Before I begin, you need to know that my friend M- is – in every way that matters – my sister. We grew up together and enjoyed something of an idyllic childhood, stomping through summer forests and sledging down winter hills, always to be welcomed home by one of our mothers. When I got married, my initial guest list began ‘Mum and Dad, in-laws, M-’s family’ because besides my own kin, they had the greatest influence on me whilst I was growing up.
I always thought that if I had children, I’d live down the road from M-, and that she would be their cool aunt who baked cakes and read incredible stories, and that I would return the favour by building tents out of bed sheets and making messy craft projects with her offspring.
But I don’t know if I want children now, because I can’t, in good conscience, bring a new life into a world that I find wholly unacceptable. Nobody asks to be born, and certainly nobody asks to be born into a world where every touch constitutes a sexual attack and where every grown-up is an enemy rather than someone to go to for help. I’d be interested in seeing an episode of Sesame Street in these paranoid times. When I was little, Kermit The Frog used to advise that if you got lost, you should seek out the nearest adult and ask for help in locating your mommy. Now I suppose he advises you seek out the nearest lawyer and sue whoever looks at you funny for intended rape. Or maybe they don’t even have Sesame Street anymore – maybe Bert and Ernie were too controversial and the Count made fun of ethnic minorities – what do I know?
A friend of mine, Ch-, plays for a local cricket team and apparently his coach reprimanded him for leading a child back to the pavilion following a fall. Ch- had placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, as you might with a friend, but apparently this simple act ‘could be misconstrued’. It made no difference that Ch- was friends with the boy’s grandfather and mother and knew him socially…
I could list countless other instances like this, including a case my husband told me about where a man photographed his own child in a school concert. He was met by two police officers following the show who informed him that other parents had felt ‘uneasy’ due to the presence of his camera. Heaven forbid we take family pictures to mark momentous childhood events.
If things keep going the way they are, we seem doomed to end up with a generation of children who not only possess warped views of the world, but who are unable to express themselves physically and will have no idea when it is and isn’t appropriate to hug. We have created a world in which adults aren’t the protectors and by doing so, have effectively made ourselves into the enemy. I think I mentioned it when I talked about ‘The Old Lady who swallowed a Fly’, but I once saw a child in Tesco who, when his mother left the trolley for a second to pick up a box of cereal, yelled, “Mummy, no! Come back! Someone will steal me!”
Growing up in constant fear of abduction can’t possibly be healthy, can it? We’re raising youths to be frightened of adults and then becoming angry when they lash out at us in acts of ‘anti-social-behaviour’. But who made them antisocial in the first place, I wonder? Could it be the lack of hands to help them up when they fell in the playground, or the lack of discipline imposed by ‘authority figures’ unwilling to hand out punishments for fear of losing their jobs? My mother, who was a classroom assistant for ten years, once told me that sad faces on poorly completed work are now considered to ‘mentally damage’ a child. If that was true, my daydreaming and subsequent grades would have sent me to a mad house long ago.
And it isn’t just adults that children will be maladjusted to. The recent case of Ofsted interfering with the childcare arrangements of two policewomen in Aylesbury means that now both babies, instead of growing up in the love and warmth a family environment, will be placed within a state run institution*. Instead of being allowed to treat one another as siblings, as M- and I do – and as we’d planned for our children to do – these infants will be effectively raised amongst strangers where loving touches aren’t allowed. What irritates me most about this, is that some interfering person with too much time on their hands and nothing to do with either child, must have informed Ofsted in the first place. I think that’s the most hurtful part – that we, as a society, are now so paranoid of what one another is doing, we’ll report women who aren’t wasting the tax-payer’s money on state-run childcare for… what? I don’t even know how to finish that sentence because I simply can’t understand what could possibly be illegal or unethical about letting a friend take care of your baby. My life without M-’s family would have been a great deal poorer and I wonder how many young people growing up today will be denied that extra sense of closeness.
The Japanese believe that a community raises a child, not a family, and if that’s the case then Britain isn’t doing a very good job. We’re creating an environment in which parents can become complacent and neglect to teach common sense. And just because someone has a clear police check saying they’ve never been caught doing anything naughty, it means only that – they’ve never been caught. It doesn’t actually make the world a safer place at all – just creates a lot of unnecessary work for our police force.
The whole thing would be made a damn sight more palatable if the different government departments actually spoke to one another too. We’re meant to cut down our carbon footprint, but now in order to give lifts to other peoples’ kids we need to be checked before hand and pay for thepriviledge**. No wonder my commute to work used to take half an hour every morning when it should take ten minutes – the entire village was full of 4-x-4′s containing one woman and one child. And whilst I sympathise somewhat with the people of Soham – having suffered one horrible tragedy as a result of different police departments not communicating – I hardly think that its the fault of the average parent trying to save their friend some money on fuel if times are hard because of the economy. Had the administration offices in Soham School had the correct information from Humberside police, it wouldn’t have happened, so instead of turning people trying to be good neighbours into criminals, why don’t we address the problem at its core – a lack of communication between different government agencies!
The bottom line is that all this new legislation means we are unable to help out our fellow man. Goodbye compassionate nation.
* Read about said case here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/libby_purves/article6852989.ece