Psychologist, astrologer and real estate agent Dr Hermione Winkell (GP, FRZNZ, FRCTD, RSVP) joins Imperator Fish as its latest star columnist. You’ve probably seen her on TV as the host of The Medically Incorrect Parenting Show, but she has also written a series of bestseller books on computer maintenance, the wives of Frank Sinatra, and feng shui. She has just finished Book IV in her hit fantasy series The Chronicles of Lameworld, and has just been awarded Barfoot & Thompson’s Top Salesperson – Eastern Suburbs for the second year running.
Her first column covers a subject she is passionate about: raising kids.
In these modern and fast-paced times, the choices facing parents can often seem bewildering. Just about every child-raising decision involves a staggering range of options, and when it comes to deciding what is right it can be difficult for parents to distinguish between the science and pseudo-science.
And when parents get it wrong the guilt can be crippling and devastating, even when the harm to children is minimal. Parents are desperate for answers, and want to know they are doing the right thing.
Thankfully, I can cut through the nonsense.
One of the most troubling things I see with children at my underground clinics is the influence of over-protective parents. The desire to shield your precious ones from the pain the world can inflict is understandable, but cosseting your child and not letting them suffer the scrapes and knocks can have a long-term affect on their mental health.
A lot of it comes down to the lessons we teach our children, both through the stories we tell them, and the types of media we expose them to. I am constantly astonished by the nonsense we read to our children. Why do we continue to reinforce the notion that the world is anything other than a dark, evil, and despicable place? The literature we read to our children assures them that the protagonists of the story all live happily ever after, when, if we were going to expose them to a realistic view of the world, many of them would either end up dead or, at very least, deeply unhappy.
Thus, our daughters are told that Cinderella will marry her handsome prince. We teach our kids that the three little pigs will escape the clutches of the big bad wolf, and finally defeat him. Our kids learn that, if they are good, a jolly man with a beard will give them gifts.
Yet we know these things to be false. Cinderella’s romance with the pampered prince will almost certainly go nowhere, because is his mother really likely to let her darling boy marry a cleaner? She may be hot to trot, but the young prince is probably used to having beautiful women falling all over him, and will probably flick her aside after a few days of carnal delight.
As for the story of the three little pigs, do we really want our children to believe pigs can live in a house made of brick without at some point being turned into bacon? They may have done away with the wolf, but the farmer a few doors down probably has his own plans for them, and won’t be quite as stupid as the wolf. He also has a shotgun.
The Santa story is also a myth. If you’re dirt poor it really doesn’t matter how good you’ve been, because Mum’s working shifts and won’t be home for Christmas Day, and Dad’s a useless drunk who’s pissed all the family’s cash away. There won’t be any Christmas for you this year.
It’s damaging to children to tell them everything will work out well, and that the bad people will go away or be defeated in the end, because life just isn’t like that. By constantly reinforcing into our children a hopeless optimism we are failing to prepare them for the crashing horrors presented by the real world.
When my patients ask me what they should be reading to their children, I give them a list of approved books. Some of the books on the list may be a little difficult for the younger ones to comprehend at first, but I tell parents they must persevere.
Let me share with you a few of the books on that list.
At the top of the list is The Trial, by Franz Kafka. It’s important for children to learn that, when you deal with authority and bureaucracy, the experience can be a bewildering one, and your quest for even the most basic information can turn into a complete nightmare. This book will give your children the fortitude they need when they are adults and need to apply for a resource consent.
The next book on the list is Lolita, by Victor Nabokov. This is a good book for daughters. Men really are evil, awful, predatory beasts, and your little girl should be forewarned about what she can expect from the menfolk who will start to look at her as she grows into a young woman.
I also recommend non-fiction, because too much fantasy and escapism can leave a child unprepared for the brutality of the real world. When my youngest was five I would read a chapter of Antony Beevor’s Berlin: the Downfall 1945 to him every night. He may have awoken in the night screaming in horror at the ghastly stories of indiscriminate mass murder and the senseless slaughter of both combatants and civilians, but I am convinced that if he is ever confronted with a scene of true horror he will be able to just shrug his shoulders and continue unaffected.
Similarly, anything involving the Holocaust or Gulags is excellent reading. That’s why my list includes a good number of books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
My list includes other notable books like Angela’s Ashes (misery, woe and death growing up dirt-poor in Ireland) and 1984 (life under a totalitarian regime). My personal favourite is Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, where humans are cloned so their organs can be harvested.
My patients also often ask me what sort of TV shows or films they should let their children watch. Disney films may be colourful and entertaining, but they lack realism. If Mickey was a real mouse he would have spawned so many offspring by Minnie that his house would be overwhelmed by them. In fact, he would probably have started to eat some of his children by now. His house would also be covered in mouse droppings. Mice are filthy creatures.
Disney’s adaptations of AA Milne’s stories are also best avoided. If Winnie the Pooh were a real bear he would have mauled Christopher Robin to death long ago. Is it wise to teach our kids that bears are friendly and, so long as they are full of honey and don’t have a “rumbly in their tumbly”, happy?
So my approved watching list includes Schindlers List and Saving Private Ryan, although with the latter film, I usually recommend parents only let their children watch the first part. Kids love the beach.
These films speak powerfully to children about man’s brutality towards others. But for everyday viewing, crime and serial killer dramas are excellent entertainment. I recommend the various shows of the CSI franchise, as well as the serial killer show Criminal Minds, and SVU. The CSI shows are especially gory, which is just the thing to prepare your baby boy or girl for the fact life is one long series of miseries and hurts.
Some people think my views on child-raising are controversial, though I don’t see the problem. Some have tried to tell me that my approach is wrong, that I am sick and twisted, and that I’m a monster. More than a few of my patients have become quite excited at seeing my reading and viewing lists. One lady even threatened to complain to the medical authorities and have my licence to practice revoked. Thankfully, I lost my licence over five years ago (some of my grief counselling therapies, involving electric shocks and massive amounts of cocaine, seem to have been considered questionable at the time), so threats like those don’t intimidate me.
What does scare me is that we’re creating a generation of thinking, caring, and empathetic people who simply don’t have the coping skills to deal with trauma and crisis.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you as a parent are prepared to instill in them a horror of life at an early age, then by the time they are grown into adults they will be hard, callous and cruel. In other words, ready for anything the world can throw at them. And as a parent, isn’t that what you want for your kids?