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Parenthood

Respectability Politics aka The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Respectability politics – “the set of beliefs holding that conformity to socially acceptable or mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a member of a marginalized or minority group from prejudices and systemic injustices.” – dictionary.com

‘Respectability politics’ the ultimate form of gaslighting or the lies we tell ourselves. If only we behaved ‘better’, looked ‘better’, spoke ‘better’ then we wouldn’t be subjected to racism and injustices. It can rule the lives for people of African descent and negatively influence our parenting experience.

Parenting Problems

Image credit: @momfully.you and @_happyasamother

When I first saw the image above, it resonated so deeply. While I may not be mothering black children, I am a person of African descent. I am never made more aware of the colour of my skin than when I am parenting my children. From the way I dress them, to their behaviour and the world around them.

In 2017, W started attending a state primary school. The majority of the pupils came from South East London’s Afro-Caribbean community. The staff did not. There was a startling lack of diversity, and an unwillingness to acknowledge Black History Month. When I removed him to be home educated at the start of the second term, I gifted books with diverse characters to the school library.

When W was on the ASD diagnosis pathway, most of the doctors I met referred to the statistics of being a boy from a single-parent, black ethnic minority family. I am hypersensitive to the fact that any slip up would not be looked upon as favourably as their peers from white British families. I often hear myself telling the boys that “I don’t want anybody talking to me about your behaviour.”. And nobody does. Oftentimes friends will compliment on how well-behaved and polite the boys are. Gushing with enthusiasm as to what a pleasure they are to be around and they press me for details. What’s my secret?

Neurosis and paranoia.

And these extend beyond parenting, these concerns influenced my naming choices before they were even born.

What’s in a name?

I love the boys names and I wouldn’t change them for the world. They completely fit their personalities and I have no regrets. However, I was conscious of the negative impact a typically BAME name could have on their future. I had to take the potential consequences into account when naming them, before I even knew what they looked like. W has a deliberately unisex name for this reason, and B’s could easily be the name of a child from a white middle-class ‘crunchy’ family.

I’m reminded of the episode in Black-ish when Dre argues to name the baby DeVante and he says to Bo “The only reason we’re not naming our son DeVante is so people won’t know right away that he’s black. I hate the fact that when something is black, the world sees it as bad.”.

I don’t know if I will ever have more children. But as the world is starting to wake up, I am determined to reclaim my heritage and my history for myself and my children. Given the opportunity, would I opt for a ‘black name’? I honestly don’t know. While I have shunned every opportunity to conform to society’s standard of ‘acceptable’ – namely in the education of my children and the parenting methods employed (hello attachment, autonomous supportive, gentle parenting!) – I seem to be unable to shake the shackles of respectability politics.

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Parenthood

Life after lockdown

As lockdown restrictions ease around the world, I’ve been reflecting on the things I have learned during lockdown. However, I can’t help but wonder what life after lockdown will look like.

Earlier this week New Zealand announced success in their strategy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Last week schools in England ‘reopened’ to nursery, reception Y1 and Y6 pupils, despite government advisors saying and test and trace system needs to be in place before allowing pupils to return.

While Morocco has extended its state of emergency to July 10, with limited ease of restrictions. I look to other countries in search of what life could look like after the lockdown is lifted. I’m almost certain, however, that it won’t be returning to ‘normal’.

*schools have been open to children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. As well as providing online lesson and educational support for home learning throughout the lockdown.

Life after lockdown: What about the kids?

As parent of course, my focus is on what’s next for the children. As a parent I am perhaps mindful of outcomes for children during this global pandemic. After 3 months of complete isolation, and with limited contact to the outside world. I am extremely concerned about the mental health impact on my children.

I myself collapsed in exhaustion after a brief (necessary) meeting. I was out of practice. Smiling, laughing, actively listening – and it drained me, a neurotypical adult. So who really knows what the isolation and sudden reintroduction to society will do to our children? We won’t know immediately, but we can know what it could look like for our children. We can look to countries in Europe and Asia, that eased restrictions already.

Back to School?

Heartbreaking images of a French primary school playground, shocked parents all over the world. In China (where the virus was first identified), clear partitions separate students from their peers during lunchtime. Face masks are mandatory and students sit feet apart. This is not the educational future any parent imagines for their child. Separated from their peers, isolated but not alone.

What about the home educators? Or the parents who have decided to give home education a go after their experience during lockdown. Where will we go and what will our children do while large social gatherings are banned? We are instead forced to consider our options and weigh up the pros and cons, under government guidelines.

Socialising after lockdown

Before the lockdown, the children were attending a small homeschool co-op, just outside the city. It consisted of around 5-6 other families, depending on the day. A very small social circle which is now a health risk (numbers wise). I have been considering the best way to reopen our social circle once lockdown restrictions allow us to do so.

Do we create our own social bubble and trust that eveybody will stick to it? In the UK, gatherings of no more than 6 people are advised. Meeting up with families with 2 or more children would quickly bring us over the limit. We also have to consider where we are meeting and how we are travelling (public transport carries risks). As well as how long should we meet for before introducing others into our social bubble? All of these will depend on your government’s guidance and I have created a handy little checklist (below).

For me, I will of course wait for lockdown restrictions to be eased. I will take my time reopening our circle, encouraging my children to reconnect with their friends via Zoom or WhatsApp. Initial meetings – I imagine – will be relatively short, fraught with cires of ‘don’t touch!’, as well as copious amounts of hand sanitiser. I am actually at this moment (through a friend) getting reusable fabric masks made for the children. While I’m not sure if face masks for children will be a legal requirement. I am always nervous about anything that affects the lungs. Both boys have suffered in that department, and as a result don’t deal with viruses too well. They are improving with age, but it’s not worth the risk to me.

Regardless, while I cannot say for certain what life after lockdown will look like for everybody. I have no doubt that you will do the best for your family by: