Hillary Fannin: Brangelina tiff smacks of ‘parenting’ differences

We weren’t parented; just given an occasional boiled egg and left to the wolves

We imprint ourselves on our offspring, the good and the bad, bringing our best and our most lousy selves to the table.  Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We imprint ourselves on our offspring, the good and the bad, bringing our best and our most lousy selves to the table. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

I assume you’re over the shock of hearing that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are to divorce. No? Damn it, man, you’ve got to stop blaming yourself. I’m quite sure Brad receives plenty of pictures of his fans doing interesting things with a bunch of dahlias and the garden hose.  

 What could possibly have gone wrong, you ask yourself. Two beautiful people with an international property portfolio, closets full of biodegradable footwear and unfettered access to a variety of aviator shades and a lake of scarlet lip gloss – I mean, if Brangelina a marriage cannot make, what hope for the rest of us balding twosomes, eh? What chance of making it over the finishing line for those of us slugging it out on the arid planes of mere-mortal marriage, on the where-did-you-hide-the-shagging-toothpaste prairie of domestic devotion?

 Forget those tabloid headlines about trysts and tarts. According to my research (I read an online article in an attempt to distract myself from the wheeze and hack of the geriatric cat, who’s having a bit of a time of it with her furballs), Jolie is divorcing Pitt because of his less than satisfactory parenting skills. His what?, you sigh. Apparently, the couple’s co-parenting isn’t as hot as their on-screen chemistry, and Jolie is said to be furious with Pitt’s strict disciplinarian attitude, especially towards their sons. 

 She, on the other hand, is said to favour a no-rules regime for all six of their children, who, according to the celebrity hacks I was imbibing, are being home-schooled by a bevy of international tutors.

Rearing

The word “parenting” interests me. I’m not sure that many of my generation were “parented”, or at least not consciously. By and large, I think we were just given an occasional boiled egg and left to the wolves. 

 Anyway, back in those pre-Doc Spock days, when mindfulness was remembering to put the cat out, the process by which a child was extruded through infancy into adulthood was called rearing. “Jaysus, there’s quare rearin’ in that one” is a phrase that trickles from the memory like rusty water from a punctured pipe.

 As a child I was deeply suspicious of being “reared”. Cows were reared, as were bullocks, and they generally ended up on the Formica-topped table, surrounded by floury potatoes and an overcooked cauliflower.  

I was of a generation for whom marrying and having children, often quite young, was the norm. It was a time when you couldn’t purchase a prophylactic, let alone spell one. But parenting skills? Forget it. We convent girls were too busy learning how to core a cooking apple and make pastry the colour and consistency of poodle stool for any of that nonsense.

I’m of the firm belief (knowing how strenuous it is to bring up the damn cat, let alone my children) that parenting skills should have been then, and should be now, on the curriculum. 

We imprint ourselves on our offspring, the good and the bad, bringing our best and our most lousy selves to the table. We can purchase a battery-operated breast pump, we can queue up for a nutribullet to juice up organic avocados and acacia berries (or whatever people diligently feed their children nowadays), but we can’t buy the equipment to excavate our pasts, to squeeze the pulp out of our ragged memories, to cauterize our sore points or unravel the knots of sorrow and joy we seem unable to leave behind.

Butterfly kisses and broken promises  

Pitt, the son of a southern Baptist, was raised, he says, with rules and regulations and a fair whack of what he describes as “Christian guilt” (can’t for the life of me imagine what that’s like, Brad). Odds-on, meanwhile, that Jolie was brought up on butterfly kisses and Hershey drops and the fragile music of broken promises.

I was stuck at a railway crossing the other day, first in line for the gates to open, the car windows down, trying to drink some sun. A young father and his very young son were waiting on the pavement for the gates to lift, the child looping and swinging out of his father’s arm. 

“We’re going to go home,” the father was saying, evenly, if a little exhaustedly, “and tell Mummy that we won’t bite her any more because we love her so much.”  

 The child looked up at his father, solemn, thoughtful and entirely, joyfully unconvinced. The train rolled by, the gates lifted, and the halting, precarious father-and-son journey continued.  

Eat your fickle heart out, Brad. That just may be what you call co-parenting. 

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