In A Biblical Big Society, Are We All Complicit In Bad Parenting?

Posted at 17:30pm on 17th August 2011
I woke this morning having just dreamt of my daughter, whose birthday it is today.  In the dream she was aged about nine, and she was running, running, running, through open grassland, ducking beneath bracken fronds high on a hillside, and the sound of her laughter and that of the younger children with her rang in my ears.  I called her name again and again, but she seemed not to hear, and I was full of fear that she might come to harm.  At last, panting, I caught up with on the far side of the hill, where the rest of the world was spread, lush and verdant, at our feet.  I called again.  She turned towards me, her face alight with joy, my little moonface, always running, always seeking adventure - and I woke.

RIP my darling.  I didn't love you any the less.  I simply couldn't keep up.

Since the rioting that began in Tottenham and spread to other cities in the United Kingdom, there seems to be a consensus that bad parenting which fails to give a child worth, moral values or self-discipline, lies at its root.  Yet, as Harriet Harman said on Any Questions (BBC Radio 4 on 13th August, 2011) she has been to as many good homes with caring parents where children have gone off the rails, as to impoverished homes where neither parent has worked in years and the children are allowed to run wild.

MY DAUGHTER'S DESCENT INTO DRUGS

Having raised three girls in a home where a strong work ethic and caring parenting were prevalent, I can vouch for this.  Two of my daughters went on to take university degrees, have continued to work throughout their marriages and are raising children themselves.  The third got caught up in a gang culture, which led to a thirteen year drug addiction, until she finally broke free.

My book, A Painful Post Mortem* (pb 2008), tells the story of sixteen year old Convent-educated Katya's expulsion from school, following my divorce - three decades ago - in 1979.  And this, really, is the point.  Can we lay the blame at the door of today's parents, without accepting culpability for what has gone before?  In this excerpt (names and places have been changed) any parental authority I might have had has been removed by a culture of Human Rights, and British law which makes a mockery of child protection.

A PAINFUL POST MORTEM

"'I hate you,' screamed Katya.  'I'm leaving home and never coming back.'

Blackened trails of tears and mascara coursed down the childish contours of her face.  In an attempt to quench the flames of my own fury, I drew a deep breath.

'Well I love you,' I said, loudly voicing a sentiment I knew to be true but which, at that precise moment, felt unutterably alien.

'You've never loved me,' shouted Katya.  'But at least someone does.  I'm going to live with Andy when he gets out of prison.'

'Andy', so the newspapers testified, was the son of a surgeon.  So far so good.  He was also, regrettably, the leader of a gang of bikers.  More deplorably, he and his followers were on remand for the kidnap and gang rape of a teenage girl.  Confronted with my analysis of the situation, Katya's response was to denounce the victim as a tramp, the police as corrupt, and Andy as the injured party.

There is no reasoning with teenage logic.  I knew it, but like thousands before me, I tried.  And lost.

Stumbling, her limbs flailing and her hair streaming wildly behind her, she ran from the house.  By the time I followed her down the drive to the road, there was only the roar of an engine and the smell of motorbike exhaust to explain her disappearance.

All evening I waited.  When the pubs turned out and Katya didn't return, I rang the local police station.  Fairling Dale was a small community, isolated from the nearest town as much by pride and independence as by the convoluted folds of the hills and crags of the Peak District.  Sergeant Gillespie was as sympathetic and as keen to help as any rural policeman.  He reported having seen Katya earlier that evening, in the company of a crowd of bikers.  To the best of his knowledge, they had headed off for the nightlife of the city.  He urged me to inform the County Police Headquarters of her disappearance, pointing out her age, and the undesirability of the company she was keeping.  He wished me luck and pledged his support."

WHAT SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE?

The support I might once have received from a doctor, clergyman, local magistrate or teacher was no longer available, as this telephone call to the Probationary Service shows.

"'I'm afraid that until your daughter actually gets into trouble, there's nothing we can do,' said a sympathetic male voice at the other end of the line when I recounted the story, at length.  'You could always try Social Services, I suppose.'

Frantic by now, I found and dialled the number.  It wasn't that my faith had deserted me; nor that I thought God too busy.  But he needed a helping hand, I reasoned.  Mine!

The man who answered was full of apology.

'Sixteen?  Is that how old you said your daughter is?  I'm afraid there's nothing we can do.'

 'But she's a minor!'  My voice went up an octave.  'I thought if you were under age you couldn't leave home without your parents' consent?'

'Technically that's true.  But if a young person can support themselves –'

'Well there you are then.  She can't!  She has no job.  No savings.'

The pause at the other end of the line was loaded.  I felt close to tears.

'Are you trying to tell me something I don't know?'

The Social Services man cleared his throat.  'At sixteen a young person can draw benefits –'

He left me to draw my own conclusion.

'So what you're saying is that the government enshrines the rights and responsibilities of parent and child in law, by stating that a child can't leave home without parental consent.  Then it bends the law to make it permissible for a child to leave home without parental consent, providing the child is self-supporting.  Then it completely flouts its own law by providing the means of support for those for whom it would not be permissible i.e. those without their own means of support.'

The silence at the end of the phone told me all I needed to know.

'Given that the government is using taxpayers' money,' I said, 'doesn't it strike you as a little hypocritical?'

'I am sorry Mrs StJohn.  Believe me, I do sympathise.'

 'You do realise that she's running away to live with an alleged rapist?  What does the State have to say about that?'

'Technically –' more throat clearing '– a young person is considered to be out of moral danger at sixteen.  That's the term used.  I'm afraid that puts your daughter outside our jurisdiction.  She can live with whoever she pleases.'

'Out of moral danger?'  I was incensed.  'But that's ridiculous.  The day before your sixteenth birthday it's illegal to have a sexual relationship.  Then suddenly, next day, it's okay to move in with someone on bail awaiting trial for kidnap and rape!'

I rang off.  My frustration was replaced with bewilderment.  And a sick fear for Katya's safety."

THE NATURE OF GANG CULTURE

In due course, Katya was involved in a drunken brawl and was arrested.  Even the police had to admit that, short of locking her up, there was nothing I could do.  Following her death years later, in an era when mobile phones, and therefore text messages, were non-existent, I came across a number of letters among her possessions.

"Among the correspondents, there are names I recognise from long ago, girls' and boys': people who, in their letters, have described Katya – my once respectable, Convent educated daughter – as their 'dear little Kat', their 'sweet pea', 'one of the good guys', their 'lover'; people who write in mutinous terms of getting 'busted by the f. . .  pig's' and of subsequent Court cases; of 'wankers' who have done them out of their 'Rights', and squats that were 'shit pits'; people who signed off with profuse expressions of affection; people I once despised for their part in wooing Katya into their midst."

What, I wondered, was the nature of this bond between my daughter and known criminals?

"With the last letter put away, I shut the suitcase.  There is, I reflect, a unity about the themes expressed by the writers.  Cut off and damned by the conventions of a society they have spurned, their survival, I guess, must be instinctive.  And so, out of their need, I suppose there must grow a sense of fraternity; a gang-culture; a we're-all-in-this-together response which, I can see, would give cohesion to the like-minded group – but alienate them still more from those outside it.

I lean on the windowsill and ponder the matter.  Like Fagin's juvenile thieves in Oliver Twist, it's as if they're out to re-create the substance of family, in which they replicate an impression of affection, supporting one another emotionally, housing and feeding one another, supplying money when needed.  It is, I suppose, what might be described as an innate component of the human condition, this need to belong.  And yet, in the end, it's every one for himself.

Tugging at the dry, spiky leaves of a spider plant that stands on the windowsill, I mull over thoughts of Katya and her rebellion.  There's nothing new in it!  Nothing that hasn't happened in a thousand families up and down the land – though it didn't feel like that at the time.  You grow your children.  Feed and water them.  And, mostly, they thrive on your love.  Sometimes, it has to be said, they thrive on your neglect!  But adolescent independence, disdain for adult wisdom, and the urge to experiment and experience every aspect of life, is as instinctive, as inevitable and as eternal as a baby's need to touch and taste; or a toddler's to climb and explore."

A BIBLICAL BIG SOCIETY OWES A CULTURE OF CORPORATE CARE

And this, really, is the crux of the matter.  In the words of the African proverb: It takes a whole village to raise a child.  Can we absolve ourselves of responsibility?  As a nation, we've belittled the concerns of people like Mary Whitehouse who attempted to censor what two generations have been fed through our TV screens for the past sixty years.  That mixture of celebrity, consumerism, greed, immorality and alcohol-induced violence has been the role model by which our young people have been raised.  In the past twenty years, we've also failed to protect our young from what they've fed themselves: computer screen images of porn, violence, self-absorption and lack of morals.

Added to that, we've handed our children smart phones and, thereby, the opportunity to mobilise themselves into rebel groups.  As if that were not enough, a fourth screen is responsible for changing human attitudes and behaviour: games machines allow our children to commit acts of virtual violence.  Is it any wonder that the rioters of the past week have termed reality destruction as "the best fun ever".

It would be depressing were it not for the fact that God has seen this all before; that Christ took on the sin of the world; and that through his Holy Spirit we have the means to turn it around.  The next generation may have become hardwired into this trend, but that simply means that cyber space has to become our mission field as much as inner cities.  If our ancestors could travel to the remotest parts of Africa and China, take on a culture of ancient gods and voodoo, is it beyond us to be travellers in time and space to establish the kingdom of God?  If he's our heavenly father, isn't it incumbent upon us to be mothers and fathers to all the young in our society?  Let's build that big society that our government advocates, but let's make it a Biblical Big Society.

*A Painful Post Mortem: available from all good bookshops, Amazon, or at a reduced price from my website: http://www.melmenzies.co.uk/books/

All proceeds for charity.

Your Comments:

Jackie Holden
19th August 2011
at 6:59am
I have just ordered your book from amazon uk. I will let you know how I get on with the book. It looks like it's going to an interest read.


God bless you.


Jackie
23rd August 2011
at 5:05pm
Thank you Jackie. I would be most interested to hear your view of the book. An Amazon review, perhaps, dare I ask? Bless you.

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