The Huhne Effect: What parents can learn from one man’s fall from grace

My older sons have yet to enter the world of serious texters, those who fire off dozens of messages, questions or inane thoughts every day. Despite owning mobile phones for quite some time now, the allure of being in constant contact with anyone, not least me, hasn’t quite taken off. This may be in part due to the fact that the phones generally get left at home and partly because they’ve yet to be enamoured by girls seeking their attention. Playing games on their iPod Touches still seems to be the preferred digital activity. So, for the time being anyway, our conversations or disagreements take place largely in person. (And I dread the thought of every exchange between me and an irate son being forever put to print.)

One thing’s for sure. Most parents in Britain will have learned a thing or two from the disclosure of texts between disgraced politician Chris Huhne and his teenage son, Peter. Most will have reeled in shock at the blatant hatred and profanity contained within Peter’s messages or cringed at the sheer extent of insults contained within his words. Teenagers aren’t known for thinking before expressing their opinion; texts are no different in this respect.

The personal exchanges between a bitter son and his errant father are poignant, for they reveal the extent to which a child can feel deeply hurt and let down by their parent’s actions. The words chosen by Peter reflect a sense of utter betrayal, while the pleas of desperation for his father to come clean show how much children can possess a strong sense of justice concerning wrongdoing (if they have been brought up within any strong moral framework). To witness a parent stoop so low morally has long-lasting, devastating effects on a child and we gain painful insight into the massive effort that will be needed to restore some semblance of a relationship once such damage has been inflicted.

Despite Huhne’s catalogue of indiscretions, most parents will feel a tinge of compassion for the man considering the dire circumstances in which he now finds himself. For we, too, are fallible. Hopefully not wilfully deceitful and law-breaking as in Huhne’s case; but we know we fail at parenting sometimes, too, and that our children can be easily disappointed by our inability to live up to their expectations of what constitutes a perfect parent.

In Huhne’s favour lies the obvious expression of patience and love for his son, speaking kindly even in the face of such vitriolic outbursts from his own flesh and blood.  And so a parent should rightly respond; we are the grownups, the ones supposedly capable of rational, measured responses. We also see the bigger picture – a future in which the ties between us and our child remain, no matter what may have come between them. Nothing is worth severing that bond – and perhaps we should all consider the consequences of our actions beforehand instead of trying to repair damage afterwards.

In putting forth his point of view calmly and not ceasing to write genuine messages of care, Huhne may well have demonstrated his one major saving grace in this debacle in the public eye: that of an unrelenting, loving parent. In doing so, he has also unwittingly reflected the father heart of God, who never ceases to love his children, despite their flaws and angry rants. Unlike Huhne, though, God is a faithful, perfect father who never lies to his children. God remains committed to us, even when we’re verging on losing faith or feel wounded by what’s been allowed to occur in our lives. He never stops loving us, but continues to extend his compassion and grace. How comforting to know that God’s words to us can always be trusted, since he is wholly infallible and good.

For all the furore surrounding this very public family breakdown, I would hope that all parents glean something positive from this story, including the value of both personal and professional integrity.

Epic Battles of Parenting: How YouTube is Corrupting Our Children (one rap at a time…)

YouTube video: Epic Battles of History

Most parents consider what media is being consumed by their children and dutifully provide age appropriate DVDs and games, and switch off the TV before the 9pm watershed. Parental settings are placed on smartphones and other technological paraphernalia.

We are aware that some material out there is not good to be consumed by our 11 or 8 year olds. We install filters on our internet too (OpenDNS is a great, free service that works via the router to all computers in the house). We feel we’re at least making an effort to protect our children from sinister content and feel we can relax a little, right?


Since time immemorial, older kids introduce the younger ones to vile language and rude jokes. Can’t really be stopped, I accept that. But that’s where it used to stay: in the school playground or dinner hall – confined to a few minutes a day or subject to threats of detention if overheard by a zealous teacher. Most kids realised it was pretty naughty and took care over what they repeated.

But then someone came up with YouTube. I love YouTube; I think it’s a great idea and a great tool. But I wish they would come up with a YouTube for kids, that was free from the uncensored bile that is spewing forth from its videos these days.

The same parent that won’t let their child watch The Simpsons because of its rude content, may not realise that young Jack is happily viewing Epic Rap Battles of History which all his friends are raving about.

To save you the bother, I’ll explain: These are witty little raps between two characters from history or popular culture who engage in a slanging match of sorts, whereby they sing their own praises while dissing their opponent in uber derogative fashion. Thus we have Hitler vs Darth Vader, Moses vs Santa and Dr Seuss vs William Shakespeare.  Sounds fun?

It is, to an extent. It’s a clever idea and very entertaining.

But this is 18+ stuff that you would have only come across on the comedian circuits or late night Channel  4 programming in a previous generation.

The first video I mentioned in this piece, at 1 minute 41 seconds long, contains 9 expletives or crude phrases. That’s one every eleven seconds! And it’s being watched repeatedly and regurgitated by the masses at a secondary school near you.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the profanity, is the misrepresentation of historic figures, along with the trivialization of some major events (holocaust, slavery and the like). Prepare to see a whole load of Hitler impersonations in school corridors very soon. And unsuspecting eleven year olds getting unwittingly put in detention or accused of racism for something they really don’t understand and haven’t been taught yet.

Thanks a lot, YouTube!

This is where parenting gets tricky. You can easily keep some unsavoury stuff away from your primary (elementary) aged children.  But be prepared for an onslaught of filth once your child enters secondary education.

I’m now thinking about blocking Youtube on the older boys’ iPod touches and only allowing it on a family computer at specified times. No, it won’t stop what they see at lunchtime, but it’ll prevent the multiple, mindless viewing.

Ugh, the challenges of the Internet Age. I don’t like to ban everything, but something needs to be done. We may have blocked the porn, but YouTube is broadcasting something akin to audio porn. And the masses are lapping it up. Hitler vs Darth Vader has racked up over 68 million views, and it’s readily available for your younger children to see too.

How do other parents handle these dilemmas?

Why the Law Really is an Ass Sometimes…

Are you someone who tends to stick to the law or are you a bit of a rebel? My husband will ensure that he goes not one mile over 60mph on country roads, yet sometimes I cling tensely onto car handles as he whizzes round curves on the quiet lanes.

I’ll admit I’m quite different.  I’ll drive cautiously on such roads as I’m concerned about what might be lurking around the corner (…a farmer and his herd of sheep, possibly, or a bunch of errant cyclers?)  But I’ll happily slip way past 70mph on a quiet stretch of straight motorway, keeping my distance from the car safely within Highway Code guidelines.

I believe speed limits were imposed to improve road safety and reduce fatalities.  Yet I’m certain that more fatalities have occurred on country roads with drivers going 60, than on aforementioned motorways with law defying drivers.

It’s all about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law.

Consider this: Pharmacies will not allow me to flout the law by a margin of only 6 months to purchase eczema cream for my son, but school nurses would happily supply a potential 13 year old daughter of mine a stack of contraception and advice. In fact if she were 14 or 15 a doctor might deem her mature enough to opt for an abortion if she found herself unwittingly pregnant.

That without my knowledge or consent. A major procedure that is not necessarily without complication or error.  And perhaps she wouldn’t know the answer to questions about her parents’ and grandparents’ health or blood pressure problems.

That’s absolutely fine according to the laws of this land. But I, on the other hand, may not use my parental prerogative to administer specialist eczema cream to my 11 year old son, who is already physically the size of an average 12 year old, because the packet states that it is only to be used by those over the age of 12.

The woman behind the counter glared at me as if I were attempting to buy cigarettes for my son.  I just wanted to avoid a doctor’s visit and a long spell in a stuffy waiting room full of spluttering sick people and crying babies.

I’d be more than happy to follow the rules if pharmacists, doctors and teachers would likewise adhere to other rules concerning young people. What do you bet that any barely post-pubescent child could walk in and request a pregnancy test without anyone batting an eyelid?

Up and down the country girls and boys of 13 and 14 are supported and encouraged to break the law regarding the age of consent.

The argument goes… Well they’re only going to go out and engage in sexual activity anyway, so we should at least help them be safe.

Well how about…  Oh, the parent is only going to find another pharmacy to supply medicinal ointment for her unwell child, so they may as well sell her (i.e. me) the product.

Never gonna happen.  Yet one law concerns those who are still children, whose decisions are mostly fuelled by emotions and peer pressure; the other is an adult who has significantly more years of life experience under her belt and knows about dodgy signs or side effects to look out for.

Many 14 year olds can’t even follow simple instructions on a teacher’s PowerPoint yet we hope they’ll read all the contraindications listed on their packet of contraceptive pills?

Consider this also…  If I go to purchase a video or Xbox game that is rated 18, no one behind the counter asks if I have children at home who will also be watching and what their ages are.

As a former teacher who’s marked hundreds of year 7 scrapbook projects, I found it hard to comprehend how countless boys of 11 named Call of Duty their favourite video game.

Oh but that’s all right. The parents obviously believe that their child is mature enough to blow people to pieces on screen, despite being 7 years under the age limit.

But woe betide any parent attempting to push the boundaries by 6 months to administer some skin cream. Quelle horreur! Will they be sending round the social workers to metaphorically slap me on the wrist any time soon?

Unfortunately it would not surprise me. Thankfully, I decided not to go to another pharmacist to pretend the cream was for my older son, but rather followed the letter of the law and duly booked an appointment at the surgery. (So no, you can’t nail me with wrongdoing here, though I am guilty as charged concerning motorway driving sometimes.)

And I really do understand the perspective of the sales lady behind the counter.  She must adhere to the rules.  It’s just disappointing that no one adheres to many other rules regarding children these days.  And in some cases rules are shockingly absent.

If I want to, I could buy my 11 year old son a laptop or tablet for Christmas and let him use it unsupervised in his bedroom without any parental restrictions.  It would be perfectly legal to do so, in the process allowing him to view violence, pornography and yep, 18 movies downloaded online. (You’d be surprised how many parents know nothing much about installing restrictions on devices in their homes.)

I could likewise allow same said son to drink a glass of wine at Christmas (from age 5 this is legal). But I will only allow him a sip or two because as his parent I do actually possess a modicum of common sense and like to follow the spirit of the law rather than arbitrarily following the letter of the law.

What has incensed you lately about the laws of the land?

Setting things straight – Regarding Rupert Everett’s Assertion About Gay Parents

Mr Everett, an openly gay, British actor who starred in the 90s hit Shakespeare in Love, has certainly kicked up a media storm among the proponents of gay marriage and parenting by saying: “I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.”*

I’m wondering whether his assertion might be groundbreaking here. A gay man attacking a gay lifestyle choice? Virtually unheard of. The likes of Stonewall and other organisations must be quaking in their boots. How dare he stray from the party line!

What’s that you say? There isn’t a gay political party?

Perhaps not, but at times it’s seemed as if every gay person has to toe the line over the rules of attraction, marriage and parenthood. Or risk being shunned from the very community which is meant to wholeheartedly accept them.** Perhaps this explains in part why Everett has decided to disassociate himself from said community. (Quote: “I’m not speaking on behalf of the gay community. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m part of any ‘community'”)

I admire Everett for his boldness to state his opinion. After all, the whole basis for the gay movement is underpinned by a belief in sexual freedom and the right to live as one pleases without threat or discrimination. This surely includes the freedom to hold and express one’s own opinion.

Looking at this topic aside from the perspective of gay rights and gay wishes, there arises a very poignant issue – namely that of the adopted or surrogate children, who ultimately have no say in the matter. They are simply denied the opportunity to be parented by both male and female figures. And no, I don’t think having uncles, aunts or friends of both sexes really counts – though such individuals are certainly valuable to a child’s upbringing.

I hope that the gay community take it upon themselves to consider the long term consequences of growing up in a family consisting of same sex parents. Each one should perhaps ask themselves: How much would I have enjoyed growing up with two mums or two dads? Would I have missed out on something?

Like Everett, such a thought seems horrific to me. Growing up with only sisters, for instance, I valued even the variety that male presence in the shape of my father brought to the household. However, to be denied the input of a mother, despite her flaws or imperfections, would have been unthinkable.  Meanwhile, the thought of only two mums… I won’t go into that.

And yet, regardless of the assumption that two, loving gay parents might do a very fine job of raising children (and indeed better than two irresponsible or immature heterosexual parents) – what about the wishes and rights of a young child?

Little human beings are not accessories or pets to boost our ego or fulfil our dreams, nor should they be part of a societal experiment. We would all do well to remember that. Only time will reveal the loss experienced by those with no voice.

History shows us that civilisations thrive where families consisting of mother, father and children are the norm. And future research will hopefully include reports from interviewed adults who have grown up in non-conventional family units. For how we are brought up shapes us long after we have moved out of our childhood home.

I think it’s good that someone like Rupert Everett has had the audacity to bring such issues to the surface. Long may there continue to be like-minded individuals (gay or straight) who will put forward their point of view, in spite of the ensuing media backlash.

*In an interview by the Sunday Times Magazine, 16 September 2012 (Online subscribers only.) For more about the furore, you can read excerpts of the interview here.

**Reaction from the gay lobby was similarly aghast when earlier this year lesbian actress Cynthia Dixon from Sex and the City fame, who used to have a husband, claimed that – for her, being gay was ‘a choice’.  See this article

Disclaimer: I don’t hate gays. In the past I have happily engaged with both gay neighbours and lesbian ones. I liked them. They were very nice people; I invited them over. I just don’t have to agree with everything they do or say or stand for. Is that okay? Same goes for all my friends. Likewise, they’re free to disagree with me.