I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting choices and styles recently. Probably because we’re getting the stage with Stella that requires a little more finesse. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s it was expected that kids should fit into parent’s lives. I remember my granny parroting the phrase, ‘children should be seen and not heard’, often. Negotiating adults as a kid for me was about doing as you were told. Any questioning of authority was met with a quick look and a sharp tongue wagging. And, I was no good at the smart come-backs, either. I felt the fear when it came to defying the adults in my life. Not like my 4-year-old daughter who has absolutely no problem staring me down like a bare-chested WWF ringmaster with the last words, ‘JAG HAR BESTÄMT MIG’ to end any argument.
I am raising Pippi Longstocking and I couldn’t be more relieved.
I didn’t know anything about Pippi before starting out in Sweden. She’d never been a part of my cultural reference points growing up. I had no idea what she represented in the eyes of a child. But, as a parent doing the cross-cultural inclusion thing, the world of Astrid Lindgren and Pippi Longstocking*** seemed like an important point to include. I immediately loved how gallus (Scottish word for cheeky) Pippi was. She was too much and it was everything.
Pippi isn’t just bold, she is kind and open-hearted. She understands that if “someone is strong, they must be nice, too”. But, most of all, Pippi is inclusive and limitless all at the same time. In the age of #metoo, ‘gentle parenting’, and female self-determination, Pippi is the holy grail. Pippi felt like the kind of role model that would levy my kid against the archaic social, soul crushing waves of the patriarchy. Is it any wonder that Pippi was ‘born’ in a country in which children are seen as individuals with rights, separate from their parents. Pippi embodies the UN Barnkonventionen and the belief that children should be raised without the use of corporal punishment or humiliating treatment. The very beliefs that Astrid Lindgren herself campaigned and lobbied for in her speech ‘Never Violence’ in 1978.
But, often, parenting a “Pippi” tests my baked in old school notions of parenting to the limit. And, I’ve heard similar feelings expressed by parent friends, too. “She’s too dangerous”, “she sets a bad example for young children”, “she doesn’t do as she’s told and now my son won’t do as she’s told”. It’s no surprise that Astrid Lindgren faced a backlash when Pippi Longstocking was first published. So, I wasn’t surprised by this reaction from fellow parents. I understand that parenting is hard enough without the influences of literary feminist icons. But, really? Cultural enlightenment brought about by social movements like #TimesUp and #metoo means we can’t afford to stick our heads in the parenting sands. We don’t live in bad times or uncertain times, just different times that need a different attitude and the trope that children should be seen and not heard, or that children should respect their elders… doesn’t always work out for the best. I could have really used someone like Pippi in my early years to navigate some pretty complex feelings.
When I was Stella’s age I hated birthday parties. I hated not knowing what was going to happen or who was would be there. Loud noises, music, stupid games, the friend hierarchy. They induced an untold amount of anxiety in me as a kid. I wasn’t making this shit up, I knew it in my core that is what was going through my mind. But, I was told I was being silly and childish, to get over it and deal with it. It was a birthday party, meant to be brilliant fun, all kids love them. So, the invitations kept arriving and I kept going to the birthday parties. My anxiety grew to such an extent that I started hiding birthday invitations from my parents. Nobody was taking me seriously and I was too meek to make them listen.
In the end, of course my parents found out I was hiding the invitations. Embarrassed and disappointed in me, I was punished for being so ungrateful. But, I often wonder, if my anxiety had been taken seriously, or my parents had been given the tools to understand that these mental health issues actually did exist in children, would things have turned out differently. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to go to birthday parties that literally made me feel very mentally unwell. We could have rearranged a separate playdate and smaller celebration. I certainly wouldn’t have had to hide party invitations, embarrassing myself, as well as my family. The point of me telling you this is that I wonder if I had been a bit more “Pippi”, if I’d had a role model or someone to look up to who had said, ‘you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to,’ how would it have worked out. Would the childhood anxiety have turned into a lifetime of adult anxiety and mental health issues?
Self-determination, autonomy, free will, the opportunity to express how one truly feels without fear of dismissal or belittling, that’s the parenting holy grail these days. Of course, this means also being able (telepathically) to know when your child is pulling your leg…? It’s a minefield. But, as the adults in this relationship, it’s our job to unlearn all that authoritarian crap and re-learn the reality of parenting in the 21st Century. Raising mentally robust, well-rounded individuals who know how to manage self-care and advocate for themselves.
I’m no academic, I can’t pretend that I’m in any way some philosophical giant or even well-read on the subject of raising spirited and astute children. What I do know is that I’m so grateful I’m raising my child in a time and a place (Sweden) that views children as individuals with extended personal rights. Children who are encouraged to speak their own mind and not shy away from saying how they really feel.
As Astrid Lindgren said, “give the children love, more love and still more love – and the common sense will come by itself.”