EDITORIAL 8: Getting real : part people with part lives or whole people with whole lives ?

By THE Editors

Date Posted: Tuesday, 14 December 2010


To care for children is a life rather than a job whether caring for one’s own children or other people’s children. A sense of what this means can be found in John Cross’ contribution to this issue of the goodenoughcaring Journal. Those of us who are, as John Cross describes, “professional adults” with a responsibility for other people’s children know this. At the end of the day or at the end of the shift we return to our own family homes and carry out our familial responsibilities to the full but we also bear in mind the children we left behind. We cannot stop ourselves from doing this just as the parent who is out at work bears in mind her child who is at school. This is one of the ways in which Max Smart suggests that the professional adult exercises generosity.

Sometimes we professional adults are praised. “I think its wonderful what you do for these children. I couldn’t do it.”  However kindly this is meant, it is not helpful. It deals only with a part –  and an idealised part  – of the relationships  which professional adults have with children. These relationships are real, gritty, and messy and yet fundamentally they are loving. In such a relationship mistakes are made by both parties. Certainly they are by the children but then that’s what you expect. Not only are they by virtue of their age, naïve, but they are often troubled too. It is at times when professional adults are tolerant of children’s mistakes that external agencies admonish us and tell us to “get real”.

Mistakes are also made and always will be made by the adults. Adults are human beings and do act wrongly towards children. To an extent children should experience this. No child could survive the rough ride that is life if he or she is totally cosseted by over-protective, mistake free adults.  It is important too for a child to hear an adult apologise for a mistake made. It also seems important that we should accept a child can resolve a situation by forgiving an adult who has made a mistake.

Yet we live in a time when regulatory bodies and governments cannot see that like parents, professional adults live a whole –  warts and all  – life. Neither can these bodies be persuaded that this is as it should be. We are condemned for these mistakes and then preached at, cajoled and bullied in an effort to coerce us to follow procedures which get in the way of engaging with children, and which are ineffective in stopping human error. All this is regrettable because most mistakes offer an opportunity for reparation in relationships. They have therapeutic potential.  When children and professional adults are treated in this hectoring way we are perceived only as part objects and not whole beings and so something which has potential to be good is destroyed because we are directed to focus on and seek, retribution for what in the end in most cases are minor issues.

All the contributors to this issue confront this. Each has a sub-text which says “getting real” is as Hilary Mantel implies, not only about seeing those parts of a life and a culture in the condescending way which powerful agencies seem to demand of us.

However browbeaten and preached at we, as professional adults feel, we have a duty to keep children in mind and to acknowledge the whole human predicament by accepting and working through both the trials and the triumphs in our whole relationships with children. This is what getting real is about.