Category Archives: Parenting

Parental notification about abortion – no thanks

Today some dipsticks called Right to Life called for the government to make parental notification for teenagers having abortions mandatory. They said cute things like “The Denial of Parental Notification is child Abuse” (weird capitalisation theirs). Well. I am of the considered opinion that this is bullshit.

I have reasons to have an opinion on this. I had a child when I was 17, and another when I was 20. Between those I had an abortion. The results of those two pregnancies were two wonderful girls, and the elder is almost a teenager. This is a topic highly relevant to me.

My twelve-year-old is a lovely girl, and she as every right to bodily autonomy. I think she’s too young for sex, and I hope she thinks so too, but if she were to end up pregnant and wanting an abortion, she should have access to it. Maybe questions should be asked, because I don’t want her to be a silent victim of rape or anything, but she should have that access. I hope she would be able to tell me – but if she can’t, her health and her body is much more important than my knowledge of what she’s up to.

She can trust me to be sensible about this – but she cannot trust her religious father, who could try and force her to keep the baby. Notifying him could be a complete disaster for her, and I am utterly against it. She’s also a sensitive soul, and she needs to be able to tell me when she’s ready, not because she’s forced to.

I had an abortion. I do not regret it for one moment. It was absolutely the right thing to do at the time, and having two children under two would have been catastrophic for my mental health.

My girls are their own people, even though they are young. I hope they trust me – but I care more about them making the best choices for themselves than I do about knowing about it. I want them to be able to trust their health care workers and counsellors to help them and give them good advice, not be scared that they will tell me or their fathers and drop them in a pile of shit.

 

Should parents be informed of their daughters’ abortions?

Or worse, should they have power of veto? The subject has been raised in New Zealand recently, and some of the things that are being said just utterly horrify me.

I was raised in a household where abortions were just absolutely off the table. So when I found myself pregnant at 16, it was never even an option. I carried my child, and I raised her. To be honest, I don’t really know what my parents would have wanted me to do – the strength of the religion that had been pounded into me meant that I went blindly forward with what I believed was God’s will, and damned if I was going to listen to anything that didn’t mesh with my ideas of right and wrong. I was the sort of person that I would be ashamed to raise – dogged and dogmatic and unthinking and narrow-minded. But that is then.

If I had elected to have an abortion, then I do not know if my father and stepmother, who were the only family I had around, would have approved. I strongly suspect that things would not have gone well for me had that been my choice (not that things went smoothly for me anyway, but that’s not the point). Mine is not a good example of what could go wrong for vulnerable pregnant girls, though. I was already responsible for myself, living out of home, and generally not supported by my family. Things were not going to get dramatically worse for me,

If I had been at home though, and relying on my very religious family, then them finding out about me making the hypothetical  decision to have an abortion could have landed me out of home. No, worse than that – if it was not already a done deal, I would have been pressured out of it, or outright forbidden to go through with it. My body was not my own, you see. It belonged to God and whoever God delegated his authority to. So in a religious setting, informing the parents is not a safe thing to do.

Parents like to think that they have a right to know what their teenage daughter does with her body. But they have to acknowledge that she has choices, and agency, and they cannot control her or dictate to her for the long-term, so letting go in the short term is necessary and healthy. Giving her knowledge, information, and power over her own body is the best thing they can do for their child.

One comment that just left me floored was “maybe the father of the baby should have a choice – he may want the baby” . . . I’m sorry, are you kidding me? It’s her body. Not his. Until he can be pregnant and give birth in her place, he doesn’t actually get a say in what she chooses to do unless she wants him to. Basic bodily autonomy 101 here, kids. It’s not the father’s choice. It’s not the parents’ choice. It’s up to the girl – and only the girl.

I have two daughters of my own, and one of them is just hitting puberty. I understand the impulse to control and to guard and to protect, but it’s impulse that does no one any justice. Build your relationship with your girl. Build trust and love and acceptance, so that she knows that if things go awry she can come to you. Let her know what you would do in such a situation – tell her up-front that you will support her in whatever way you see fit, whether that’s that you would support an abortion but not a baby or vice versa, or whether you would be there for her and do everything you can for her no matter what she chooses in a situation like that. Educate her so she knows how biology works, how to stay safe and healthy, and support her to get whatever contraceptives she needs.

Maybe I’m being idealistic, and maybe I’ll feel different about my girls as they grow, but I don’t think so. I want to trust them and empower them in a way that I never was, so they can make these sorts of decisions, about love and sex and abortion and parenthood and growing up, with their eyes wide open.

I was a teen mother. I also had an abortion when my daughter was less than a year old, because I couldn’t cope with two under two. I never told my husband that, because he was part of the religious tradition that condemned such things – but I did what was right for my physical and mental health. I have walked both roads, and I would hold my child’s hand down whichever one they chose, if it came to that.

A few more dollars in your pocket – in exchange for your right to parent

Yesterday’s Budget was . . . not as horrible as I thought it might be. My beloved Health sector didn’t get much more than this year, or at least not in the areas I’m passionate about, and neither did Education, but at least there were no cuts. The bit that everyone’s talking about, though, is welfare. There’s big news on that front.

The big news is a really bloody big deal. $25 per week more to each beneficiary – that’s more than a third of my food budget when I was on the student allowance, to feed a couple of kids in addition to myself. $25 would have been revolutionary, and it will be to the lives of some kids. There are catches (of course) that I don’t fully understand yet, but I’ll come back to them tomorrow when I’ve read some more learned opinions than my own. Still. $25. That’s something I never expected from this government. It says that yes, they are actually kind of attempting to sort of keep their child poverty promises. This won’t take effect until April next year, but it’s still a pretty big shard of hope for beneficiaries.

As well as extra money for beneficiaries, low-income families that already receive the In-Work Tax Credit will receive an extra $12.50 per week. It’s not a lot in absolute terms, but that’s 12 loaves of bread, or six litres of milk, or two and a half kilos of mandarins – a big difference when you’re living on not a lot. It would even stretch to a fish and chip dinner for the family every so often – a real treat for many kids.

So where’s the downside, the seamy underbelly of the child poverty-addressing budget? Well, parents on the Sole Parent Support will be obligated to work from when their child turns three (rather than when they turn five and start school), for a minimum of 20 hours per week. And here we land in the ‘poor people don’t have the right to parent’ territory.

Parenting is important, and it really is a full-time job. It’s not so much when the kids go off to school, but under-fives demand a lot of time and effort. The idea that poor parents should have to send their kids to daycare or preschool while they work, an obligation to be enshrined in law, is blatantly classist. We live in a society that was set up to protect families and children. We live in a society that says it values parenting. But we live in a society that has decided that it doesn’t value poor people’s parenting? There is already an obligation for Sole Parent Support recipients to ensure their child is in Early Childhood Education – why? Because we don’t trust poor people to raise their kids properly, to make the best decisions they can for them. It’s bullshit. We wouldn’t dare enforce work or any parenting practice on white, middle class women. Why are we doing it to poor women?

Our Prime Minister says that it’s fair to force poor parents to work, because “Tens of thousands of Kiwis do that every day, and they do that half the time after 14 weeks”. It’s true that many parents choose to return to the workforce after their paid parental leave is over, and that is right for their families. Others are forced to return because they haven’t the income to do otherwise. This essentially means that people without resources are forced to return to work whether it’s good for their family or not – a situation that Mr Key’s family would have no familiarity with, as his mother was allowed to stay on the benefit in a state house while she raised him, and his wife became a full-time mother to their children. Key is essentially taking away from our people the advantages that his family has enjoyed since they emigrated here. It is shameful.

Not only is the budget requiring parents on benefits to look for work when their child is three, they are also increasing the hours needed to count as part time from 15 to 20 hours per week. Where are these hours going to come from? We already have a huge pool of unemployed and underemployed people in this country. Until the people unencumbered with children, with the time and ability to work available to them are employed, why are we pressuring people with the rather important task of raising the next generation to work? And what employer is going to take a beneficiary with kids on as a part-timer if they can choose someone who might be available for extra hours at short notice, who won’t be called away in a hurry because their child is sick, who won’t have to take days off in order to care for their child? It may be illegal to discriminate in that way, but in the real world that’s the way it happens.

This budget carries some promise for many beneficiaries, and a huge penalty to others. As long as this government refuses to value parenting as an important job and one that even poor people are capable of doing well and should be allowed to do, it’s only going to get worse. It’s a couple of years to the next election, but I hope that next time around there will be a change to someone with a bit of a heart.

Making good food choices

One of the themes that I’ve seen in the Ministry of Health literature that I’ve been looking at is the idea of healthy eating. It’s always framed as a choice – making good food choices for yourself and your family prevents obesity, protects their oral health, and promotes a healthy lifestyle. So why would anyone not make ‘good food choices’?

Shall we talk about how expensive it is? Fatty mince can be picked up for $8 a kilo – good lean mince can be up to $14. Chicken wings and drumsticks are much cheaper than lower-fat breast, and fatty chops are cheaper than steak. A good quality sausage will set you back $13/kilo, while crappy precooked horrors are less than $8. Just looking at meat, ‘good food choices’ are expensive, at out of reach for struggling families.

Spuds and onions are cheap, but peppers and tomatoes and greens can be very expensive. Eating a wide variety of vegetables just isn’t practical. Apples are often cheap enough, but that’s not a great variety on the fruit front. Maybe oranges for a change? If they’re in season, that is.

Milk is expensive, but coke is cheap. Cheese is expensive, but chips are cheap. Lean ham is expensive, but luncheon meat is cheap. Good food is expensive, but crap is cheap.

Personal tastes also come into it. If a kid is going to refuse broccoli and throw it on the floor, it’s a waste few poor people can absorb. Better to feed them food they will eat than waste the food we can’t afford, is the (very logical) thought going into this.

It’s not always about making good choices. It’s about making the choices you can with the resources you have.

Hearing aids – the good and the bad of funding

Today I came across a gofundme campaign for a 14-year-old girl who needs hearing aids. They need around $6000 to get her these, and there’s little to no funding available, partly because they’re just not poor enough, and partly because America is bloody ridiculous. She’s probably had hearing loss from birth, and hearing aids will change her world. I know, because I watched the day my daughter got hers.

My youngest has moderate hearing loss. It’s not extreme, she’s not deaf, but she doesn’t hear well at all. It’s more difficult than most moderate hearing because she has an unusual loss pattern – she can’t hear right in the middle of the vocal range, so the things she can’t hear aren’t necessarily quiet noises – she can hear some of them. What she can’t hear are people’s voices. The magic of turning her hearing aids on and seeing her hear me properly for the first time was absolute magic. The change in her coping ability was massive – she wasn’t constantly frustrated by not hearing things properly any more. The difference in her schooling – she can hear what’s going on, she can follow the instructions now that she hears them, she gets in trouble less because she’s not constantly frustrated and does what she’s told. Magic.

Her hearing aids come in at just under $4,000 for the pair, plus testing, fitting, and incidentals like batteries and repairs. How much have we paid so far? About $20 in parking fees for the local hospital. Every child under 16 in this country gets their hearing aids absolutely free (or up to age 21 if still in full-time schooling). It’s great.

Things get a little more difficult when a child leaves school and officially becomes an adult. At that point there are two schemes in place –  the Hearing Aid Subsidy Scheme and the Hearing Aid Funding Scheme. The Funding Scheme pays for hearing aids once every six years, plus repairs as needed. The Subsidy Scheme pays a certain amount toward the costs of hearing aids once every six years.

The Funding Scheme is for children who graduate into adulthood with severe hearing loss. My girl does not have severe hearing loss – she has only moderate hearing loss, but in a difficult way, as I said. So she does not qualify for Funding.

That leaves the Subsidy Scheme, which is available to anyone needing hearing aids. That’s kind of neat, too, that anyone can access some funding for a problem that can be disabling for many people. It interferes with work, with leisure, with family life – it’s a big deal, even when only mild or moderate. Unfortunately the amount is not ideal. It’s $511.11 per hearing aid, per six year period. you may remember that my girl’s hearing aids cost the best part of $4,000. The difference is staggering.

Low-end hearing aids can cost as little as $800 each, but they’re called low-end for a reason. Mid-range cost up to about $1,500, and they’re a bit better, but for an active young person who goes to cafes and pubs, who goes to group meetings and is generally in complex aural situations, a high-end device can cost up to $3,000 – per ear. (Figures are from a government document that I cannot locate at this time). The shortfall is massive.

We are lucky, in that at this time and probably in the future we will be able to help her pay for such a huge investment, the way we pay for her sister’s glasses at the moment. What if we were not so lucky? What if I hadn’t found a decent job and was living on minimum wage – or a benefit? Hearing loss is a reality for families at all income levels, and graduating from a free service to suddenly being left with almost nothing means the end of good hearing for many people, with the social and workplace handicaps that entails. This prevents those with moderate hearing loss from achieving and earning at their highest potential.

I know that in the end it comes down to budget, and budget is something that I would struggle to allocate. Surely this, though, is something that would provide a net gain on investment due to the increased ability to pay tax on better jobs acquired through better hearing? Perhaps I am naive, but it would seem to me to be a decent investment.

Kids going hungry at school – 22% of them

The Northland principals’ association president this week conducted a survey of students in the Northland region that are coming to school without lunch on average, and what he found is awful. On average, 22% of students arriving at school – 1092 of 7352 students covered by the survey so far – are coming to school without adequate food. At the extreme end, one school reported 83% – 90 of 108 students – are doing without. These numbers are unbelievably bad.

Our Prime Minister, of course, stands by his statement that the numbers are “relatively small”. Even in the face of evidence, he will not accept that there is a problem, what the principals’ association president calls a “crisis”.

Twenty-two percent. How is this even possible? Even if more schools report in and the percentage goes down due to better rates at those schools, the absolute numbers so far are terrible. More than a thousand kids going hungry – I’m running out of ways to say that it’s horrible.

Some kids are being fed and clothed by KidsCan (an amazing organisation that you should donate to if you can) and others are being fed by the schools. So most of these kids are not going hungry in the end. But schools should not be digging into their own budgets, teachers should not be digging into their own pockets, and we should not have to have a charity dedicated to this kind of poverty in a land of plenty! The government has the resources to feed those kids, and – as put by Jeff Bridges – “Poverty is a very complicated issue, but feeding a child isn’t”.

He’s right. The reasons behind why these kids are coming to school without food are complicated. Many families are so poor that there’s not enough food for lunch boxes – why? Unliveable benefits. Families bigger than what can be sustained on a single minimum wage, or even on two. Parents so busy that making lunch has slipped down a priority list. Parents that drink and smoke and gamble away the money. Parents that are just too lazy. Do I believe all of these scenarios? No, but they have all been proposed as possibilities.

Does it matter what the reasons are? Addressing many of these is difficult, and some require interventions that our society will not countenance, such as raising benefits to liveable levels or raising minimum wage to a living wage. People’s ideas about what the poor deserve run counter to the changes that would be needed in these cases. Effective addiction interventions are not always easily accessed, so society judges the addicts without offering a hand up. There are many (mostly conservative) values that would have to change to address the underlying issues that cause children to come to school without food.

Feeding the kids is easy. Food in schools programmes are not difficult to implement, and not terribly expensive. Estimates are around $10-14 million – which is around half the cost of a flag referendum, a cost that many aren’t seeing as particularly important.

Addressing poverty is hard. Feeding kids is easy – and we should. It is not these kids’ fault that their lunch boxes are empty (if they exist at all). Pontificating about parental responsibility and so on doesn’t fill empty bellies. We can fix the immediate problem, feed the kids that are struggling to learn on empty tummies, and then look at making sweeping changes to welfare, addiction, and parenting support. These kids are suffering while we argue about the rights and wrongs of their parents and the system, and it’s not ok.

National Standards and the non-standard child

Today was the ‘warning! National Standard garbage ahead’ edition of the school newsletter. The principal (a wonderful man, who does not deserve the garbage that our education system throws at school teachers and administrators) wrote a long and comforting spiel about how interim reporting is coming up next term, and for several reasons we as parents should not get wound up about the contents of these reports.

He raised some good points. Importantly, a standard is designed to be measured just once, at the end of the year, but is mandated to be reported on twice, once half-way through the year and again at the end. Thus, the mid-year report often shows a child as underachieving because they’re only half-way through the learning set for the year. Of course they’re not at standard! They haven’t yet learned all the things they need to know to achieve standard, and more than that, they’re not supposed to have yet. But yay, let’s worry parents into believing their child isn’t doing as well as they are.

Another point was the sheer bluntness of the standard being measured. There are only four levels. Above, At, Below. or Well Below Standard. There are no layers of excellence, but there are dire levels of inadequacy. Worse, a teacher is expected to make an overall judgement on the level the student is achieving at – I have no idea how that works with a math whiz who can’t spell to save their life.

Finally, there is the issue that we crash into, about twice a year, every year. Right about reporting day. That’s the one where the standard changes. Every year the standard shifts a little higher, so a child that sits below standard can improve hugely, do really well when measured against themselves, but still be below standard at the end of the year.

How painfully demoralising! To get better and better and still be told that you’re not good enough! To continually improve, but to never measure up to the standard expected of people your age. There’s no shades of meaning or sense of achievement for being better than you’ve ever been before.

My younger daughter is borderline intellectually disabled. She will always struggle in school. Her teachers tell us every year that they hate writing her standardised report, because it just pigeonholes her as ‘Well Below Standard’. It says nothing about the gains she has made, nothing of how much they’ve seen her grow, and absolutely nothing about how very hard she’s worked.

It more than erases her efforts though. In using this ugly club of a ‘tool’, the task of actually assessing and expressing where she stands is pounded under the pile of horseshit known as ‘Well Below’. It’s taken me a long time to work out how far behind she is, because I’ve never thought to ask. I’ve been accepting ‘Well Below’ without questioning. Now, for my own sanity, I need to know – how far below? How well is she progressing? Is she falling further behind? Catching up? Just puttering along the same trajectory as everyone else, just with a lower start point? National Standards don’t tell me any of this.

National Standards are a signal failure. They do not tell the average parent much about how their child is doing, and they utterly fail the parent of a non-standard child. They add to teachers’ workloads, without providing meaningful information to parents. I do not remember what it was like pre-National Standards – but it had to be better than it is now.