Monday, 23 February 2009

What makes a perfect parent?

I write a regular column for a South African parenting website, focusing on teens in the 13-18 age group, which is intended to raise topics of interest and stimulate debate. The e-community is invited to comment on the columns, and recently I’ve wondered if I have a thick enough skin for it.

The columns I wrote on teen hygiene, teen-speak, the right of teens to privacy, piercings and tattoos, and movie age restrictions didn’t get much feedback. Then I wrote one on my son being gay – and while the vast majority of people gave interesting, measured and largely supportive feedback, some of them (and I’m sorry to say it was mainly the Christian Right) chose to foam at the mouth. ‘Gay people are just as abnormal as paedophiles,’ wrote one – and that’s a mild sample.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been, but I was quite astonished that homophobia is still so alive and well. I gave my son the comments to read and he put things into perspective by finding the raving loons very funny.

But I hadn’t yet opened the real boxes of frogs – money and single parenting. My column on what it costs to raise teenagers these days (my point was that it’s very expensive) drove some people into frenzies. And the nay-sayers (and I’m sorry to say they were mainly men) didn’t stop at giving an opinion – they went on the attack in a way that gobsmacked me. I was accused of ‘buying’ parenthood rather than being ‘hands-on’; ‘punishing my ex financially’ (haha, I wish!); raising ‘brats’…

But that was nothing compared to what people had to say about my column on being a single parent. Among the dozens of infuriated responses (again, interestingly, mainly from men) were these three gems: ‘It is fair to say that single motherhood brings FAR more harm than drugs, drink or even war’ (yes, 'even war'!); ‘Don’t be fooled by this article - anyone who believes a child can be raised successfully by a single parent is very mistaken’; and (my favourite) ‘You have to wonder how come this woman [me] hasn’t managed to find herself a man in the last what, 16 years???? SIXTEEN years!!!!!!! Heck, from the columns she’s posted, she hasn’t even managed to find a woman who’s willing to put up with her on a permanent basis.’

In my column I’d mentioned that I’d been divorced for 16 years. Nowhere did I mention the state of play of any of my other adult relationships – yet this respondent (whose pseudonym didn’t reveal if it was a man or a woman) assumed I was such a crap person that I hadn’t ‘managed to find myself a man’ – or even, for that matter, a woman! I was quite amazed to discover that there are genuinely still people out there who consider a person significantly lacking unless s/he has ‘found’ her/himself a ‘permanent’ partner.

I know I should ignore the gratuitous personal attacks – or, like my son, just laugh at them – but I have to admit reading them and feeling… well, misunderstood, I suppose. (I know, I know: aw, poor me!)

Fortunately, just when I think I should go online and defend myself (something that is, anyway, discouraged by the editor of the site), usually someone with intelligence gets there before me and points out the stupidity of the offending responses.

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Juno said...

Un-bebloody-lievable, Mur. I am fuming on your behalf. Really, people can be revolting. And stupid. Sometimes I feel lost in the land of stupid. x

Marius Redelinghuys said...

You know, as a gay man in South Africa, let alone the world, all this narrow-minded bollocks being spewed left and right (no, it's mainly from the Right) does not surprise me anymore.

Sadly, however, I don't see much changing and have occasionally found myself laughing at it, other times getting incredibly worried or despondent, but most of the time I just ignore it, turn my back to it and walk away. You can't educate them, I've tried, and you can't kill them (that's illegal). So, I guess it's best to put it out there, retreat to your cocoon and move on with your life.

But, honestly, it still pisses me off to no end when I read the responses from the Religious Right and the Uninformed on social issues, particularly single parenting, homosexuality and so forth.

Sorry, my response is quite unintelligible, but this is such a complex issue!

Muriel said...

Marius, you're right that you can't educate some people - and unfotunately those are often the ones with the loudest and most strident opinions - but it's worth fighting the good fight for those who will eventually see sense. Even some of my own family (of origin) reacted with shocking negativity when my son came out - and these were people who had known and loved him his entire life! If you consider that not so long ago, women couldn't vote and were discouraged from working 'outside the home', and that homosexual men were jailed (or worse) for their orientation, we've come a long way. I long for the day when a person's sexual orientation (or gender or race or religion) just doesn't matter. Sadly, this is very unlikely to be in my lifetime or even my children's.

Audrey said...

I have a gay child too, whose father thinks it's my fault. Something I must have said to her, to put her off boys and men. Boys and men are the zenith of a girl’s ambition aren’t they? Too many books and not enough TV. What a crime it is, when a pretty girl refuses lipstick and high heels.

She also has piercings. This pisses people off and worries The Family terribly, with grandmothers/aunts/uncles/cousins muttering amongst themselves things along the lines of, "See? This is what happens. Satan. Drugs. Poor thing."

They have NO CLUE who she is.
She is a warm, compassionate, funny, responsible, ethically oriented, literate and all round amazing human being whose only fault to my mind is that she's teetotal and a vehement anti-smoker.

Idiots. They have pushed this child (no not child, woman of 20) so far away from them that they might never get her back, and they’re oblivious to the loss, because they TRULY FEEL that she’s turned out all wrong.


I had something else to say too, but now I’m all irate and ranting and can’t remember... it was about being married for 23 years, stable (til you scratch the surface hey) 2 parent home, solid rhubarb blah blah... and looky here, an aberration for a daughter! How odd! Sigh.

Muriel said...

There's a great spoof news report on YouTube - 'Gay Scientists isolate Christian gene'. (Read the ticker-tape headlines that run across the bottom of the screen too - they're hilarious.) It's at

Audrey said...

Just sent that link to all my gay and all my christian friends, and to my gay christian friends too. Going to be a funny Monday.