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Parents behaving badly

By Jane Caro - posted Thursday, 13 April 2006

A friend of mine tells the following story. A few years ago, her daughter was accepted into the OC (Opportunity or Selective Class) in her local public school. In the first week of first term, all the parents attended a parent-teacher night in their children’s new classroom.

As the evening wore on, parents asked lots of questions about how many hours homework their children would be getting and what sort of things the teacher would be doing to stimulate the children in class. My friend was sitting at the back of the room and, after some time spent on this line of questioning, grew impatient.

So she put her hand up and asked her question. She asked the teacher how she was going to handle the fact that all the 10-year-olds in her new class were used to coming in the top two or three of their class and, that as only two or three of them could do the same in this class, how did she intend to handle the inevitable blow to the children’s self esteem.


The teacher was very relieved by the question, or so she said, because it was the biggest issue she had to deal with at the start of every year. But it was the reaction of the parents that really interested my friend. Despite the fact the teacher was in mid sentence, they turned and looked at her in astonishment. So caught up were they in the reflected glory of the “specialness” of their children, such a thought had never crossed their minds.

I believe my generation of Australian parents is possibly the most ordinary we’ve ever had. The rightly criticised “helicopter parenting” (so called because the parents hover protectively over children to an obsessive extent, I presume) is a direct result of our new and - if I may use a term I normally hate - un-Australian attitude to parenting.

As another friend of mine (in her 60s) said recently, if a teacher had told her mother she showed signs of having an imagination, her mother would have expected the school to knock it out of her. While I am not necessarily recommending a return to those extremes, these days, the opposite is true.

Now every parent seems to feel his or her child is “special” in some way. They are either “gifted and talented” (pass me the bucket, please) or are only not little “Einsteins” because they have learning difficulties which mask their as yet undiscovered, but no doubt, extraordinary abilities.

Public schools and their teachers have been the losers as a result of this projected egotism by parents. Ordinary schools are no longer good enough for our children, it seems. The last thing we want is our child to sit in the middle of a scruffy classroom with a bunch of ordinary kids from the neighbourhood.

We want the rest of the world to feel about our children the way we do: that they are the most remarkable creatures in the universe.


The purpose of childhood is to grow up and the purpose of parenting, from the moment of birth, is to slowly, gradually, but inexorably, let go of our children. Tying our children too closely to us, drowning them in our often self-indulgent love, prevents them from getting on with their job because we are refusing to get on with ours.

As the poet Kahil Gibran said “Our children are not our children, they are expressions of life’s longing for itself.” This generation of parents seem to have forgotten that.

But why have we forgotten? What are the forces around us that are destroying our sense of proportion? Our common sense, if you like? First of all we are having far fewer children and we have much more money to spend on them: possibly the two most important ingredients for bringing up a spoilt (read emotionally crippled) brat.

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First published in New Matilda on April 5, 2006 as 'Very ordinary parents'.

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About the Author

Jane Caro is a Sydney writer with particular interests in women, families and education. She is the convenor of Priority Public. Jane Caro is the co author with Chris Bonnor of The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education, published in August 2007 by UNSW Press.

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