One of the upsides of self-employment is that I’m very often home in the day. One of the downsides is not earning much money, but let’s face it, a lifestyle that allows you to get up later (sometimes) and watch “This Morning” can’t be all bad!
I have something of a complicated relationship with “This Morning”. I’ve watched it off and on ever since the 1980s but watching it very often involves me shouting at the tele and stomping round saying that for sure, this time, I’m definitely going to be writing to them. I never do of course.
It’s probably not the “go-to” morning programme for your typical leftie justice fighter.
But at the moment I’m watching it on Mondays because they are running a series of short pieces on it about being a mum to young people with additional needs.
Katie Price goes off to meet other mums looking after young people who are sometimes rather like her own boy Harvey, or quite different, but face similar challenges (only on lower incomes). Actually watching her with these mums and their children makes you rather like her.
She has the “thing”. The thing that all mums of disabled children just get – that thing when you walk into the room and straightaway you know how to be with the kids and their families, what to say (and not say) and it’s like the glass wall which separates you from all other mothers, their kids and the rest of the world, just isn’t there anymore.
During these short pieces on the programme, just for a few minutes our own world is centre and front on national TV and you feel a sense of shared pride in what we do in our lives and the differences that we make. The love we have for our children and the love that our beautiful children have for us.
Then it ends and Philip Scofield looks to camera and says, quite seriously; “Heroes……every one”.
Arrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (as I so often say on Twitter).
Apart from the annoyingly patronising aspect, which just for now we’ll just gloss over, promoting this type of cliché on a morning magazine programme really, genuinely concerns me. A great many people watching won’t know any children or young people with disabilities/ additional needs and they certainly won’t know any of their parents. As this is a totally unknown world to them, they are just going to take what Philip Scofield says at face value.
They go away from this programme thinking “aren’t those women wonderful, but how I pity them. What terribly sad lives they have looking after those challenging and almost unlovable children”.
And from there it’s really just a very short hop to “wouldn’t it be better for everyone if they weren’t around”.
One of the mother’s we’ve met through the programme (who was actually today’s mum) is the mother of two young men with severe learning disabilities. She said in her interview that she is terrified to think what will happen to the boys in the future after she is no longer able to care for them. She worries about it a very great deal.
Because of who I am and the world that I live in, my answer to that would be to say that she needs to be thinking now about how they might be able to stay on in the house which she owns and be cared for by carers appointed and trained by her, using their personal budgets to pay for it. Maybe someone else in the family who loves and cherishes them would like to become their advocate and maybe there’s even a local charity who would like to be involved. If she chooses the carers well and with very good luck and her own good judgement, then there might be a happy outcome for all.
But let’s face it; the majority of people watching are simply not going to have that response! Even if I sat on Philip Scofield’s lap to say those things they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.
So instead this programme reinforces that old, old, tired old (well I know I’m pretty tired of it) message that these women are saints and that they, their lives and their children are not like ours – thank god. We should admire them and feel sorry for them in equal measure. Obviously their children are a burden, not just to the poor families but also to us all as we’ll always have to pay for them. When they are little they can be quite sweet in a kind of “tiny Tim” (poor little sickly child, not long for this world) way, but when they get older, larger and hairier, aren’t they just best kept out of sight till they die?
Now some people reading this will already be saying “I don’t think like that and I would never think like that” and I say good for you, brilliant, fantastic. But I also think anyone reading this who doesn’t have anyone disabled or with additional needs in their lives who they love, or anyone who doesn’t work with our kids and young people – if you think the majority of people in this country don’t think this way, you are simply kidding yourself. And the worst of it is, they don’t even see anything wrong in this!
A few days after Nico died my mother’s cousin wrote to me. In her letter (and I quote) she put “although you are feeling sad now I’m sure you can see that this is very much for the best. What would have become of Nico as you and (MN) become older yourselves? For him to die before you is a kindness”.
A week before Nico’s inquest there was a family birthday in the MN’s family and he went to the gathering. I didn’t go as I didn’t feel able to face it. When he returned I had the strong impression that he wasn’t sure he should have gone either. He said very little except to say that they really did not have a clue what we were going through.
Later, much later – long after the inquest, he told me that at this family gathering someone had said to him “Life must be much easier for you now, without Nico”.
So what I do know is that if I must have a label I know I’d much rather be a hero than a foul, self centred, uncaring, bigoted, hypocrite.
Just saying you know……….. No offence meant of course.