The kids are at school, giv­ing me a les­son in class pol­i­tics

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Emma Brockes

Two and a half months ago, when my kids started school, I imag­ined the big­gest chal­lenge would be so­cial­i­sa­tion. At nurs­ery they’d had “friends” in the way it might be imag­ined slow-mov­ing an­i­mals in a field have friends – which is to say an­i­mals do­ing the same thing as them but sev­eral feet over there. At school, by con­trast, they have to choose whom to sit with. And so the rig­ma­role of pop­u­lar­ity be­gins. What I hadn’t re­alised was how much this process was go­ing to in­volve me.

The so­cial­i­sa­tion – or rather re­so­cial­i­sa­tion of par­ents who ex­pe­ri­enced class­room pol­i­tics ap­prox­i­mately 300 years ago, and have to rapidly dust off the ma­chin­ery – has been shock­ing. I am 42, and, like ev­ery­one else of that age, screen my calls, ig­nore my voice­mail, use my chil­dren to get out of do­ing things I don’t want to do, and am ex­tremely ag­ile at avoid­ing those I dis­like. Well, those days are over. In the in­ter­ests of pro­tect­ing my chil­dren’s so­cial life, all of a sud­den I have to play nice.

And, my God, what a strain. In­tel­lec­tu­ally, I know that if a kid tells my kid she doesn’t want to play with her and, what’s more, Av­ery doesn’t want to play with her ei­ther, the cor­rect re­sponse is not to pace the cor­ri­dor out­side the class­room mut­ter­ing, “I’m go­ing to rip her toss­ing head off.”

The cor­rect re­sponse is to have a quiet word with the teacher, who will then lead a class lec­ture on not be­ing a jerk. Fine. The greater chal­lenge is what to do when one’s own child is the ag­gres­sor. Sud­denly the ar­gu­ment for less is more be­comes strangely ap­peal­ing.

Like ev­ery­thing else at the mo­ment, some of this ag­i­ta­tion taps into broader cul­ture-war stuff, specif­i­cally the pre­sumed gen­er­a­tional short­falls de­tailed in The Cod­dling of the Amer­i­can Mind,

Greg Lukianoff ’s book of last sum­mer, in which he ar­gues that young peo­ple have be­come so ac­cus­tomed to turn­ing to adults to sort out their prob­lems that they are grow­ing up with im­paired ex­ec­u­tive func­tion.

The word snowflake hov­ers un­help­fully over this de­bate, but Lukianoff is talk­ing more about he­li­copter­ing: the habit of mod­ern par­ents to wade in and re­solve their child’s ev­ery pass­ing dis­pute, which may mean her sense of au­ton­omy can never take off.

It is ar­guable that four-year-olds are too young for this to ap­ply. But even if it does, a ma­jor dif­fi­culty re­mains: that most peo­ple are lu­natics when it comes to their child. “I’m so sorry,” I say sweetly, when a mother com­plains that my child up­set hers; mean­while the mut­tery part of my brain is scoff­ing: “Oh, please! Your kid is over­sen­si­tive. Plus, when you text you use too many emo­jis.” “If you could have a word,” she says pleas­antly, with mur­der in her eyes.

As it turns out, our kids re­solve their dis­pute by the end of the day, while 48 hours later the other mother and I are still flap­ping in each other’s gen­eral di­rec­tion. I guess there’s a les­son in that.

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