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Do We Have a Blinkered View of Our Children?

By Sally Collings - 1st November 2011

Sometimes I think all children have double identities. There’s the ‘at home’ child, the one the parents know and love, and there’s the ‘out in the world’ child, the one that the rest of us see. Here’s what I mean.

Picture 1: Jess* has decided not to let her two girls do gymnastics because she’s worried about the impact it will have on their body image. She believes our local gymnastics club is far too competitive, driving girls to achieve beyond their capabilities, and keeping close tabs on their weight in the lead-up to competitions. Jess is adamant: she doesn’t want unhealthy beliefs about their bodies being forced on her daughters.

The Flipside:
Jess’s older daughter, six-year-old Cara, comes over to play at our house. As she sprawls on the living room floor, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, I catch a snatch of the song she’s singing under her breath. "I’ve got a fat farm on my bum … I’ve got a fat farm on my bum …"

Picture 2: Lining the sides of the school oval, parents are cheering on the Year 1 soccer team. Loudest of all is Mia, screaming herself hoarse for her boy Nathan. "Go, Nathan!" she shouts. "Knock him down and get the goal!" Little Nathan takes her at her word, shouldering a smaller boy out of the way and leaving him sprawling in his wake as he powers towards the goal.

The Flipside: Over coffee at our favourite café, Mia leans over to me. "I’m worried about Nathan," she says. "I’m hearing dreadful stories about some of the other boys in his class being real alpha males, and he’s so sensitive – he just doesn’t get that stuff. We simply haven’t brought him up to be competitive in that way."

Picture 3:
For three years now, various children have been coming home from school complaining about Talia. She’s mean, they say: she won’t let us play her games, she was my best friend yesterday but she hates me today, she smeared dirt on my painting. Each year, parents have talked it over with the teacher and been assured that Talia’s mum would be told and an action plan put in place. One time, a couple of the mums got together with Talia’s mum Karen to talk through the problems.

The Flipside: Talia is accused of ripping another girl’s school uniform; disciplinary action is taken and the parents are informed. Karen rings the other child’s mother and says, "I had no idea there were any problems at school. It’s just not like Talia – she’s such a gentle child. Why didn’t anyone tell me?"

Do we really know our own children? Are they so different at home and out in the world? Or does this just reflect that thing that we do as parents – to see only the very best in them?

* Names changed.

image freedigitalphotos.net

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