Tuesday, 14 August 2007



Karyn Scherer: No, I don't abuse my kids, but thanks for checking
5:00AM Tuesday August 14, 2007
By Karyn Scherer

The most extraordinary thing happened to me on Saturday night. I was not long out of my nightly dip in the spa pool with the kids, when there was a loud and unfriendly rap on the front door. "Open up," a man's voice boomed.

I scurried to the door in my dressing gown, somehow knowing instantly that it could only be the police, and that some drama must be occurring in our neighbourhood.

How right I was. There were three burly policemen on my doorstep, who shone a torch in my face and aggressively informed me that someone in my neighbourhood was concerned that I might be abusing my children.

Without getting too sanctimonious about it, I should explain that my neighbourhood is suburban Titirangi.

My street is an interesting mix of ages and incomes, but it's certainly not on the list for first-time buyers. Our display of Christmas lights is one of the best in the west, and a couple of houses have recently sold for seven figures.

I was so taken aback by the accusation that all I could muster was a "Goodness me".

I was about to ask if they were sure they had got the right house, but the appearance of my curious pyjama-clad toddlers seemed to confirm their suspicions. Or alleviate them, as it turned out.

Fortunately, my kids can do reasonable impersonations of little blond angels when it suits them, and when one of the cops explained that the alleged abuse appeared to be occurring around bed and bath time, I didn't need to say much more.

I can only assume he had kids of his own who were less than co-operative at the end of a long day.

So they left, but without so much as a smile or a "sorry to bother you", and now I am the talk of the neighbourhood.

I soon realised the only way I was going to be able to live this down was to rationalise it.

I should be thankful, I muttered to myself, that crime in West Auckland is not so bad on Saturday nights that three policemen don't have time to check if people might be on the verge of murdering their children.

It's a shame they weren't around a few hours later when some idiots went down the entire street, twisting the windscreen wipers of all the cars parked on the road - but then as far as I know, nothing like that has ever happened in our street before, either.

But then it started to eat away at me. If I really had been abusing my kids, how would their visit have helped? They didn't even come inside.

I can only suppose my name is on a blacklist somewhere, and if they get another call then Child Youth and Family will be notified.

I've a pretty good idea which neighbour it must have been.

Other children's tantrums are somehow much harder to tolerate than your own children's, and I can only assume they became alarmed by my 2-year-old's world-class hissy fits.

It's true we were once asked to leave the Auckland Museum because he was well overdue for his afternoon nap and had become tired and emotional.

He went through a phase where he would have a complete meltdown if I drove out of the driveway without collecting the newspaper.

From the moment he was born, he has been a challenge. But he does finally appear to be growing out of it.

And in the meantime I have read every child psychology book, and watched every episode of Supernanny, I've been able to manage, to equip myself with the tools to cope. Because I am sickened by parents who hit their children, or indeed beat them to death.

I have written editorials in favour of the anti-smacking law and I have been asked to appear on TV to present my arguments. I have bored my colleagues with my views on the matter, and I must admit I am now wondering if those who argued that the anti-smacking law would come back to bite good parents on the bum might have been right.

But I'm guessing it's the latest wave of concern about child abuse that prompted the police to hammer on my door.

I have a Spanish teenager staying with me at the moment, who is here to learn English. He comes from a wealthy family, and I can't help wondering what he really thinks of New Zealand, because ever since he has been here the country has been obsessed with gangs and child abuse.

The reason I mention his parents' income is because two stints living in Rotorua have convinced me that abuse is not a racial issue - it is an economic and social one.

That's not to say that wealthy people don't abuse their kids, or each other. But as far as I can tell, abuse is mostly born out of the frustration that comes with poverty, a lack of education, and poor role models. Alcohol, drugs and stepfathers also seem to be common factors. In all the brouhaha about Nia Glassie, we seem to have forgotten about Coral-Ellen Burrows.

I know from experience how quickly and easily domestic situations can turn ugly. And how neighbours can be reluctant to interfere.

In the midst of all this national angst, a new couple has moved into our street. Coincidentally, their moving van turned up the same day the police turned up and the windscreen wipers got vandalised.

I had gushed to them earlier in the day what a lovely neighbourhood it was. They admitted to me the next day they were a little alarmed to see the police car in my driveway.

They are both teachers, and one of them starts work this week at our local school, which made headlines in the Herald a few weeks ago when the partner of a teacher attacked some local kids in the school grounds with an axe-head.

Is this really what middle-class New Zealand has become?

The only positive spin I seem to be able to put on it is that at least we are not in denial about our shortcomings. And in some sections of our society, anyway, people still seem to care- and act on those concerns.

But should that happen more often? I'm probably the wrong person to ask.

* Karyn Scherer is the deputy editor of The Business.

1 comment:

FamilyIntegrity said...

Comment from Ruby Harrold-Claesson:

I mentioned in some of the talks that I held in NZ that Swedish police have shifted their attention from burglaries, car thefts etc to focus on the families because they are sitting ducks.

Well, thanks to her newly obtained first-hand experience, Karyn Scherer has had to concede that the critics of the proposed law were right.

Ruby Harrold-Claesson
President of the http://www.nkmr.org/