I tweeted a cry for help on Twitter this morning:
The woman (for it will be a woman) who finally invents self-pairing socks will have my undying gratitude.
The response was immediate and the replies interestingly gendered. The women (I’m guessing mainly mums) came back with a range of suggestions of variable utility.
Persuade everyone to wear odd socks; tights; wash only one size at a time and buy only one colour; buy ‘pairwithaspare’; go sockless.
Nearly all the men had more or less the same idea…*
Get all black ones, innit?
What was clear from the replies was that men (mostly) expected to be responsible only for their own socks and for them the solution was simple. The women were, like me, looking after a whole family of socks for feet of various sizes and had to obey a range of sock laws imposed by institutions and individuals alike, which meant that sock-pairing was a recognised challenge.
The ‘all black, all the time’ solution works only if everyone shares the same shoe-size. Other solutions are scuppered by school uniform regulations, by children insisting on growing all the time, by families sharing hand-me-downs, by girl socks and boy socks being different, by itchy elastic being a curse for some and barely noticed by others.
Let’s be clear, it’s not that I’m incapable of pairing socks, it’s simply that I resent the time I spend doing it when I could be doing other more interesting or more useful things. It was a silly tweet, with silly answers, and I’m glad that no-one came back with the suggestion that I shouldn’t have children, if I couldn’t deal with pairing their socks.
* Though a special mention goes to @richardblogger for the suggestion of linking socks together with elastic like children’s mittens. The entertainment possibilities are fantastic!
Last week the BBC aired ‘Poor Kids’, a documentary from children’s perspectives about growing up in poverty. The online response was passionate. Many people couldn’t believe that in a ‘first world’ nation in the 21st Century there were children living like this. Those of us who work in children’s services will have seen homes and lives like this before, but for many viewers this was a first exposure to lives they could hardly contemplate. Twitter was lit up with demands that ‘everyone should watch this programme’ or with suggestions that people give to children’s charities.
Not everyone’s response was so full of compassion though. Some acknowledged how sad they were to see such bright, spirited children in such terrible conditions but: ‘you know they’ll be terrifying in 5 years time’; others considered the programme to be ‘leftwing propaganda’; another remarked ‘I know I’m not a parent yet, but some parents aren’t very good at it’ – as though poverty and parenting difficulties were two separate things, or bad parenting caused poverty, rather than poverty (and the causes of it) making parenting very much more difficult. Even the film-maker, Jezza Neumann, says in this blog that he asked some questions about the decisions families made that he was embarrassed to have asked once he realised what lay behind them. Why would a single mum who could barely feed her children keep a dog, indeed?
Like the less-than-helpful sockpairing suggestions from those who have only ever had to pair (or not pair!) their own socks, advice about how to deal with parenting or poverty, let alone parenting in poverty, is pretty weak when it comes from those who don’t have relevant experience themselves. But at least the sockpairing suggestions came from a good place. David Cameron is something else. He searched really hard (I’ll bet) and failed to find any compassion at all. Using that mouthpiece of hateful, reactionary attitudes, the Daily Mail (see safe, istyosty link below), he warned ‘feckless parents who expect to raise children on benefits’ that he was seeking to ‘change the values of the nation’:
As tweeter @MediocreDave put it so eloquently:
Only David Cameron could see a program like #PoorKids and think the solution is that those children should never have been born.
The idea of ‘affordability’ of children may make sense if your sense of your future includes being a homeowner, having a stable job, being able to afford a pension etc. It’s a nonsense if you spend your time in a revolving door from one low-paid job to another, or odd jobs between extended bouts of unemployment, if you don’t imagine you’ll ever live in a house, let alone own one.
The Parenting Obstacle Course.
Parenting is full of joy, but it is also made up of tasks as thankless as sockpairing but a good deal harder and more time-consuming. I am blessed with a partner in work, a good job myself and good physical and mental health. And still, when I listed, this morning, the 18 additional things that need doing for and with our children in the coming week, on top of the usual shopping feeding, watering, washing, dressing, packed lunches, homework etc. it looked like a mountain of work. For some people I know with long term health problems sorting the laundry may be all they are physically capable of doing in a day. And that’s on a good day. These families are surviving with so few resources, so little help, such little respect granted to them from those of us who have so much. We should admire their ingenuity, their courage, their stoicism. We should be championing their rights, their dignity, their entitlement – yes, entitlement – to financial and practical support, instead of calling them names and scapegoating them because politicians, economists and bankers took a gamble that failed. or because we’ve internalised a set of Victorian values about the deserving and undeserving poor.
One great analysis of how families in poverty survive, why they live as they do, and the relentless logic that propels and compels their ingenious (if disapproved of by politicians) solutions is the SILK report ‘Just Coping’ (from the Social Innovation Lab for Kent):
It’s 114 pages long, but deserves reading every bit as much as Poor Kids deserved viewing. Put aside your sockpairing and other chores for today and have a look. It will be more interesting and more useful than most other things you could think of to do.
Changing the world, a child at a time.
Something else that moved me this week was this blog from @HeardInLondon “Some things bereavement has taught me“:
I was reading it sitting next to two of my children, and was really struck by the notion of them as ‘Gene Ambassadors’. As HeardInLondon realised with great honour that she is her mother’s representative here now, I realised, with great pride, that these children would one day be my ‘Gene Ambassadors’ in this world.
I am someone who likes to think I’ll change the world one day. I realised with surprise that by bringing these children into it, I already have done. I wouldn’t deny that pride, that joy, that honour, to any other human being, just because they have less cold, hard cash than I do.
Changing the world, for all our children.
There are great children’s charities out there, and I wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone who watched Poor Kids and thought they should give more to a children’s charity. But understand that charity is not the answer. Too many people vote for parties and policies that entrench inequality and social disadvantage; too many people vote against sensible and compassionate policies that would lift children out of poverty through supporting their families. Too many people vote in their own self-interest alone, believing the lies and the scapegoating of others, and then, when confronted with what that means for vulnerable children – who have no vote, remember – drop a few extra pounds into a charity box and think that covers it.
Next time you’re told a lie about the fecklessness of poor families that have more children than they can afford, remember which newspaper and which party told you that lie. And don’t buy that paper, or vote for that party next time.
Together we can change the world for all our children.