Sunday, 27 October 2013

last week at book group

The final hours of a busy weekend, I am sitting on my favourite armchair watching a bit of TV. We've just watched two episodes of Citizen Khan on the BBC iplayer. Hilarious it was.

Anyway, it was another busy week, with kids being not quite well but not really ill either, or recovering from being ill, or just grumpy. Lots of moaning, plenty of naughtiness and plenty of stress. Book group on Thursday was definitely the highlight of my social week, if not the entire week. A chat with friends, laughter, a glass of wine or two, some crisps. Perfect.

Last time, we had decided to venture into non fiction. I like non fiction, in particular popular science books. Someone had proposed to read "Freakonomics - a rogue economist explores the hidden side of anything" by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. It is a few years old now and I think there is a new book "Superfreakonmics" but it is still a good read, not too heavy, not too light, with plenty of references to peer reviewed articles to follow up should you be so inclined (needless to say I am not). I have been listening to Freakonomics Radio (a podcast available through iTunes)  for a few years now and was quite familiar with both content and style of the book. I am seriously addicted to podcasts and have a whole list to go through each week. More of this another time.

To give you a bit of background: Stephen Levitt is an economist based at the University of Chicago. He is a rather unusual economist, researching areas such as game shows and gun crime and the impact of parenting on our children.

Stephen Dubner is a journalist writing for the New York Times and the New Yorker. Without his good writing, the economics in the book would probably not be nearly as entertaining.

There are some thought provoking parts in this book. For example there is chapter entitled "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common". This chapter explores incentives and a dark side of incentives, cheating. Another chapter entitled "Where have all the criminals gone" explores how violent crime and crime in general has decreased over the past thirty odd years.

I am not going to spoil the book here for you but the theory that Stephen Levitt has on this last topic is really thought provoking. The books is written from an North American point of view and some of the content may not necessarily be applicable to Britain, or other parts of the world.

The chapter that resounded most with my book group - being mums of many children - was "What makes a perfect parent?". Some snippets from the chapter: Why parenting experts like to scare parents to death? Which is more dangerous, guns or swimming pools? Obsessive parents and the nature nurture quagmire. Does a child's name matter?

Apparently (and this is just the crudest of summaries!) it doesn't much matter what you do as a parent, but more who you are. Phew me thinks, no more boring trips to the Kelvingrove Museum to admire the stuffed and dusty haggis (seriously!), or a visit to the overpriced and no longer inspiring Glasgow Science Museum. Not to mention those trips to the library, bringing home books that we then forget to return, or the many arts classes, swimming lessons, football sessions and ballet lessons. The afternoons of cheerful pottering around with glue and paper and paint. The outdoor adventures to bring nature close to my city dwelling kids. No need to worry about inadequate schools and how to best get your children into the bestest ones (this is a very popular British parent dinner party subject). Hip hip hurrah, bring on the hands-off style of parenting, my kids will be ok no matter how little I do. From now on, I will sit on my ample back side and watch the kids watch the telly.

Hold on you might say (and we did), isn't this a little extreme?

Yes, of course it is. The authors don't actually make such stark statements, they simply take a closer look at nature versus nurture in one part of their book, in particular the influence obsessive parenting has with respect to how well your offspring does later on in life (measured by academic achievement and salary). Without going into any detail, I am pleased to report that my less than obsessive style of parenting is probably ok. What I did find a little discouraging though, being a mum of two adoptive children, was the fact that on average, adopted children are more likely to attain similar levels of achievement as their birth parents, and not their adoptive parents. Again, this is measured in academic achievement and salary. These measurements are of course only two of many outcomes that can be looked at (and the authors do repeatedly say so). I don't even know how some parameters I consider so much more essential than academic achievement and salary could be measured: kindness, rounded personality, inquisitiveness, resilience etc.

And so I will carry on parenting, together with Richard, they way we have for the past 13 years, nurturing as best as we can but still maintaining a balance with our own lives, and being content with what we achieve. Seeing kindness and love and resilience and happiness and much more in our children, adopted and other. That is of course when we are not arguing with hormone ridden near teenagers, trying to convince 4 year olds to get dressed for school or trying to identify the disgusting odour in our ten year olds bedroom. 

Anyway, if you have time, try and get hold of this book or listen to the podcast whilst ironing or jogging or cooking. You'll be both entertained and provoked.

Short stories next, by Alice Munro. I am not a great fan of short stories but I am always up for a new challenge.

Christina x

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