I read Ian McEwan‘s Children Act back in 2014 and wasn’t disappointed. At the time I posted a review on goodreads.com, as I am want do. If you are not a member of goodreads I can’t recommend it enough for keeping up with what’s current, getting book reading suggestions and for using as easy way to keep check of your own reading (required if, like me, you forget everything!)
The central question in The Children Act is whether a 17 year old boy should be forced to have a blood transfusion, which is likely to save his life, but goes against his Jehova’s Witnesses’ parents’ (how do you correctly punctuate that?) beliefs. I revisited the story and the question a couple of weeks ago when I watched the movie (on a flight back to Bangkok). Fiona, the powerful judge in the story, was played brilliantly by Emma Thompson alongside a fantastic cast. The topic is weighty – it doesn’t get much bigger than choosing life or death and had me asking all sorts of questions to which I don’t have any answers!
Parents as Benevolent Dictators!
It got me thinking about whether we actually ‘own’ our children. If the answer is yes then do we stop owning them when they turn 18? If we could I might not be an Empty Nester! Or does it end when we stop subsidising our kids financially? Perhaps it never ends and ultimately the tables just turn and we own our parents – there’s a thought to make the oldies break out in a cold sweat. No wonder there are often fireworks in families
My first response to the question is that of course we don’t own our children, but when you think about it, so much of parenting does suggest a level of belonging (positive) and being controlled (negative). Perhaps we can view ourselves as benevolent dictators! Right now, for example, Betsy is sitting with her Maths tutor, the marvellous John of www.transum.org. She didn’t choose to spend her Sunday mornings doing Maths, but is a willing participant in this transaction. Does this make her my ‘owned product’ being forced to achieve my aim of attaining a certain level of Maths competence, or is she an independent being making free choices about preparing for her future? (IB Maths exam tomorrow – yikes!) My other daughter, Annie, will hopefully be in the Science Library soon, at UCL revising for her Ecology exam. She did choose to study Ecology as part of her degree, and she did choose her University, but she was directed, encouraged and equipped to get there, so how much of that is actually free choice and how much is our ‘owning’ her life direction and choices? How much of parenting is a transaction and negotiation, and how much is non-negotiatable and led? Have our girls complied to our overview of where they are heading or have they chosen it, trusing our guidance and leadership? You can take it further; have we, as parents, complied passively or unthinkingly to social expectations or have we actively chosen them?
I guess you could say in my own life it doesn’t actually matter, as the kids seem to be heading in a positive direction. To go really ‘meta’ for minute though, what if we were discussing the acceptance of an indefensible social or political system, that we believed in and were directing our children towards – then what? It makes you think how strong you have to be to really make independent choice and reject the factors influencing who we are.
Summing up of Ian McEwan's The Children's Act
Anyway enough meandering thoughts on a Sunday morning. The Children Act is a fab book. An aside, it is also a marvellous exploration of the deteroration of a long-standing middle class marriage, arguably due to wifely neglect (rolled-eyes, as of course the wife gets the blame!) If you haven’t read it, definitely do. It’s a short read but a powerful one. Then afterwards why not treat yourself to the film – always worth seeing Emma Thompson in action! (Hope she didn’t have to make too many carbon-rich flights of course – tongue firmyl in cheek here!)