As it stands, I flunked out of sixth form; the mounting pressure got too much and I found myself being anywhere but the lessons I was supposed to be attending. I can’t help but wonder if I’d have been more inclined to attend if I’d not been steered towards subjects that I didn’t really want to take?

Sausage is an incredible kid, with a great imagination, huge intellect (she’s currently reading books at home which are for 8-year-olds, because her school books aren’t challenging enough) and artistic flair. She’s got the potential to be anything she wants to be, but I remind myself almost daily that the key part of that sentence is “SHE WANTS”. We spend so much time telling our kids that they can be anything they want to be and then second guessing their choices because they don’t sit well with our plans for their lives and it’s about time we stopped being so bloody arrogant.

Just this morning, Sausage told me that we wanted to be a nail technician and masseuse. One side of my brain said “That won’t earn you much money. You’ve got so much more potential than that. Why don’t you do that as a hobby, instead?”, but I managed to stop myself from saying it out loud. I adjusted my brain and instead thought “If that’s what makes you happy, then I’ll support you”. And, isn’t that what’s important? Supporting our kids in their choices and nurturing their happiness?

It is to us, at least.

Why I Don’t Care if Ellen Page is Gay


I became aware of Ellen Page back in about 2006, when Husband told me about this film he’d watched where a young woman entrapped and brutalised a paedophile, mostly for shits and giggles, which had an awesome actress playing the lead role. If you’re aware of Hard Candy, you’ll know that a young Ellen Page gave a performance which was as convincing as it was memorable and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

Skip forward a couple of years; Husband and a very pregnant me sat and watched Juno, a film which handled the issue of teen pregnancy with a grace that had never been seen before. Here, we were faced with a young woman who, while on the surface may have been a bit off-beat, was conscious and uncompromising in her decision about what to do with the life of the child that she knew, ultimately, she wasn’t ready for. Juno was a kid who fucked up, had an accident, did what so many others do, but the way she dealt with it (and the space and respect that her parents showed her in dealing with it) reflected what a kid can really do, under such enormous pressure. I cannot imagine anyone else playing that role.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching Ellen in various films, such as Inception, X-Men, The East and Whip It (a particular favourite which has made me desperately want to learn to skate so I can try roller derby!) and I can honestly say I don’t think she’s made a bad choice or put in a bad performance.

Aside from her impressive career, she seems to be a pretty impressive person, too. Away from the spotlight, the (self-confessed) “tiny Canadian” has involved herself with various humanitarian issues, such as campaigning to end the military dictatorship in Myanmar, Burma and also appealing for The New York City Food Bank.

Of course, there’s long been speculation as to her sexuality. Her ‘conspicuous’ lack of male escort at various award ceremonies never fails to set tongues wagging and her graceful but slightly awkward avoidance about whether she ever had a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio in various press junkets leading up to the release of Inception caused even more hyperbole (although, quite why anyone thinks that’s an appropriate question of a professional actor, I don’t know. Would it ever have been asked of a man?!).

Ellen’s self-outing was delivered at the Human Rights Campaigns Time to THRIVE conference, where she decided to use her personal life, and effectively sacrifice her well-protected privacy, to campaign for the safety and well-being of other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people across the globe. She’s unleashed her truth in the most conscientious way possible, in a way that doesn’t benefit her, but will hopefully help millions of other people across the globe. She says she’s “tired of lying by omission” and hopes that her coming out will help others to have the strength to be open about their sexuality, too.

So, while the title of this post may come across as slightly glib, I really do mean it. I adore this young woman and everything she stands for. As a mother to (almost) two girls, I feel that I can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that there are women like her out there, setting an example of strength and selflessness and showing that above all else, being yourself is the best thing you can possibly be.

Who Ellen Page chooses to fall in love with is of absolutely ZERO consequence to anyone but herself and her chosen partner and what I hope is that we can start to end the process of defining people by their sexuality. It simply does not matter whether a person is gay or straight or any of the other shades of the Rainbow. What matters is how they choose to live their life and the way they treat others around them. Of course, I believe people should be proud of who they are, and their sexuality, to an extent, factors into the person as a whole, but there’s so much more to everyone than that one small factor.

Anyway, its 4.16am, I’m sitting in a darkened maternity ward and probably rambling somewhat now, but I wanted to get my thoughts on the page and say that I wish Ellen a lifetime of happiness and love.

That’s all. 

Sausage, Rainbows and the Religious Conundrum

Husband and I have been looking for an after-school club to send Sausage to for some time; there are clubs run through her school but they’re for slightly older kids. She’s a bright, outgoing little girl but being an only child means that she lacks interaction and sometimes is a little under-confident in social situations where she has to push her boundaries. We were aware that a few of her classmates went to Rainbows so I enquired about our local group and waited for a reply.

Husband raised concerns that he thought that The Girlguides Association was a Christian group and as someone who attended Brownies and Guides myself, I had to admit that I remembered promising to ‘do my duty to God’ during the Promise. I went onto the Girlguiding website to check it out and according to the information on the site, the part of the promise mentioning God has been removed altogether, after a public consultation. It also goes on to say that The Girlguiding Association “is not, and never has been, a Christian organisation”. The Promise, which aims to represent the inclusive values of Rainbows has now been changed to say ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’

Okay, so far, so good…or so we thought.

After Sausage’s first session, which she really enjoyed, I emailed the Brown Owl at Sausage’s group to see if she could shed any light on the situation, mostly because we’d received a schedule of the next few meetings which said that she’d be attending ‘Church Parade’ within the next few weeks. I asked the leader if this was a compulsory activity and if there was a general note of religion running through any of the sessions. Here’s her reply:

“There is not a particularly religious aspect to our meetings.  As you may have read in the Press last autumn, Girlguiding has altered the Promise to ask a girl to be true to her beliefs, whatever they may be, so it is multi-cultural.  Church Parade is not compulsory, but as we meet in the Church Hall and are given greatly reduced rates for the hall hire by the PCC we do like to support the Church.  About once a year the Vicar runs a meeting for us.  This has taken the form of a nature walk round his garden, a BBQ, a tour of the church and a talk about Advent.  These meetings are listed on the programme and you are at liberty to withdraw Sausage from that evening if you so wish.”

So, what that sounds like to me is that, because the Church hires the hall space to the Rainbows for a reduced rate, they’re given access to the kids to be allowed to preach religion to them. Despite the official organisation tack of ‘all-inclusive’, I don’t see anything on the schedule about activities with a Rabbi, Imam, Buddhist monk or any other such religious leader, so it does seem to be fairly exclusively Christian, does it not? And what, in exchange for cheap hall rental?

I appreciate the fact that we’ve been given the option to keep Sausage back from the sessions which involve religion, but I don’t understand why there has to be a religious aspect at all? It’s all well and good to encourage “spiritual development”, but I really feel that should be part of the parents job, not the remit of someone who is clearly biased towards one religion or another. My daughter is five years old – she’s not old enough to make her mind up about which religion she wants to follow, if any (she regularly tells us she wants to be a Hindu until she realises that it means she’ll have to give up eating spaghetti Bolognese) and beginning some sort of insidious indoctrination at such a young age is not what we signed up for.

To be honest, I feel really disappointed on Sausage’s behalf. She should be able to attend an after-school club without us having to worry about what might be being preached in her ear, but this Rainbows pack in particular has obviously decided that the all-inclusive nature of Rainbows is to be ignored. The whole point of the Promise Consultation wasn’t just to make the organisation inclusive to all faiths, it was to make it inclusive to those with NO set faith too.

She’s given MORE than enough religious education at school (which, believe me, is an understatement, she comes home almost every day telling us that there’s been some sort of religious aspect to her education) and the last thing we want is for it to be poured onto her at an extra-curricular club too. Faith, or choosing NOT to have faith, should be a personal thing, dealt with at home and marginally through a small aspect of their education. She’s five years old and it’s all too much.

Perhaps I need to see if I can find a science club for her to attend.

Should We LET Our Kids Win?

Should We Let Our Kids WinSausage is getting to an age where games have become more competitive – tea parties and dollies are becoming a thing of the past and SingStar and Kerplunk are far more her cup of tea. I have to say, she’s flippin’ awesome at SingStar; the kid has a serious set of pipes on her, to the point that we’re thinking about taking her for formal singing lessons, but our recent spate of boardgame playing has made me wonder – should we let her win more?

It’s got to be said, I’m a ridiculously competitive person. I relish winning a stupid amount and I’ve been known to compose victory songs and dances erm, gloat to a rather irritating degree. Husband is one of those people who’s annoyingly good at everything though, especially general knowledge, so I definitely married my match and I rarely beat him at things. The feeling is winning is intoxicating to me; perhaps its a sad reflection of my need for approval, I don’t know.

The thing is, Sausage is very bright and very capable, but she doesn’t win all the time because she’s usually playing against two adults. So, should we let her win at things? For me, someone else letting me win would be a truly hollow victory, but I’m a grown up. My worry is that she’ll become demoralised by losing too often and won’t want to take part in things any more. I remember how frustrating it was as a child when I’d play Trivial Pursuit against a load of adults and never win, but I also remember my Nan, bless her heart, deliberately throwing easy questions that I knew she’d know, because she didn’t want to beat me and feeling cross about her thinking I needed her help to win.

I also worry that if we do let her win things, she’ll never learn to win on her own steam. I may be a gloater, but if I win it’s because I’ve earned it and I feel proud of myself for doing so. But I also feel like a massive bitch when I beat her at things, like I should be being kinder to her.

I’m not a fan of the namby-pamby, ‘everyone wins’ crap that they seem to do at sports day and kids’ events nowadays. The fact of the matter is, the world is a competitive place and our kids will never be successful if we don’t teach them that dog-eat-dog attitude early on. Competition is healthy because as well as teaching them that they have to work and strive if they want to win, it also teaches them to manage disappointment effectively, to pick yourself up and dust yourself off if you aren’t successful. I don’t want my daughter to be part of a generation of kids who are so mollycoddled that they don’t even know how to assert themselves, but I also don’t want her to lose the will to try.

Tricky, isn’t it?!

So, tell me readers, what do you do? Should we be building their confidence by allowing them to win, or is that type of false-affirmation more damaging than losing? I’d love to know how you manage it.

When TV Shows Age Badly

Let it be said, right off the bat, that I’m a huge fan of TV shows from many different eras. My favourite show of all time is ‘The Good Life’ and I watch them fairly frequently, still finding them funny and relevant, even if the fashion is rather dated! I also still love Friends, which started when I was a Tween and has been a favourite ever since. Husband and I are also huge fans of Spaced, Only Fools and Horses, Porridge, Black Books, Father Ted, Cheers, Frasier, The Golden Girls and many more besides, all of which are very ‘of their time’ but carry well through the generations.

However, just recently, I’ve watched a few show which just don’t feel like they’ve got that timeless edge (in my humblest of opinions) and I thought I’d share them with you to see if you agree.

This Life

This Life

I recently acquired the box set of This Life as I was only 12 when they originally aired and usually in bed by the time they were on. I’ve heard a lot of waxing lyrical over the years about how edgy and relevant the shows were, so I watched the first three episodes of the first season…only to be thoroughly disappointed. The dialogue feels stilted and ‘try-hard’ and the whole thing just felt totally awkward and dated to me. I know I’ll get a LOT of disagreement, but if you’ve not seen it in the last ten years, watch it again and I’m sure you’ll agree. Also, while I LOVE Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead, seeing him prancing around in a Man U shirt just turns my stomach!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I was a HUUUGE Buffy nerd when I was a kid. I loved the orignal film and was super excited when the series was announced. Being a ‘terrestrial channel only’ house meant that I’d congregate at my friend Kate’s house to watch the new episodes when they aired on Sky and I was so impressed by the dialogue and story lines. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older or because the show has aged appallingly, but these days if I happen to catch an episode on FX, I spend the entire duration of the programme in a state of cringe! The dialogue is so nuanced that it feels  forced, like it’s been written by an out of touch grown up who thinks that’s the way kids speak (which is, essentially, the case…) and I’m not even going to start on the fact that the actors playing teenagers all looked into their mid-30’s and the clothes that they wore to attend High School were just ridiculous.

Dawson’s Creek

Dawson's Creek

Yeesh. This was another favourite of mine when I was a kid and the whole ‘love-quadrangle-Joey-Pacey-Jen-Dawson’ thing seemed so grown up and complex to me when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown-up but the whole thing seems SO unfeasable to me now and raises so many questions.

“Would you allows you teenage daughter to have male visitors via a ladder to the bedroom window at all hours of the day and night?”

“How come no-one has seen Dawson going in through Joey’s window and realised how easy it would be to rob them blind?”

“Why does teenage Pacey dress like Charlie Sheen’s character in Two and a Half Men?”

“Why are they speaking in sentences which are made up of 17 times as many words as they really need to say, rather than grunting at each other like normal teenagers and rutting like rabbits on heat at every opportunity”.

Needless to say, the show does NOT commute well to 2013 and it won’t be one I revisit with any urgency.

Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef

Naked Chef

When this show débuted in 1999, everyone was so charmed by this surfy, Indie, cheeky chappy who ‘pukka’ed and ‘cushdy’ed cookery shows into the 21st century. It was unusual to see a young, trendy man behind a frying pan, much less one who drove a camper van and hosted all of his ridiculously cool and good looking mates at edgy, food-driven events in a loft apartment in London which probably cost a few million quid. Looking back now, The Naked Chef brings cringe to a whole new level and all of his ‘is he cockney, is he Essex’ dialogue is enough to make me want to peel my own skin off. It’s all very NINETIES, but in 2013 it all feels a bit desperate.

Sex and the City

Sex and the City

Okay, okay, don’t shoot me. I know I risk unleashing a world of indignation from a whole slew of Manolo-wearing SATC devotees, but I watched them all right from the beginning last year and they just haven’t aged well at all. The characters seem more like parodies of real people and some of the fashion is just offensive to the eyes (although I’m sure it was super high end at the time). It all seems like one big stereotyped cliché and, at the risk of starting a debate over feminism, I’m not sure that the show presents women in the best light.

Do you have any more to add to the list? Do you think I’m right or do you completely disagree with my choices? Leave me a comment below.

Sausage the Super Nerd!

Commissioned Post

super nerdSince Sausage has been back at school, there’s no doubt that she’s 100% happier in her new class. The work seems to be engaging her on a whole new level, she’s powering through the reading books and I think is probably almost ready to move up to Level 5 of the Oxford Reading Tree, which shows that she’s made great progress since moving up to Level 4 at the end of the last school year. She had her first spellings test last week and got 10 out of 10, which made her Dad and I unbelievably proud! We love the fact that she’s achieving at such a high level and are very happy to welcome another nerd into the family, a label which her Dad and I have been given on more than one occasion!

Sausage seems to have a real thirst for knowledge – I’ve never known a kid to be so keen to do homework every night! Her school provides her with a subscription to EducationCity, which is a site that she can log on to, learn at her curriculum level and then complete tests on the subjects. The site monitors her individual progress and reports back to her teacher so that the school can see how she’s getting on. I think it’s a brilliant idea and anything which keeps her engaged in that way can only be positive.

However, Sausage is really lucky that not only does she have her own laptop, but we have a high-speed broadband connection at home. I can imagine that it would be really tricky for anyone who doesn’t have those resources and I feel really sorry for the kids who aren’t able to get involved with extra-curricular learning because their parents aren’t in a position to provide them with such things.

These days, we tend to view the internet as an ‘essential’, in the way that landlines were when I was a kid. Many of my generation didn’t get PCs until they were much older and having the internet at home usually meant dragging a phone cable across the house and waiting an eternity for dial-up. There’s no denying that the internet has made things a whole lot easier, as has the advancement of technology. Being a blogger and all-round information junkie, I’ve likened being without the internet to feeling like my arm has been cut off – it’s obviously a rather extreme analogy, but knowing that I can look up just about anything that I ever need to know is a great feeling.

It’s not just homework either – Sausage now has her own Nook, which means we can buy and download books from the ‘net. When I was a kid, if you wanted a book, you had to go to the shop and buy it, whereas now if Sausage has a hankering for a new Roald Dahl at bedtime, we can have in in our hands in under 5 minutes, all thanks to the internet.

So, what are your feelings towards kids and the internet? Do you think it benefits children and their education in the long term or do you keep your kids away from the world wide web and wish things were still like they were when you were little? I’d love to know.

Boyfriends and Girlfriends

first-girlfriendSausage is now in year one of primary school and she’s settled back into things brilliantly. She’s responding really well to the more structured aspect of year one, compared with the ever-so-slight ‘free for all’ feel that reception class had and she seems to get on well with 99% of the kids in her class, as well as having some close friends that she spends time with. She only turned 5 a month before starting back at school and some of her friends are already 6, as she’s the second youngest in the whole class.

One thing that I wasn’t quite ready for was talk of boyfriends.

A few of the kids in her class have kind of paired off  and refer to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend – their relationships are well-know throughout the class and everyone knows who is ‘in a relationship’ with who. Let me just stop here and say that this FREAKS ME THE HECK OUT. I am soooo not ready for the prospect of boyfriends and if I’m honest I thought I’d have about another 10 years before it became a serious consideration.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Sausage informs me that she doesn’t have a boyfriend, nor is she interested in having one, although she did tell that there’s a boy in her class who she likes. Her reason? Because he’s brave and has a deep voice! I’m sure there’s something evolutionary anthropological about that…!

At 5 and 6, I realise that a heck of a lot of learning is done through the type of role-playing games that kids of that age engage in and its really important to their emotional and social development, but the thought of pairing off at such a young age opens a WHOLE can of worms. It’s not long before many girls start to measure their worth by how boys view them and that’s not something that I want for Sausage EVER, let alone when she’s not even old enough to tie her own shoelaces.

I remember how much the pressure of other people’s pairings can put on a kid. When I was younger (although still a lot older than Sausage), I wasn’t the sort of girl who turned boys’ heads (save for having them stare at my ridiculously over-developed chest) and I remember looking at other girls of my age who had boyfriends and wonder what was wrong with me that meant I didn’t have one. Yes, this is hopefully all something that’s very distant in our family’s future, but the speed at which the past five years has gone means that it’s actually not that long until we have to start worrying about things like this, and current pairings are making that even more apparent.

I guess all I can hope is that we imbue Sausage with enough confidence and self-worth that she won’t have to measure herself by someone else’s yardstick, though I do worry that it doesn’t matter how much we do to forearm her, the pressure of life and teen-dom will mean that these problems befall her just as much as anyone else.

So, I guess what I’m asking is this – I can put her in a box and not let her out until she’s 25, right?! That wouldn’t be cruel and torturous, would it? I’d just be protecting her from the world…!


Damn it.

Keeping Sausage Safe On the ‘Net


Commissioned Post

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that we’re a pretty techy household. Husband and I love our gadgets and Sausage has followed suit – no great surprises there! She’s been using our phones since she was old enough to swipe a screen and her level of proficiency is truly impressive. For her birthday, back in August, Husband and I decided that it was about time that she had her own computer, rather than just using my old netbook, so we invested in a laptop for her.

Obviously, there are rules: she’s only allowed on certain sites and Husband and I monitor how she spends her time. She doesn’t go anywhere near social media as she’s FAR too young, although I know of kids her age with a Facebook page…

She uses her laptop for homework; her school provides her with a subscription to EducationCity, which allows her to do activities and tests designed around the National Curriculum for her age group and she absolutely loves it – I’ve never heard a child ask if they can do homework as much as Sausage does!

Aside from homework, Sausage also uses her laptop to go on the internet. Nick Jr., CBeebies and Cartoon Network are all on her list of favourites, but the National Geographic Kids site is by far her most frequented site!

One thing that Husband and I struggle with is the issue of autonomy. We want Sausage to be able to use her computer independantly, allowing her to learn how to use it and giving her freedom to use the internet as she chooses, but the thought of her stumbling upon a website which is grossly unsuitable is something that makes us very uneasy.

One thing that gives us peace of mind is the use of Parental Control Software, such as Norton Family Premier. This allows us to filter out sites which we wouldn’t want Sausage to view and lets her have the freedom of not having Mum and Dad peering over her shoulder every five minutes.

There are quite a lot of choose from as you all know, so it’s important to choose one that’s not only suitable to your family situation, but also flexible to changing circumstances – kids grow up and so your software need to be flexible to these changes. PR Pro tested 15 of the top web filters a couple weeks ago, which revealed that only three of the filters tested actually block everything a parent using the software would want to safeguard their kids from – read it for yourself here. For everyone already using this filter, you’ll be happy to know that Symantec’s Norton Family and its premium supplement came out on top.

Husband and I are obviously always on hand to keep an eye on her, but being able to do that from a distance benefits us all. We’re real fans of letting kids use technology – I wrote a post a while ago about how getting Sausage a Nintendo DS had improved her language skills and manual dexterity, and now that we know she’s safe on the ‘net, we’re hoping her laptop will also help her to develop in many areas too.

What do you do to keep our kids safe online?

Shrink It and Pink It

Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I was around when Meccano was going through a period of popularity and I vividly remember thinking how awesome it looked, and how I wished I was a boy so that I could play with it. The marketing was entirely masculine and I’m pretty sure that I was discouraged from asking Father Christmas to bring me some because it was ‘a boys toy’. Girls didn’t play with Meccano and I thought I must have been really weird for wanting to play with it, when all of my female friends wanted to play with Barbies.

Just recently, Husband and I toyed with the idea of getting a NERF Blaster for Sausage (I’m not going to get into a debate about kids playing with guns here, it’s personal choice, mmmkay?) and although we opted for something else (mostly because they’re pretty expensive and we’d already spent an arm and a leg on presents!), it never occurred to us to not buy her one because they’re marketed at boys.

Just recently, we noticed a new range of NERF products available, their ‘Rebelle’ range. Husband astutely commented that they’d probably been made off the back of The Hunger Games, as they’re kind of ‘bow and arrow’ style NERF guns, but I was actually pretty annoyed at the whole thing. NERF has obviously decided it wants to expand its appeal to girls, so this is what they’ve done:

Nerf Rebelle

I’m more than a little bit sick of the ‘shrink it and pink it’ attitude that toy companies and marketers apply to anything that’s aimed at girls – not only is it massively patronising, it’s perpetuating the myth that some toys are for girls and some toys are for boys. Surely a toy is a toy and if a child wants to play with it, gender is inconsequential? Also, by making the Rebelle range, are NERF saying that boys should reject anything pink? Just as there will be girly girls who love pink and overtly masculine boys who’d reject anything that isn’t boyish enough, there will be girls who don’t give a toss about pretty pink things and boys who gravitate towards them.

If Sausage happens to ask for something for Christmas, I certainly wouldn’t stop her from having it if it’s something that’s been deemed ‘boys only’ by the adverts, nor will I stop the new baby, should it be a boy, from playing of any of Sausage’s pink things. Male/female stereotypes are wildly outdated now – when my grandparents were little, it was fair to say that the majority of women stayed at home and did the cooking while the men worked, tinkered with cars, etc, so in those days toys for girls would have been dolls, ironing boards, toy food, so that little girls could emulate their Mums and boys would get cars and fire engines, to be like their Dads. These days, I know many men who consider themselves ‘foodies’ and the best mechanic I know is Husband’s Aunt.

It’s a real chicken and egg situation – Sausage loves pink thinks, but is that because she actually loves pink things, or that those are the things which are marketed directly at her? Surely, the only way we’re going to get around this gender stereotyping and division is if we start showing girls playing with Meccano (and NOT the pink sets of Meccano that they’ve made, either…) and boys pushing prams. Perhaps if kids were to see these things, there would be more acceptance of the interchangeable nature of gender and roles in the 21st century – perhaps then, girls who wanted to play with cars wouldn’t automatically be branded ‘tom boys’ and little boys who wanted to play with a dolly wouldn’t be automatically assumed to be girly, or gay, or any other ridiculous label.

The best way to make change in society is to normalise things to children – it wouldn’t occur to children to question which toys they should be playing with if they see play with all kinds of toys as normal or gender neutral. It could give children the freedom to be themselves and express themselves through play however they damn well want to, and I genuinely believe this could help them grow into well-rounded adults in the process. I’m not, for one second, saying that we should take Barbie away from girls and give them to boys, and vice versa, but I think there should be a choice, and not a choice that’s influenced or dictated by what kids are told that they’re supposed to like.

What do you think? Do your kids play with only gender-specific toys and if so, why? Do you think it’s a positive thing to market girls versions of things in pink, or should toys be accessible to all? Most of all, do you think that it’s important to define gender and set boundaries accordingly? Let me know.

Teaching Kids to Have a Social Conscience

Yesterday evening, after Sausage had got her pyjamas on and cleaned her teeth, we snuggled on the sofa for her to doze off while Husband and I watched a re-run of Hairy Bikers, the one where they travelled around Bavaria, baking and doing all the usual stuff that the Hairy Bikers do. During the show we were talking about how much we’d love to take Sausage to Munich;  Husband’s been before and I’ve wanted to go for a while, and Sausage suddenly piped up and said “Yeah, I also want to go to Russia!”.  Husband and I immediately explained that, unless Russia changed their laws and opinions regarding homosexuality, then we’d never be going to Russia.

For us, teaching Sausage about what’s going on in Russia and explaining the situation is second nature. I’ve blogged before about our ‘no bullshit’ policy when it comes to her, and this is just an extension of that, but it did get me wondering how many other 5 year olds are being raised to have a social conscience .

As far as we’re concerned, if Sausage is old enough to question something, then it’s our responsibility as parents to explain things to her in a way she can understand. It would be so easy for us to just gloss over everything and let her come upon this information as she gets older, but it should be an intrinsic part of parenting to step up to the mark on issues like this.

We do our best to teach her love and tolerance in the hope that instilling these values from a young age will make them second nature, rather than something that has to be learned later in life. More than anything, I feel that teaching tolerance will make her life easier in the long run, she won’t spend her time questioning why people are the way they are, she’ll simply accept difference without even knowing she’s accepting anything.

Sometimes, when Sausage plays with her Barbies, she’ll pair them up with her action man and they’ll be ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ in her game, but in the last year or so, she’s also started pairing Barbies up with each other and having them be ‘girlfriend and girlfriend’. I couldn’t be more proud of her for being able to open her mind more than many full-grown adults are able to and her willingness to embrace diversity is what I hope will help her to lead a fulfilled and happy life.

So, what of children who are raised by parents who fear and oppose difference? I’m not saying that I was raised in a household of peace and love as a child, I remember hearing things which go firmly against what I believe now, so I do have hope that it’s not an ever decreasing circle of prejudice as those children emerge into adulthood, but I also think that parents should be doing more to instil tolerance as a key value in their children. And further to tolerance should be teaching our kids to stand by their morals and saying ‘NO’ to countries like Russia.

Having said that, I’ve also had others question my parenting in the past and suggest that Sausage doesn’t need to know anything about homosexuality, which I found ridiculous. What do you think? Do you skirt around issues rather than explaining them? Do you ‘protect’ your child from the realities of the world, favouring the ‘they can learn when they’re older’ approach? Leave me a comment below.

And if you find it difficult to get your head around the idea of tolerance, watch this clip. The story about Winston Churchill absolutely warmed my cockles and made me very proud to be British!