Songs for children on the path to maturity

1 Comment


As December progresses and work dawdles towards holidays, I look to exhale stress and breathe in hope. For precious days I'll get to spend more time with my wife and kids.

Bob Dylan2017 has seen us stirring a large pot of sticky issues, discussing life with our 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. Old-school parenting used to play nice, with no discussion of sexuality, religion or politics. While recognising the need to speak appropriately to the ages and maturity of our kids, I disagree with that convention.

This world is the one they will inherit. Of necessity, they're going to pick up the slack from our many and varied stuff-ups. I continue to hope that the most valuable gift they receive will be the encouragement to think and feel, and to look beyond the representation of truths.

Any parent can tell you that kids are keen observers. They know when a double standard is applied, when an official stance is unjust, and when the shite is liberally applied to distract from dissent and fertilise compliance. A growing awareness of the ethical pros and cons of our country and our world is healthy, if it does not overwhelm them.

I look at my children's responses to injustice, and despair at the jeers and apathy that will greet younger Australians as they mature and choose to raise their hands, calling for a fair go.

But rather than bleat political policies or biblical tropes at them, our conversations tend to circle through songs, especially their lyrics. The songwriter's art carries truths greater than I can find elsewhere. Rather than fret over situations and threats we can't assuage, our coping framework looks to frets and chords, scales and arpeggios, lyrics and cantabile laments.

My hopeful lessons to our children follow.


"Cracking open artful discourse, looking for kernels of truth and moral discernment. It's one way that we can nurture our children along the path to ethical, emotional and spiritual maturity."


Share the load. As Bob Dylan noted, 'Everybody will help you discover what you set out to find, but if I can save you any time, come on, give it to me, I'll keep it with mine.'

Avoid living as your own echo chamber. We can pick our battles. Youth's angry young man, who's 'proud of his scars and the battles he's lost' and 'struggles and bleeds as he hangs on the cross', as per Billy Joel, needs to learn to let go. To laugh, cry and let live. Otherwise his 'honour is pure and his courage as well and he's fair and he's true and he's boring as hell and he'll go to the grave as an angry old man' — that trope's a mirror for me and mine.

Karma's a bitch (aka the golden rule works). We don't have to swoop in with cape, cowl and codpiece to save the universe. To cite Sinead O'Connor, 'sadness will come to those who call evil good and good evil; who present darkness as light and light as darkness; who present as sweetness only the things which are bitterness'.

Find a perspective on perspective. We can do our bit, however. Primary and high schools are training grounds for compassion and, in those hierarchy-rich contexts, sometimes we're the powerful entity who can effect change. Other times we're just plodding along in someone else's footsteps, playing pick-up sticks as we go.

John Mason Neale put it much more eloquently (and seasonally): 'Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine-logs hither ... Page and monarch, forth they went ... together through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.'

Perhaps this strikes you as corny. It works for us. Cracking open artful discourse, looking for kernels of truth and moral discernment. It's one way that we can nurture our children along the path to ethical, emotional and spiritual maturity.

It's a path that admittedly lies through 'the wild lament and the bitter weather' of rolled eyes, youthful disbelief and self-righteousness. But it's a relief to step in the footsteps of other, greater voices at times.

As for the hoped-for outcome, altruism and reflective compassion, we note early rewards in untweenish, unteenagelike consideration, among the spontaneous combustions of selfishness and anger. Kindness is rewarding, laughter is restorative, compassion unfailing in the end. As Neale would have it, 'ye, who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing'.



Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.


Topic tags: Barry Gittins, parenting



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thanks Barry - lots of food for thought here. Sounds like you are creating a "language of love" for your kids. To quote.... you.... "encouragement to think and feel, and to look beyond the representation of truths" is such a gift. I think we often underestimate our kids - it doesn't appear that you are falling into that trap.
Robin | 06 December 2017


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up